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Department of State Personalities of Note


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Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, began the distinction between the Diplomatic and Consular Services. He established the policy of neutrality in European conflicts. When he took office in 1790, the Department included 8 domestic employees, 2 diplomatic missions, and 10 consular posts.

William Palfrey of Massachusetts was not only the first American consular officer but was also the first member of the diplomatic service to lose his life in the line of duty. A lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and former Paymaster-General, Palfrey was appointed consul to France on November 4, 1780. He was lost at sea en route to his post. His name is the first on the plaque in the lobby of the Department of State listing the those whose have died on duty in the foreign service.

John Quincy Adams became the youngest American Chief of Mission when he was appointed Minister to the Netherlands in 1794, at the age of 27. As Secretary of State (1817-25), he negotiated a boundary settlement with Great Britain, acquired Florida from Spain, and helped formulate the Monroe Doctrine.

Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, America's first black diplomat, was Minister Resident and Consul General in Haiti from 1869 to 1877.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. After escaping bondage, he became a leading abolitionist. Following the Civil War he received two diplomatic assignments. In 1871 he served as secretary of a commission sent to Santo Domingo to explore the possibility of annexing that island. More important, in 1889 he became Minister to Haiti and charge d'affaires to Santo Domingo. In this capacity he became involved in an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the Mole St. Nicolas in Haiti as a coaling station. In 1891 Douglass resigned his office after critics alleged that he showed undue regard for the Haitian point of view.

Wilbur J. Carr (1870-1942) was born in Ohio and entered the Department of State as a clerk in 1892. He became Chief of the Consular Bureau in 1902, Chief Clerk in 1907, and served as Director of the Consular Service from 1909 to 1924. A believer in scientific management and administrative efficiency, Carr took pride in having brought Consular Service operations "as near to perfection as possible." He strove to extend professionalism and merit to all aspects of the Department, working for passage of the 1906 Consular Reorganization Act and helping to draft the Rogers Act.

Carr served as Assistant Secretary of State from 1924 to 1937. His duties included those of Chairman of the Board of Foreign Service Personnel and Budget Officer of the Department, a combination which allowed him to administer the transition from separate Diplomatic and Consular Services to a unified professional Foreign Service. His last assignment was Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1937 until the German occupation in 1939. "The Father of the Foreign Service" then retired from the Department, having served for 45 years under 17 Secretaries of State.

A number of distinguished U.S. authors including James Russell Lowell, Washington Irving, Stephen Vincent Benet, James Fenimore Cooper, and Nathaniel Hawthorne held diplomatic or consular posts.

Bret Harte, the author of "The Luck of Roaring Camp," "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," and "Tennessee's Partner," classic stories of the American West in the gold rush and frontier mining camp days, went to Washington in 1876 to seek employment as an overseas consul. He hoped to earn enough to support himself and his family and still have time to write.

Harte was sent to Crefeld, Germany, in 1878 thinking he was to be the consul, but discovered that he was only a commercial agent in a larger consular district. As there were no travel allowances, per diem, or dependent allotments for consular employees, his family remained behind and never joined him during his consular career. He suffered continually from the damp climate of Crefeld and was delighted to be appointed as consul in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1880. Glasgow was an important post with a large export trade, from which Harte sent the State Department extensive reports on all sorts of subjects. However, he also traveled frequently to London to lecture and write. Finally, in 1885 he was replaced, as some said, for "inattention to duty." He returned to live in London for the next 17 years, until his death in 1902.

[Text version of seven photos: Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, William Palfrey, John Quincy Adams, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, Frederick Douglass, Wilbur J. Carr, and Bret Harte; Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State photos. No captions.]

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