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Advice and Consent and the Recess Appointment

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, an Outreach Specialist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago on January 4, 1790, the First Congress returned from a break after a very productive first session.

Shortly afterward, the Senate received notice from President George Washington that he had made appointments in their absence—the first-ever Presidential recess appointments came during the very first congressional recess.

When Congress is in session, the President’s nominees must receive the “advice and consent” of the Senate before they are appointed to public office. But Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution also states:

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

The Founders intended for these recess appointments to ensure that the work of government could continue even when an office holder resigned or died when the Senate was not in session. These appointments allowed the President to temporarily place someone in office until the Senate had the chance to weigh in.

In the early years of the Republic, this happened frequently as Congress was usually in session for less than half the year. On February 9, 1790, President Washington sent a message to the Senate about his recess appointments. In it, he noted the Constitution allowed for temporary appointments.

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

In a chart, he then listed the titles of vacant positions and the names of those to whom he had given temporary appointments. He also included the names of those he nominated to the positions for a full term—the nominees were all the same people who had received the recess appointments.

Washington and subsequent Presidents frequently used recess appointments to keep the government running. Most of these appointments received perfunctory approval by the Senate. One notable exception was an incident during President Andrew Jackson’s administration.

Jackson had a rather tumultuous relationship with the Senate. The Senate had rejected a significant number of Jackson’s nominees from the beginning of his Presidency in 1829. In 1831, following Jackson’s disagreements with Vice President John C. Calhoun and a political scandal, Jackson’s entire cabinet, except one official, resigned.

The first to resign was Jackson’s close confidant—Secretary of State Martin Van Buren. Jackson wanted to keep Van Buren in his administration, so he gave Van Buren a recess appointment to be Minister (ambassador) to Great Britain. Jackson was confident that Van Buren would be confirmed by the Senate, and Van Buren sailed for England.

Senate roll call vote on Martin Van Buren’s nomination for Minister to Great Britain, January 25, 1832. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Senate roll call vote on Martin Van Buren’s nomination  to be Minister to Great Britain, January 25, 1832. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When the Senate convened and voted in January 1832, Van Buren’s nomination was rejected by a vote of 23 to 24. Vice President Calhoun, who was acting in his constitutional role as President of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote against the nomination.

Jackson was incensed to learn his own Vice President had killed the nomination.In response, Jackson dropped Calhoun from his ticket for the 1832 Presidential election and replaced him with Van Buren.

Jackson and Van Buren went on to win that election, and Van Buren was later elected to succeed Jackson to the Presidency. Calhoun saw his national stature and Presidential chances diminish as a consequence of his vote against confirming Van Buren’s recess appointment.

In more modern times, the President’s use of recess appointments has become more controversial, as Congress is now in session most of the year, with short breaks.

The recent ruling in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a Supreme Court case decided in June 2014, was the first time the Court has ever been called on to rule on the interpretation of the recess appointments clause.

In it, the court ruled that the recess appointments clause authorizes the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess. But, they also ruled that the Senate is in session whenever it indicates that it is, as long as it retains the capacity to transact its business.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.


A look back at 2014

What a year! Here’s some of the highlights of the last 12 months of the National Archives that we shared on our blog. Thanks for reading in 2014–we’ll see you in 2015 with more pieces of history!

The National Archives turned 80

And this is why we needed a National Archives! Photograph of storage conditions of the Office of Indian Affairs records, 1935. (Records of the National Archives, RG 64)

And this is why we needed a National Archives! Photograph of storage conditions of the Office of Indian Affairs records, 1935.
(Records of the National Archives, RG 64)

 

We The Poets

Making Their Mark

  • Our exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” opened in March and featured original signatures from our nationwide holdings. From developing a signature style to signing groundbreaking policy into law, this exhibit showed the many ways people have “made their mark” on history. Our curator and designer also created an eBook (download for free here). We featured the calling card of John Wilkes Booth and the signature style of the “Ike Jacket.” We blogged about women’s fashion for our “Six Weeks of Signature Style.” The exhibit closes on January 5, 2015–go see it now!
Visitors to "Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" saw First Lady Michelle Obama's dress on display.

Visitors to “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” saw First Lady Michelle Obama’s signature style in her dress on display.

 

Monuments Men

Veterans

  • If you served in the United States military, your official personnel folder (OPF) is part of the holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis. Our staff shared some of the amazing stories that they find while preserving, processing, and accessing these records. We learned about Betty Chambers, a WASP, and another pilot, Lt. James Vurgaropulos, who was killed in China. Other stories about veterans included the tale of how an archivist started to look for a photo of a gun for a veteran and found an unexpected photo of the requester; the real words that General Eisenhower uttered on D-Day; and the work of Paul Wittmer in making our records more accessible.
Elizabeth Chambers's WASP portrait from her official personnel folders (OPF).

Elizabeth Chambers’s WASP portrait from her official personnel folder (OPF).

 

National Archives on the Road

  • You don’t always need to come to Washington, DC, to see our holdings. We loan documents and objects to other cultural institutions. Our senior registrar, James Zeender, blogged about the documents that went on the road this year: the Delaware ratification of the Bill of Rights will be in England as part ofthe British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition; the Emancipation Proclamation was on exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art for 36 hourstwo letters from escaped slaves are on loan to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax; one of the original death registers was loaned to the Mauthausen National Memorial for display in the concentration camp’s infirmary building where the registers were originally kept; and the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803 is on display at the Missouri History Museum.
James Zeender and Terry Boone of the National Archives examine the Treaty between U.S. and Sauk and Fox Indians, signed in 1804 at St. Louis. (Photograph courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

James Zeender and Terry Boone of the National Archives examine the Treaty between U.S. and Sauk and Fox Indians, signed in 1804 at St. Louis. (Photograph courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

 

 

 


An airing of grievances: A pension clerk’s appeal

Caption:  An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

In honor of Festivus, this seems like the perfect document for the airing of grievances. This feature was originally published in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives (Summer 2013).

At the National Archives, and almost any other archival institution, one of the principal rules for using original records is to keep the records in the same order in which they are given to you.

We benefit in our research from the care taken by unknown prior custodians of the records. Their work is usually invisible, but in the case of our featured document, a clerk’s voice breaks through from the 19th century.

At the back of the Civil War widow’s pension file based on the service of Pvt. Stephen Whitehead, a Pension Office clerk wrote:

These papers having been sorted with considerable care and for convenience arranged in something like their logical order, are now fastened together in the hope that the next man may escape the annoyance and drudgery that would be entailed were they chucked back in the promiscuous condition in which they were found.

Jany. 16, 1894.                              C.L.H.

 

The clerk’s frustration is understandable in light of the complexity of the Whitehead pension case. In 1860, Whitehead married Charian Lowrey but left her before their daughter, Rachel, was born in 1861. Later that year, Whitehead married a woman named Sarah, and two years later, Charian married another man. After Whitehead died in 1865, Charian applied for and received a widow’s pension. But in 1870, Sarah also received a pension based on Whitehead’s service.

The Pension Office’s investigation of the Whitehead claims continued until 1917, after Sarah’s death and Charian’s remarriage to a third husband. The final judgment: pension denied to Charian because “you contracted more than one marriage after the death of the soldier.”

Penciled notes on several pages in the file—accompanied by question marks and exclamation points—look like they may be in C.L.H.’s hand, but there is no proof. This note was uncovered by the team processing Civil War widows pensions for digitization.

The rare appearance by “C.L.H.” reminds us that the existence of documents for our use today depended on the care and attention of record keepers in the past.


Illuminating the National Archives

This photo from August 29, 1954, shows the National Archives Building lit up for the very first time, its beautiful columns and attic story glowing while onlookers gather to witness the occasion.

Photograph of the National Archives Building Lit Up at Night, 08/29/1954. (National Archives Identifier 7873481)

Photograph of the National Archives Building lit up at night, 08/29/1954. (National Archives Identifier 7873481)

Surprisingly, while other Washington, DC, landmarks were illuminated, the National Archives stood dark every night for the first 19 years it was open. Although John Russell Pope, the building’s architect, had made plans for exterior lighting, a lack of funds prevented the Archives from being lit. It was not until 1954 that funds became available to turn on the 280 exterior built-in light bulbs to illuminate the structure.

The first-ever illumination of the National Archives coincided with the American Legion National Convention in Washington, DC, in August of 1954. On the night of August 29, a ceremony was held to celebrate the first illumination of the National Archives, kicking off the convention’s four days of festivities.

Archivist of the United States Wayne C. Grover presided over the ceremony, and National Commander Arthur J. Connell of the American Legion, a patriotic veterans’ organization, gave remarks and flipped the switch to light the structure. General Services Administrator Edmund Mansure commented that illuminating the National Archives for the first time was “a fitting symbol of patriotism” with which to begin the American Legion National Convention.


A WASP’s Story

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis.

The year was 1943, and Elizabeth “Betty” Maxine Chambers was a young mother and a widow. Betty’s husband, Army pilot Lt. Robert William Chambers, had died in 1942 when his P-38F Lightening aircraft crashed at Mills Field in San Mateo, California. Undaunted, Betty applied to be among the first female pilots in the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.

Elizabeth Chambers's WASP portrait from her official personnel folders (OPF).

Elizabeth ​”Betty” Maxine Chambers, WASP Class of 44-W-3. Photograph from her official personnel folders (OPF), held at the National Archives in St. Louis.

A native of Hollywood, California, Betty worked for the Walt Disney Company inking cartoon celluloid cells and for Universal Studios inking cells for “picture process work.” After the death of her husband, Betty and her baby moved in with her parents; she also acquired a more stable job as a telephone operator at Southern California Telephone Company.

Betty wanted more. Like more than 1,000 other women, she took to the skies to find it.

Betty and her comrades applied to an innovative civilian program designed to employ women to ferry wartime aircraft, serve as flight instructors, tow targets for live antiaircraft practice, transport cargo, and fly experimental aircraft. These female pilots relieved men from domestic duties so they could fight overseas in the war.

The WASP program was created in August 1943 when two other formerly established programs were merged: Jacqueline Cochran’s Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Nancy Harkness Love’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS). The WASP program was directed by Jacqueline Cochran while Nancy Love became the Executive of the Ferry Division of the Air Transport Command.

Women who possessed a pilot’s license and were between the ages of 21 and 35 were welcome to apply. Aviatrixes across the United States fled from their desks and kitchens to climb into cockpits to serve their country.

Telegram

Telegram from Jacqueline Cochran summoning Elizabeth Chambers to WASP duty, from her official personnel folders (OPF), held at the National Archives in St. Louis.

After an interview process, the women were trained as rigorously as military pilots and were paid at a rate of $1,800 per year. Successful trainees were stationed at one of 120 air bases, paid $3,000 per year, and reclassified as civilian pilots.

Like the majority of her fellow pilots, Betty Chambers received her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. After training, Betty was sent to Turner Field in Albany, Georgia, then attended the Army Air Force Tactical School in Orlando, Florida. She was later stationed at Greenwood Army Air Field in Greenwood, Mississippi.

As male pilots returned from wartime service, WASP members in service at the end of 1944 were forced to resign. Men wanted to fly domestically, and the country wanted women back at home to take care of their families. Betty Chambers was among the group of women whose service ended when the WASP program was disbanded.

This December 20 marks the 70th anniversary of the deactivation of the WASP program, a program so beloved by the women who served under it that many alumunae continued to fly and attend reunions.

On November 2, 1977, President Jimmy Carter passed Public Law 95-202, which granted military veteran status to all who served under the WASP program. In 2009, the highest medal awarded to civilians—the Congressional Gold Medal—was bestowed upon the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

The National Archives at St. Louis maintains the civilian WASP official personnel folders (OPFs). The administrative paperwork in these files reveals story after story of WASP adventures and history. OPFs are open to the public and photocopies of OPFs can be obtained for a fee. Please visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/ for more information.