Midlanders aren't newcomers to presidential Cabinets. While the political class chatters about whether Chuck Hagel will become the next defense secretary, here's a look at Cabineteers past who hailed from Iowa or Nebraska (not counting the current agriculture secretary, Iowa's Tom Vilsack). Plus a few things — courtesy of their biographers and news archives — that maybe you didn't know.
Interior secretary to President Andrew Johnson
» A friend of Abraham Lincoln's, the anti-slavery Iowan held his post in the Johnson Cabinet for just a year. In that time Harlan cleaned house, firing clerks he said were seldom at their desks. Among them: up-and-coming poet Walt Whitman, who was sacked, his biographers say, because former Methodist minister Harlan found his poems immoral. Years later, Harlan denied it, saying Whitman just wasn't needed.
J. STERLING MORTON
Agriculture secretary for President Grover Cleveland
» Famed as founder of Arbor Day, the Nebraska City tree lover and conservative Democrat was the first person from west of the Missouri River to serve in the Cabinet.
Agriculture secretary to three presidents
» Still the record-holder for longest-serving Cabinet member (16 years starting in 1897), the Scottish-born Wilson led farm-modernization efforts under Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Taft.
WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN
Secretary of state for President Woodrow Wilson
» A Democratic Party star and showy speaker, the “Boy Orator of the Platte” represented Nebraska in Congress, was briefly editor of The World-Herald and ran three times for president, unsuccessfully, before joining Wilson's Cabinet. When he saw the U.S. was about to enter the Great War, he resigned.
EDWIN T. MEREDITH
Agriculture secretary to President Wilson
» Named to the Wilson Cabinet in 1920, Meredith served just a year, then unsuccessfully ran for president. He returned to his Iowa publishing empire, the Meredith Corp. (including Successful Farming and Fruit, Garden, and Home, which later became Better Homes and Gardens).
HENRY A. WALLACE
Agriculture, commerce secretary to two presidents
» The son of Henry C., a Republican, Henry A. switched to Democrat when President Franklin Roosevelt made him ag secretary. Wallace advanced to vice president in 1940 but was bumped from that post four years later in favor of Harry Truman. (As a consolation, Wallace was made commerce secretary.) Wallace missed becoming president by 82 days. Instead, Truman inherited the job — and fired Wallace in a dispute over Soviet policy.
FRED A. SEATON
Interior secretary for President Dwight Eisenhower
» In 1956, the longtime Hastings, Neb., newspaper publisher became Eisenhower's interior secretary, presiding over Alaska's and Hawaii's admittance to the Union.
CLAYTON K. YEUTTER
Agriculture secretary for President George H.W. Bush
» The Eustis native who was born during Nebraska's Dust Bowl held several government posts before becoming USDA head in 1989. Two years later, he left to lead the Republican National Committee.
GEORGE W. MCCRARY
Secretary of war for President Rutherford Hayes (Iowa)
SAMUEL J. KIRKWOOD
Secretary of interior for President James Garfield (Iowa)
WILLIAM W. BELKNAP
Secretary of war for President Ulysses S. Grant (Iowa)
LESLIE M. SHAW
Treasury secretary to President Theodore Roosevelt (Iowa)
HENRY C. WALLACE
Agriculture secretary to President Harding (Iowa)
MIKE O. JOHANNS
Agriculture secretary to President George W. Bush (Nebraska)
Clifford M. Hardin
Agriculture Secretary under President Richard Nixon
A former University of Nebraska chancellor. Serve under Nixon from 1969 to 1971.
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Editor's note, Dec. 24: Clifford Hardin was omitted from the original version of this list.