March 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.