Like the district and circuit court system, the Office of the United States Attorney was created with the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789; and, like the court system, it was a product of the "federal issue."
Under the Judiciary Act, the United States Attorneys were limited to handling legal matters for the federal government within their own districts, while the Attorney General handled only the litigation which went to the Supreme Court. The Attorney General was primarily counselor to the President and department heads. Therefore, individual District Attorneys (United States Attorneys) were autonomous but isolated. This was a deliberate move by Congress and can be seen as part of the compromise that the Federalists and the Anti-federalists were trying to forge.
United States Attorneys were paid by a system of fees based upon the types of legal services rendered, sums of money from which they also had to deduct the expenses of their staffs and offices. As may be imagined, it was difficult to find worthy candidates for these positions in this climate. President George Washington was forced to promote the office on the basis of prestige alone. The United States Attorneys and the Attorney General had to be allowed to retain their private practices in order to make ends meet.
The forced separation between the District Attorneys and the Attorney General created many problems in coordination and administration. The first Attorney General, Edmund Randolph, attempted to reform this system almost immediately upon taking office. His efforts, and the efforts of the other would-be reformers (which included every Attorney General ever to be appointed,) were unsuccessful and the system remained unchanged until 1861. The opposition from men such as Daniel Webster was too strong.
This opposition was finally overcome by increasingly burdensome administrative problems within the nation's legal system. In 1861 Congress directed the Attorney General to supervise the United States Attorneys. In 1870 the Department of Justice was created. It is a large law firm which unified the national legal agencies, including the US Attorneys, under the Attorney General. In 1896 the fee system of pay was replaced by a fixed salary schedule dependent on caseload. Also in 1896, the paying of expenses and the appointment of Assistant United States Attorneys were permitted. All laws regarding the offices of United States Attorney were finally collected and codified in 1966, under Title 28 of the United States Code Sections 541-550, establishing the rules which still govern that office today.
The United States Attorneys now work exclusively for the government of the United States and live in the district for which they are appointed. The US Attorneys handle all litigation concerning the United States at the district and appellate court levels. The US Attorney's Office for the District of New Hampshire consists of the United States Attorney and 22 Assistant United States Attorneys working in three areas of law: Administrative, Criminal, and Civil.