In the United States it was undoubtedly intended that the President should be little more than a political chief; that is to say, one whose functions should, in the main, consist in the performance of those political duties which are not subject to judicial control. It is quite clear that it was intended that he should not, except as to these political matters, be the administrative head of the government, with general power of directing and controlling the acts of subordinate federal administrative agents. The acts of Congress establishing the Departments of Foreign Affairs [State] and of War, did indeed recognize in the President a general power of control, but the first of these departments, it is to be observed, is concerned chiefly with political matters, and the second has to deal with the armed forces which by the Constitution are expressly placed under the control of President as Commander-in-chief. The act establishing the Treasury Department simply provided that the Secretary should perform those duties which he should be directed to perform, and the language of the act, as well as the debates in Congress at the time of its enactment, show that it was intended that this direction should come from Congress. Furthermore, the Secretary is to make his annual reports not to the President, but to Congress.5 In similar manner, the Post-Office Department, when first permanently organized in 1794, was not placed under the control of the President The act gives in detail the duties of the Postmaster-General and there is no suggestion that in the exercise of these duties he is to be under other than congressional direction.
5 Cf. Goodnow, American Administrative Law, p. 78.
The constitutional power of Congress thus to assume direction of administrative departments of the Government received the approval of the Supreme Court in Kendall v. United States.6 In that case the court say:
"The executive power is vested in a President, and as far as his powers are derived from the Constitution, he is beyond the reach of any other department, except in the mode prescribed by the Constitution through the impeaching power. But it by no means follows that every officer in every branch of that department is under the exclusive direction of the President. Such a principle, we apprehend, is not, and certainly cannot be claimed by the President. There are certain political duties imposed upon many officers in the executive department, the discharge of which is under the direction of the President. But it would be an alarming doctrine that Congress cannot impose upon any executive officer any duty they may think proper, which is not repugnant to any rights secured and protected by the Constitution; and in such cases, the duty and responsibility grow out of and are subject to the control of the law, and not to the direction of the President. And this is emphatically the case where the duty enjoined is of a mere ministerial character."
The circuit court in this case had said :7 " The legislature may prescribe the duties of the office at the time of its creation, or from time to time as circumstances may require. ... As the head of an executive department, he (the Postmaster-General) is bound, when required by the President, to give his opinion in writing upon any subject relating to the duties of his office. The President in the execution of his duty to see that the laws be faithfully executed, is bound to see that the Postmaster-General discharges ' faithfully ' the duties assigned to him by law, but this does not authorize the President to direct him how he shall discharge them."
6 12 Pet. 524: 9 L. ed. 1181.
7 United States v. Kendall, 5 Cr. C. C. 163.