The Foreign Service of the United States: Origins, Development, and Functions

The Foreign Service of the United States: Origins, Development, and Functions

The Foreign Service of the United States: Origins, Development, and Functions

The Foreign Service of the United States: Origins, Development, and Functions

Excerpt

The Foreign Service is frequently referred to as the eyes and ears of the Department of State. Even when our rule of conduct in regard to foreign nations was that laid down by Washington in his Farewell Address "to have with them as little political connection as possible"--the usefulness of the reporting function was recognized. President John Adams, in one of his messages to Congress, declared that "early, punctual and continual information of the current chain of events and of the political projects in contemplation is no less necessary than if we were directly concerned in them." Today, when the destiny of the country is bound up, as never before, with the course of political and economic developments in other nations, the role of the Foreign Service in carrying out our foreign policy is of transcendent importance.

While today the Foreign Service is regarded as our first line of defense, this preeminence is of rather recent origin. During the greater part of its history the growth of the Foreign Service has been slow and hesitant. In the course of its 185 years of existence the Foreign Service has grown from a handful of gifted amateurs to a professional corps of several thousand, but much of this growth has been crowded into the last 50 years.

Our first representation abroad was improvised on an emergency basis. The achievements of our pioneer diplomats and agents were generally acclaimed as vital to the success of the rebellion against Great Britain and the establishment of American independence. In the succeeding years, however, though foreign commerce was welcomed, foreign political involvement was shunned, and public sentiment did not recognize the necessity or even the desirability of a professionally organized foreign representation.

For many years the development of our diplomatic and consular establishments was spasmodic and unplanned, characterized by measures of limited and partial scope at infrequent intervals. Haphazard organization, uncertainty of tenure, inadequate compensation, and absence of any logical system of recruitment and promotion tended through most of the 19th century to restrict the Diplomatic Service to a small group of the relatively wealthy and to make the Consular Service the victim of the political spoilsman.

The concept of the Foreign Service as a career service emerged in the minds of a few in the late 19th century, but it did not become an institutional reality . . .

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