Wilson's first cabinet reflected the geographical distribution of Democratic strength across the United States and the various factions of the party. The secretary of state, Willam Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, had three times been the Democratic presidential candidate and represented particularly agrarian interests. The secretary of the treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo of New York, spoke for the independent, anti-Wall Street financial elements. The attorney general, James C. McReynolds of New York, had the reputation of a relentless trust-buster. The secretary of war, Lindley M. Garrison, was a New Jersey judge with no political base. The secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels of North Carolina, represented southern progressivism. Albert S. Burleson of Texas, the postmaster general, had served many terms in the House of Representatives. The secretary of labor, William B. Wilson of Pennsylvania, had been secretary-treasurer of the United Workers of America and was the frank spokesman of the American Federation of Labor (AF of L). Wilson chose the remaining three cabinet members—Franklin K. Lane of California, secretary of the interior; David E Houston of Texas, secretary of agriculture; and William C. Redfield of New York, secretary of commerce—more for their expertise than for their political influence.
There were several changes in the cabinet during the Wilson administration. Bryan resigned in 1915 and was replaced by Robert Lansing of New York, a professional international lawyer. Wilson dismissed Lansing in early 1920 and appointed Bain-bridge Colby of New York to succeed him. Garrison resigned in 1916 and was replaced by an Ohio progressive, Newton D. Baker. Carter Glass of Virginia, and then Houston, succeeded McAdoo at the Treasury Department in 1918 and 1920, respectively. McReynolds resigned in 1914 to accept appointment to the Supreme Court. He was succeeded by Thomas W. Gregory of Texas and, in 1919, by Alexander M. Palmer of Pennsylvania. Lane left the cabinet in 1920 and was succeeded by John B. Payne of Illinois. When Houston went to the treasury in 1920, Edwin T. Meredith of Iowa took his place as secretary of agriculture.
Wilson worked closely with his cabinet officers but gave them considerable freedom and initiative and always supported them so long as they executed policies that had his approval. Cabinet meetings, which usually took place once a week, were informal affairs at which Wilson would discuss current problems and seek, as he put it, "common counsel." Wilson formally requested the advice of the cabinet on a specific issue only once—on 20 March 1917, on the question of whether he should ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.