U.S. Department of State: A Reference History

By Elmer Plischke | Go to book overview

1
Origins of American Diplomacy -- Prelude

"What is past is prologue" reads the inscription emblazoned on the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. -- an expression coined by Shakespeare as used in The Tempest. Though widely acknowledged for their creation of the United States and its political system, the Founders of the American Government also determined the nature and use of foreign affairs techniques, such as diplomatic and consular representation, the issuing of official credentials and the handling of diplomatic ceremonies, international negotiations and bargaining, and the conclusion of treaties and agreements. This experience showcases the adoption and application -- first by the newly independent States and then by the American Confederation -- of the diplomatic and consular institutions and practices that provided the foundation on which the Government of the United States could function and build after the Constitution went into effect.


EARLY DEVELOPMENTS

Prior to 1789, development of the conduct of foreign relations may be segmented in three periods. The first -- the extended colonial era -- ran until 1774. The second, a short span of less than two years -- marked by the movement toward union and the convening of the Continental Congress at Philadelphia in September 1774, the outbreak of the Revolutionary War the following year, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in mid-1776 -- was the critical period in which the colonies asserted their independence and created a confederal union. The third period, from 1776 to 1789, involved the commencement of collegial foreign relations directed by the Continental Congress, the establishment of a Department of Foreign Affairs, the appointment of a Secretary for

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