United States Secretary of State

The United States secretary of state is a member of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States and the head of the U.S. Department of State. The office holder is one of the highest ranking members of the president's Cabinet, and ranks the first in the U.S. presidential line of succession among Cabinet secretaries.

United States Secretary of State
Seal of the Secretary of State
Flag of the Secretary of State
Antony Blinken
since January 26, 2021
United States Department of State
StyleMr. Secretary (informal)
The Honorable[1] (formal)
His Excellency[2] (diplomatic)
Member ofCabinet
National Security Council
Reports toPresident of the United States
SeatWashington, D.C.
AppointerPresident of the United States
with Senate advice and consent
Constituting instrument22 U.S.C. § 2651
PrecursorSecretary of Foreign Affairs
FormationJuly 27, 1789 (1789-07-27)
First holderThomas Jefferson
DeputyDeputy Secretary of State
SalaryExecutive Schedule, Level I[4]

Created in 1789 with Thomas Jefferson as its first office holder, the secretary of state represents the United States to foreign countries, and is therefore considered analogous to a foreign minister in other countries.[5][6] The secretary of state is nominated by the president of the United States and, following a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is confirmed by the United States Senate. The secretary of state, along with the secretary of the treasury, secretary of defense, and attorney general, are generally regarded as the four most crucial Cabinet members because of the importance of their respective departments.[7]

Secretary of State is a Level I position in the Executive Schedule and thus earns the salary prescribed for that level (US$221,400, as of January 2021).[8][4] The current secretary of state is Antony Blinken, who was confirmed on January 26, 2021, by the Senate by a vote of 78–22.[9]


The secretary of state originates from the government under the Articles of Confederation. The Congress of the Confederation established the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1781 and created the office of secretary of foreign affairs.[10] After the Constitution of the United States was ratified, the 1st United States Congress reestablished the department, renaming it the Department of State, and created the office of secretary of state to lead the department.[11]

Duties and responsibilities

The stated duties of the secretary of state are to supervise the United States foreign service and immigration policy and administer the Department of State. The secretary must also advise the president on U.S. foreign matters such as the appointment of diplomats and ambassadors, advising the president of the dismissal and recall of these people. The secretary of state can conduct negotiations, interpret, and terminate treaties relating to foreign policy. The secretary also can participate in international conferences, organizations, and agencies as a representative of the United States. The secretary communicates issues relating to the U.S. foreign policy to Congress and citizens. The secretary also provides services to U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad such as providing credentials in the form of passports. Doing this, the secretary also ensures the protection of citizens, their property, and interests in foreign countries.[12]

What are the Qualifications of a Secretary of State? He ought to be a Man of universal Reading in Laws, Governments, History. Our whole terrestrial Universe ought to be summarily comprehended in his Mind.

John Adams[13]

Secretaries of state also have domestic responsibilities, entrusted in 1789, when the position was first created. These include the protection and custody of the Great Seal of the United States, and the preparation of some presidential proclamations. In the process of extraditing fugitives to or from the country, the secretary serves as the channel of communication between foreign governments, the federal government, and the states.[12]

Most of the domestic functions of the Department of State were gradually transferred to other agencies by the late 19th century as part of various administrative reforms and restructurings.[14] Those that remain include storage and use of the Great Seal, performance of protocol functions for the White House, and the drafting of certain proclamations. The secretary also negotiates with the individual states over the extradition of fugitives to foreign countries.[15] Under federal law, the resignation of a president or of a vice president is valid only if declared in writing, in an instrument delivered to the office of the secretary of state.[16] Accordingly, the resignations of President Richard Nixon and of Vice President Spiro Agnew were formalized in instruments delivered to then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Although they have historically decreased over time, Congress may occasionally add to the responsibilities of the secretary of state. One such instance occurred in 2014, when Congress passed the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act which mandated actions the Secretary of State must take in order to facilitate the return of abducted children from nations who are party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.[17]

As the highest-ranking member of the cabinet, the secretary of state is the third-highest official of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government, after the president and vice president, and is fourth in line to succeed the presidency, after the vice president, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the president pro tempore of the Senate.

Six past secretaries of state  Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren and Buchanan  have gone on to be elected president. Others, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Lewis Cass, John C. Calhoun, John M. Clayton, William L. Marcy, William Seward, Edward Everett, Jeremiah S. Black, James Blaine, Elihu B. Washburne, Thomas F. Bayard, John Sherman, Walter Q. Gresham, William Jennings Bryan, Philander C. Knox, Charles Evans Hughes, Elihu Root, Cordell Hull, Edmund Muskie, Alexander Haig, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton have also campaigned as presidential candidates, either before or after their term of office as Secretary of State, but were ultimately unsuccessful. The position of Secretary of State has therefore been viewed to be a consolation prize for failed presidential candidates.[18]

See also


  1. "Protocol Reference". United States Department of State. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  2. "United Nations Heads of State, Protocol and Liaison Service" (PDF). United Nations. January 29, 2021. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 14, 2020. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  3. "3 U.S. Code § 19 – Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act". Cornell Law School.
  4. 5 U.S.C. § 5312.
  5. "Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers for Foreign Affairs", Protocol and Liaison Service, United Nations. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  6. NATO Member Countries, NATO. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  7. "Cabinets and Counselors: The President and the Executive Branch" (1997). Congressional Quarterly. p. 87.
  8. "Salary Table No. 2021-EX Rates of Basic Pay for the Executive Schedule (EX)" (PDF).
  9. "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 117th Congress – 1st Session". www.senate.gov. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  10. Short 1923, pp. 55–56.
  11. "1 United States Statutes at Large, Chapter 4, Section 1".
  12. "Duties of the Secretary of State". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  13. Ford, Worthington C., ed. (1927). Statesman and Friend: Correspondence of John Adams with Benjamin Waterhouse, 1784–1822. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company. p. 57.
  14. "Administrative Timeline of the Department of State - Department History - Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Retrieved January 10, 2022.
  15. "Duties of the Secretary of State of the United States". www.state.gov. United States Department of State. January 20, 2009. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  16. "3 U.S. Code § 20 – Resignation or refusal of office". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  17. "H.R.3212 - 113th Congress (2013-2014): Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014". www.congress.gov. August 8, 2014. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
  18. Stone, Andrea (August 12, 2014). "Why Do Secretaries of State Make Such Terrible Presidential Candidates?". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved September 15, 2021.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)


Further reading

  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg, ed. (1963) The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy (19 vols.), scholarly biographies
  • Graebner, Norman A., ed. (1961) An Uncertain Tradition: American Secretaries of State in the Twentieth Century scholarly essays on John Hay through John Foster Dulles.
  • Hopkins, Michael F. (2008) "President Harry Truman's Secretaries of State: Stettinius, Byrnes, Marshall and Acheson" Journal of Transatlantic Studies v.6 n.3 pp. 290–304.
  • Mihalkanin, Edward, ed. (2004) online American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell short scholarly articles by experts
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