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Cordell Hull remains the longest-serving Secretary of State in American History, and he was Franklin Roosevelt’s very first presidential nominee of any kind (see the “1” in the upper-right corner in the image above). FDR got down to business after delivering his inaugural address, nominating Hull and several others that same day. You may be looking at FDR’s first presidential signature.

Unlike many of the documents I’ve blogged about, this one has weathered the years quite poorly. Its discoloration and mottled appearance are even more striking in person. I believe FDR’s nominations were the first to have eventually been stored as flat sheets of paper, so that may have (paradoxically) taken somewhat of a preservative toll on the half of the document we care about. Sitting on top of the pile for decades can’t have helped.

Hull had to resign his Senate seat in order to accept the State position—the Constitution’s Incompatibility Clause provides that “no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.” Multiple non-Wikipedia sources confirm that he resigned on March 4, the day FDR nominated him. But could he not have stayed in the Senate a bit longer had he been so inclined? A Senator less certain of his own Senatorial confirmation could at least stick around until a majority of his colleagues had tendered assurances of their support. Might he not also be able to vote to confirm himself? The Incompatibility Clause doesn’t clearly prohibit a Senator’s facilitation of his own executive office-holding. Even after confirmation votes, mustn’t presidents issue commissions to confirmed nominees (per Article II, Section 3) in order for them to become “Person[s] holding any [other] Office under the United States?” So for the same reason that we don’t speak of Justice John Quincy Adams, Justice William Smith, or Justice Roscoe Conkling—the necessity of a post-confirmation commission to complete the process—it seems that a Senator can constitutionally vote to confirm himself to another federal office, as long as he promptly resigns afterward.

After writing that paragraph, I checked the State Department Historian’s web site, which says that Hull entered duty on the day he was nominated. Without doing some serious digging, there’s no way to know whether he resigned his Senate seat before or after the floor vote or whether he made himself an agent of his own confirmation (doubtful). But my rambling theoretical point stands.

My own Hull autographs: