In his biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Josiah Bunting III reports that in 1869 newly-elected President Grant's first nomination for Treasury Secretary was retail magnate Alexander T. Stewart (think R.H. Macy, only bigger). The Senate, however, "discovered a relatively obscure statute, dated 1789, that forbade the treasury secretaryship to be filled by anyone in trade." Grant therefore had to make another selection.
This sounded odd to me, so I thought I'd check it out. Sure enough, there it was. The statute is not exactly obscure - it was the original Act to establish the Treasury Department, passed by the First Congress and signed into law by President Washington on September 2, 1789 - but no doubt the provision in question was.
That provision was Section 8 of the Act, which provided in relevant part as follows:
And be it further enacted, That no person appointed to any office instituted by this act, shall directly or indirectly be concerned or interested in carrying on the business of trade or commerce, or be owner in whole or in part of any sea-vessel, or purchase by himself, or another in trust with him, any public lands or other public property, or be concerned in the purchase or disposal of any public securities of any State, or of the United States, or take or apply to his own use, any emolument or gain for negotiating or transacting any business in the said department, other than what shall be allowed by law . . ..
I haven't gone back and checked, but it's hard to believe that one or more Treasury Secretaries who served between 1789 and 1869 didn't do so in violation of this provision. Anyone know?