You Gotta Know These Secretaries of State
- Thomas Jefferson (served 1790–1793 under President Washington): Known more for his presidency and completing the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson began his feud with Alexander Hamilton while serving as Secretary of State, even though his office had no bearing on Hamilton’s Treasury. He founded the Democratic-Republicans. He resigned his post after failing to secure from the British compensation for released slaves, withdrawal from garrisons in the Northwest Territory, and admission of violating the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.
- Henry Clay (served 1825–1829 under President John Quincy Adams): Clay helped negotiate the “corrupt bargain” that led to John Quincy Adams winning the House vote that decided the presidency in 1824 and led to his appointment as Secretary of State. While Clay served in that post, his slave, Charlotte Dupuy, sued for her freedom in a move that foreshadowed the Dred Scott case. He lost presidential elections as a Whig candidate three times prior to his involvement in the Compromise of 1850.
- Daniel Webster (served 1841–1843 under Presidents Harrison and Tyler, then again from 1850–1852 under President Fillmore): Webster negotiated the Webster-Ashburton treaty that defined the border between Maine and New Brunswick (the Eastern border) and left his post in 1843 under pressure from Whigs, who had resigned in protest from Tyler’s cabinet over the issue of the national bank. In his second term, he upheld the Compromise of 1850, which cost him popularity with his fellow New Englanders.
- William H. Seward (served 1861–1869 under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson): Seward wanted to resign prior to Lincoln’s inauguration, but the request was denied. Prior to the purchase of Alaska (“Seward’s Folly”), he helped set the conditions that ended the Atlantic slave trade in the Lyons-Seward treaty between the U.S. and U.K. He survived an assassination attempt the night Lincoln was shot. The purchase of Alaska was completed on March 30, 1867 for close to two cents an acre from Russia.
- John Hay (served 1898–1905 under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt): Hay negotiated the 1898 Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War and established the “open door policy” with China. He also served as Lincoln’s personal secretary while working as a clerk in the Interior Department. He negotiated the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty that established the Panama Canal Zone in 1903.
- Elihu Root (served 1905–1909 under President T. Roosevelt): Succeeding Hay after Hay’s death, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 for attempting to bring nations together for arbitration and cooperative agreements. During his tenure, he moved the consular service under the umbrella of the civil service. His negotiations with Great Britain settled border disputes regarding Alaska and Canada, and he was a proponent of free trade policies with China that Hay established.
- Cordell Hull (served 1933–1944 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt): Known as “Father of the United Nations,” Hull was a Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1945 for his work in founding that organization. He sent a namesake note to Japan prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor making a futile attempt to force the Japanese out of French Indochina, China, and Manchukuo, in accordance with his predecessor’s Stimson Doctrine.
- George Marshall (served 1947–1949 under President Truman): As a general, he oversaw the largest expansion of the U.S. military in its history and wrote the central strategy for the Allies in Europe. Namesake of the Marshall Plan to help Europe recover after World War II from 1948 to 1952. After he left his post, he was president of the American Red Cross. He correctly predicted that Israel’s declaration of statehood would lead to war and attempted to mediate the Chinese Civil War.
- Dean Acheson (served 1949–1953 under President Truman): The successor to Marshall, he is known primarily for developing the policy of containment — designed to prevent the spread of Communism — and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. His autobiography Present at the Creation is a major source for Cold War historians.
- Henry Kissinger (served 1973–1977 under Presidents Nixon and Ford): Kissinger held the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks that resulted in SALT I with the Soviet Union and pursued the “détente” policy to de-escalate the Cold War. He was instrumental in opening relations with China in 1972. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for the negotiation of Paris Peace Accords and ceasefires that ended the Vietnam War. Kissinger used “shuttle diplomacy” to settle the Yom Kippur War among Egypt, Syria, and Israel.
- Hillary Clinton (served 2009–2013 under President Obama): Hillary Rodham Clinton is a former Senator from New York and the wife of former president William Jefferson Clinton. President Clinton appointed Hillary as the face of the failed 1993 health care bill. She also sought the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, losing to eventual President Barack Obama. During her term, she presented a “reset button” to Russia and accepted formal responsibility for failures in consulate security that led to death of Ambassador Christopher Stephens in Benghazi.
- John Kerry (served 2014–2016 under President Obama): Kerry served as a senator from Massachusetts — spending the majority of his time as the junior senator to Ted Kennedy — and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He received the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2004, but lost the general election to George W. Bush. His major foreign policy involvement was in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
This article was contributed by former NAQT writer Greg Bossick.