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President-elect Joe Biden recently announced that he was nominating Tom Vilsack to be his Secretary of Agriculture, the same position that Vilsack served in during President Barack Obama's tenure.

Are there other examples of former Cabinet secretaries being appointed back to the same position in a future administration?

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As John Dallman points out, it is common for a Secretary to continue serving in their post despite a change in President. It is far less common, however, for a Secretary to reprise a role under another, future, President - as would be the case if Vilsack is confirmed.

There are a few, but it's pretty rare. There are only six reprisals of Secretary posts that I know of, the only one in living memory being Donald Rumsfeld's nomination to the post of Secretary of Defense.

Secretary of State

  • Daniel Webster - Nominated by Harrison in 1841, subsequently by Fillmore in 1850.
  • William Hunter - Nominated by Pierce in 1853, subsequently by Buchanan in 1860.
  • James G. Blaine - Nominated by Garfield in 1881, subsequently by Harrison in 1889.

Secretary of the Treasury

  • Hugh McCulloch - Nominated by Lincoln in 1865, subsequently by Arthur in 1884.
  • William Windom - Nominated by Garfield in 1881, subsequently by Harrison in 1889.

Secretary of Defense

  • Donald Rumsfeld - Nominated by Ford in 1975, subsequently by Bush in 2001.

If we count Attorney General as a Secretary-level position, there have been another couple:

  • John J. Crittenden - Nominated by Harrison in 1841, subsequently by Fillmore in 1850.
  • Bill Barr - Nominated by Bush sr. in 1991, subsequently by Trump in 2019.

Finally, if we include posts that are no longer extant, or are no longer Cabinet members, there are another couple of examples:

  • John Mason - Nominated for the position of Secretary of the Navy in 1844 by Tyler, and subsequently by Polk in 1846.
  • Henry Stimson - Nominated for the position of Secretary of War in 1911 by Taft, and subsequently by FDR in 1940.
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  • 1
    Thanks for the comprehensive list!
    – Panda
    Dec 22 '20 at 16:28
  • Were there any cases where someone in a deprecated position was then placed in the new position(s) that replaced it? E.g. a former Secretary of War becoming the Secretary of the Army or Air Force? Or any of those becoming Secretary of Defense when that change took place? Those would be some more potential edge-cases. Dec 22 '20 at 20:00
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    Why wouldn't you count the Attorney General? The position has always been part of the Cabinet, although it predates the creation of the Justice Department by 80 years.
    – chepner
    Dec 22 '20 at 20:31
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    @chepner the question explicitly stated "cabinet secretaries". I think it's reasonable that the numerous cabinet positions with "Secretary" in the title are obviously "cabinet secretaries" but other cabinet positions are less clearly on-topic. Dec 23 '20 at 1:42
  • @KamilDrakari It's very unlikely the OP specifically meant to exclude Cabinet members that don't have "secretary" in their title.
    – chepner
    Dec 23 '20 at 12:43
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Yes. A full list would require considerable research, so I looked at the George H W Bush cabinet, which immediately followed the Ronald Reagan cabinet.

Nicholas F Brady served as Secretary of the Treasury in both administrations, Dick Thornburgh did likewise as US Attorney General, and Lauro Cavazos as Secretary of Education.

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    It's likely this occurred in many cases where 2 presidents of the same party served consecutively, particularly in cases like this where the VP became POTUS. In fact, if you count every instance of a president dying in office, his successor almost always kept most if not all of the same cabinet. But in general, when any VP becomes POTUS (even with a 4 year gap like the current situation), it's understandable they'd want some of the same people around. Dec 22 '20 at 19:56
  • @DarrelHoffman Robert Gates was SecDef for Bush Jr, and the kept on in the same position by Obama, despite them being in different parties.
    – Darren
    Dec 22 '20 at 20:03

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