Grateful American® Foundation

Which president was the first Secretary of State?

March 22nd

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale_1800March 22, 1790 — Thomas Jefferson became the first US Secretary of State today.

The process began on September 29, 1789, when President George Washington appointed Jefferson to be Minister to France. The author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was one of the leading statesmen of his day, the most famous American political philosopher.

After years of experience as the American Minister in Paris, the epicenter of Europe’s diplomacy, Jefferson returned to the United States to assume his duties. At that time, the US had only two diplomatic posts and 10 consular posts.

Jefferson drew the distinction between the politically oriented diplomatic service and commercially directed consular service, and initiated the practice of requiring periodic reports from American diplomats and consuls abroad.

During his 3 years as Secretary of State, both services grew only marginally. The Department of State itself was equally small, consisting in 1790 of a chief clerk, three other clerks, and a messenger. The title “clerk” refers to officer charged with composition of messages to overseas posts and other correspondence. The total domestic and foreign expenditures of Jefferson’s Department in 1791 was only $56,600.

Words of Wisdom

Martha Washington often recalled the two saddest days of her life. The first was December 14, 1799, when her husband died. The second was in January 1801 when Thomas Jefferson visited Mount Vernon.

As a close friend explained, She assured a party of gentlemen, of which I was one ... that next to the loss of her husband, Jefferson's visit was the most painful occurrence of her life.

She had come to dislike Jefferson for his frequent attacks on President George Washington as a monarchist bent on destroying the rule of the people and a senile follower of the policies of Alexander Hamilton.

Jefferson refused to attend memorial services for the president, saying in private that the republican spirit in the nation might revive now that Washington was dead and the Federalists could no longer hide behind his heroic image.

In her late teens, Martha Dandridge caught the eye of Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy Virginia planter 20 years her senior. Custis' father initially opposed the marriage, viewing the prospective bride's family as not being wealthy enough. He finally gave his consent, however, and the two were married in May of 1750. In their seven years together the couple had four children, two of whom died as toddlers. Daniel's sudden death in 1757 left Martha as the wealthiest widow in Virginia, with a 17,500 acre estate to manage and two very young children to raise alone, at the age of just 26. Several men, including a militia officer less than a year younger than Martha named George Washington, began courting her the following year. She married Washington on Jan. 6, 1759, and moved to his family home several months later. The next 16 years of Martha Washington's life were largely spent at Mount Vernon.

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