U.S. Department of State: A Reference History

By Elmer Plischke | Go to book overview

of issuing foreign policy proclamations, and the Secretary and Department of State established a system of organizing, maintaining, and servicing their records and archives.

Building on the precedents set by the Continental Congress, on the traditions and practices of other countries, and more concretely on the interests and needs of the embryonic Federal Government, from the outset Congress, Presidents Washington and Adams, and their Secretaries of State dealt with the enactment of a series of fundamental and implementing laws, the creation of administrative machinery, and the formulation of policies, practices, and techniques for managing and conducting the foreign affairs of the United States. The essence of these determinations, agencies, instruments, and procedures, as later incrementally refined, for the conduct of relations with other nations not only provided the rudiments of the American system but also has endured for more than two centuries.


NOTES
1.
On June 2, 1789, a House of Representatives committee presented the proposal to establish an executive "Department of Foreign Affairs," whichwas passed on June 24 and was also passed by the Senate on July 27. See Annals of Congress, 1st Cong. ( 1789-91), 2: 2187. For a detailed account of the House of Representatives debate on creating the Department and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, June16-24, 1789, see Annals of Congress, 1st Cong. ( 1789-91), 1:473-613.

For an interesting analysis of the issue of using the title"United States" in the singular and plural in the Constitution and in diplomatic practice,determined by a circular of the Secretary of State for diplomatic relations in 1904, see Foster, The Practice of Diplomacy, pp. 83-90.

2.
This proposal suggested thatHome Department duties would embrace correspondence with the "several States," monitor "the execution of thelaws of the Union," maintain and apply "the great seal," prepare commissions, affixthe seal to commissions and other official documents, maintain "authentic copies of allpublic acts" and other documents and transmit them to the States, procure enactments ofthe States and report when they were "contrary to the laws of the United States,"maintain "the archives of the late Congress" of the Confederation, "receive and record thecensus," maintain proposals for patents and keep records of those granted, andother functions as directed by the President. During the debate it was argued that a separateadministrative Department was unnecessary, that other agencies could handle some ofthese functions, that it was doubtful that the funding of a separate Department wasjustifiable, and that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs "was not so much overcharged" withfunctions that this office might "attend to" most of these duties.

Examples of contemporary governments that have Home AffairsMinistries include Great Britain, India, Japan, the Netherlands, and South Africa. Most of them are headed by Ministers of Home Affairs, whereas in Great Britain it istitled Secretary of State for the Home Department. In other governments domestic functions areascribed to other agencies.

3.
The Presidential Succession Actof 1886 provided that the Secretary of State suc-

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