Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Department of Foreign Affairs

One of the most difficult jobs in the world today must be that of United States Ambassador to (insert name of country here). Your days would be filled with having to explain to incredulous audiences in your country of assignment why the government you represent is acting like a three-ring circus, except not in an entertaining way. You would have to smile and explain that this is just the give and take of representative, democratic government, and that the President and the 535 buffoons at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue really aren't hell-bent on wrecking the country, deliberately ruining its economy and reputation, and making it look like Freedonia to the rest of the world.

That's one reason I'm not looking forward to our trip to Germany next month for Agnes's class reunion ... having to explain the slow-motion train wreck of our government to truly puzzled people who used to look up to us.

But let's get back to those poor, credentialed Ambassadors out there trying to represent the U.S. of A. They'll probably be trying to take some time out of their busy days to celebrate the birthday of what we know today as the Department of State.

Yes, Dear Readers, the State Department was was created on this date in 1789 when President George Washington signed a law establishing the United States Department of Foreign Affairs, making it the first federal agency created under the newly-adopted Constitution. The Department of Foreign Affairs had evolved from the previous Committee of Secret Correspondence, which was headed up by that acknowledged master of foreign affairs (wink, nudge), Benjamin Franklin.

At the time, the capitol of the United States was located in New York, and Congress was carrying out its business (they actually used to do that, you know) in New York City Hall. The Department of Foreign Affairs was headquartered at Fraunces Tavern, on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, where the Treasury and War departments were also located. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs was given "the custody and charge of all records, books, and papers" of the government - essentially making him the archivist of the United States as well. In September 1789, the department was assigned additional duties and renamed the Department of State.

President Washington named Thomas Jefferson, who had been representing the United States in Paris, as the first Secretary of State. By the time Jefferson was able to return from Paris to take up his new job (in March, 1790), the State Department had moved to a new location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ... unless there happened to be a yellow fever epidemic, in which case the department operated out of Trenton, New Jersey.

Did you follow all that?

Today, the State Department is headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, employs tens of thousands of people, and has embassies and/or consulates in every country except North Korea, Cuba, Bhutan, Iran, and Taiwan (to avoid irritating the somewhat larger China to the west). You can see a full list of U.S. embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions here, and learn everything you wanted to know about the State Department here.

So, sail on, oh ship of state! Happy birthday! Enjoy all those foreign affairs, ha, ha. And good luck with explaining to the rest of the world why they should respect us when the government you represent looks like something out of ... well ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Anonymous said...

I think it's a terrible insult to the Three Stooges to have been compared to the U.S. Congress.

Mike said...

Add 4 of these six to your list.

1 Microstates
1.1 Andorra
1.2 Liechtenstein
1.3 Malta
1.4 Monaco
1.5 San Marino
1.6 Vatican City and Holy See