Good morning everyone. I am honored to welcome you here today as we celebrate the U.S. Department of State’s 230th anniversary – can you believe it? Many don’t realize that the State Department was the first federal agency established in the United States – before the Treasury Department, before the Department of Defense. The State Department is older than the White House, and the U.S. Capitol. It is remarkable to think how far U.S. diplomacy and statecraft has come in this time. While thinking about this, I reached out to FSI Director Ambassador Dan Smith to consult with our Historians for a clearer picture of the past. Thanks to our Historians’ research, I was able to learn more about our humble beginnings:

  • Many of you may know that the Department of State, as established by the Continental Congress in 1781 was originally dubbed the Department of Foreign Affairs.
  • But, did you know that Congress also assigned this Department of Foreign Affairs with the “responsibility for the safekeeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes” because it was assumed that taking care of world affairs would not occupy all of the Secretary’s time. (I’m confident that each of our 70 Secretaries of State would disagree).
  • I also learned that in 1790 with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson at the helm, the Department operated under a domestic budget of $7,961; a figure that generously included firewood and stationery, and under a combined domestic and foreign budget of $56,600.
  • As you can imagine, it was not long before the vastly underestimated role of the State Department and the difficulties faced by those who conducted the nation’s foreign relations came to the forefront. By 1833, two of President Andrew Jackson’s Secretaries of State, Louis McLane and John Forsyth, undertook a full-scale reform of the Department.
  • Even President Theodore Roosevelt noted that: “The trouble with our ambassadors in stations of real importance is that they totally fail to give us real help and real information, and seem to think that the life work of an ambassador is a kind of glorified pink tea party.” In November 1905, President Roosevelt established competitive entrance examinations and the merit promotion system for all diplomatic and consular positions.
  • By the early 20th century, there was a strong movement toward a fully professionalized and democratic foreign service.

America’s position in the world forced the nation to recognize that amateurism in the conduct of foreign policy could be costly. And countless examples over the past two centuries demonstrate the unquestionable and immeasurable value of the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and the Department of State.

Each of us in this room inherits a rich legacy that extends deep into America’s past and as you can see, we have certainly come a long way. It no longer takes months for ambassadors’ correspondence to travel across the Atlantic and Pacific – it takes a few seconds.

The Department of State’s best asset and greatest strength has always been its people. We are all familiar with Benjamin Franklin, who needs no introduction. But what about Stephen Pleasanton – a clerk who, as the British invaded, smuggled the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to safety? He prevented our nation’s most treasured documents from being destroyed.

Another hero, Bob Dalton, served at State for 61 years – working under 19 different Secretaries of State, including Secretary Pompeo. Just imagine how much he saw over the course of his professional life. We were saddened when Bob passed away just a few weeks ago. He insisted on coming into the office until the very end – because, day after day, year after year, he felt the call to serve.

Our State Department team members shape the world, and your contributions will make history. The work that you do every day to advance our mission builds upon that strong foundation laid by our forbearers. As we reflect on 230 years of American diplomacy, we must continue to draw on and learn from our past, as we look forward to advance our values and priorities as one team, with one mission, and one future.

In April, Secretary Pompeo unveiled the Department of State’s Professional Ethos. As he remarked that day, it is essential that we have a common set of understandings, operating principles, and expectations. Our professional ethos distills the shared values and expectations of excellence that all State Department Employees – our Foreign Service, Civil Service, non-career political appointees, contractors, fellows, Locally Employed Staff, Eligible Family Members, and others – hold dear and should strive to embody each day.

Our ethos statement speaks of “one team” that is built on the individual integrity of over 75,000 members worldwide. It speaks of personal accountability – meaning, no matter our role inside the agency, we should own our daily actions and decisions, and act as “champions” of diplomacy, who bring competitive mentalities to work. Finally, the ethos statement reminds us of who it is we work for – the American people – and what we pledge to support and defend, when we take our oath that very first day on the job — that, of course, is the Constitution.

Wherever you serve and whatever your role, be proud that the American flag, and all that it represents as it flies above our workplace. I remind myself of that great honor each day I come into this building and of how lucky I am to be able to serve the American people. Please do not forget the great responsibility and privilege that has been bestowed upon each of us.

We have a full program today, and I hope you will take as much time as possible to participate and enjoy the reflections and remarks from current Department leaders and former Secretaries, among others. I encourage you to attend as many of today’s events as you can. I ask you to fully engage and to celebrate this landmark anniversary of our Department of State.

The entire theme of today is looking at the past to inspire the future. So now, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to welcome Director of Policy and Planning Dr. Skinner to the stage who will moderate our “Historian’s Panel.” Dr. Skinner, esteemed panelists, over to you.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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