Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
INTERIOR, Department of the. While every European government has long had its ministry of the interior, or department of internal affairs, it was not until 1849 that the United States established what is called in the title of the act (though nowhere else), the home department. Up to that time the important functions now exercised by the secretary of the interior were distributed among four other departments of the government; the secretary of state had charge of patents, copyrights, the census, and public documents; the secretary of the treasury had the business of the public lands, mines and mining, and judicial accounts; Indian affairs were in charge of the war department, and the business of pensions was divided between the secretary of war and the secretary of the navy. All these varied departments of the public business (except copyrights), to which were added by subsequent laws the bureau of education, the Pacific railways, the public surveys, the territories, and the charge of certain charitable institutions in the District of Columbia, were assigned to the secretary of the interior by not of March 3, 1849. (9 Stat. at Large. 395).
—The secretary of the interior is appointed by the president and senate, salary $8,000, and is by custom, though not by law, one of the seven members of the cabinet. He is required to make an annual report as to the public documents received and distributed under general laws, and he makes frequent special reports to congress, on call of either house or otherwise, concerning the business of any of the half-dozen bureaus subject to his supervision. All communications to the president or to congress from the heads of these bureaus are required to pass through his hands.
—There are in the interior department, besides the clerical force attached to each bureau, an assistant secretary of the interior, salary, $3,500; a chief clerk, salary, $2,750; and 103 clerks, laborers and watchmen, drawing, in aggregate salaries, $115,190 per annum. There is also an assistant attorney general for the interior department, with five clerks, whose salaries aggregate $9,450 per annum. The secretary's office has seven divisions, each with a chief and clerks attached, these are known as those of appointments, of disbursements, lands and railroads, Indian affairs, pensions and miscellaneous, public documents, and stationery and printing. The vast extent and variety of the public business which passes through the office of the secretary of the interior demands executive abilities of the highest order in the head of that office. The rapid territorial development of the country, the public geological and mineralogical surveys, the sales, settlement and surveys of the public lands, the legal relations of the transcontinental railroads to the government, the care of the great Indian population with the purchase of their supplies, the execution of treaties with the tribes and the constantly recurring removals of the aborigines, the enormous business of pensions for army and navy service, the great and rapidly increasing business of patents for inventions, the census office with its periodically recurring and complicated labors, the custody and distribution of the vast series of public documents, the charge of hospitals and asylums at the seat of government; these and other weighty public interests demand a comprehensive skill, wide legal and general knowledge, and prompt capacity for business scarcely paralleled by any other department of the government service. While the heads of the various bureaus in the interior department have entire charge in detail of the business belonging to their offices, the secretary of the interior has the ultimate decision of all questions involving government action, with few exceptions. The secretary has also the power of appointing the clerks and subordinate officers in most of the bureaus, thus constituting a large patronage. All patents issued in the name of the United States must be signed by the secretary of the interior.
—The multifarious business of the department of the interior, originally concentrated into one extensive building near the centre of Washington city, has expanded so prodigiously as to require many of its bureaus and more than half its official employés to be colonized in other localities. The bureau of education has its offices opposite; the geological survey is established at the National Museum; the pension bureau occupies a large building on Pennsylvania avenue; and the various divisions of the census office are distributed in rented buildings elsewhere.
—The following is a list of the secretaries of the interior from the first, with the time of their respective appointments:
A. R. SPOFFORD.
Notes for this chapter
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