Every US Secretary of State

U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat talk during the Sinai II negotiations in 1975.
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat talk during the Sinai II negotiations in 1975. David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

The secretary of state is the head of the Department of State in the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. This department deals with all foreign affairs and relations for the nation. The secretary of state is appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the US Senate. The secretary of state's main duty is to carry out American diplomacy and foreign policy.

Origins of the Office

On January 13, 1781, the Second Continental Congress originally created the office of Secretary of Foreign Affairs as the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs. On September 15, 1781, President George Washington signed a law renaming the Department and Secretary of Foreign Affairs to the Department and Secretary of State. British in origin, the role of "secretary of state" was the senior adviser to the King of England.

The secretary of state is one of the highest offices in the United States government that can be held by someone who is not a natural-born U.S. citizen. To date, only two naturalized citizens have served as secretary of state. Henry Kissinger was born in Germany, while Madeleine Albright was born in Czechoslovakia. As a result of their foreign births, both were excluded from the line of presidential succession.

Presidential Succession

As the highest-ranking member of the president’s cabinet, the secretary of state is fourth in the line of presidential succession after the vice president, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the president pro tempore of the Senate. Though none have assumed the office through succession, six former secretaries of state have gone on to be elected president. These were: Thomas Jefferson (in 1800); James Madison (in 1808); James Monroe (in 1816); John Quincy Adams (in 1824); Martin Van Buren (in 1836); and James Buchanan (in 1856). Other former secretaries of state, including Henry Clay, William Seward, James Blaine, William Jennings Bryan, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton have run unsuccessfully for president, either before or after completing their terms of office as secretary of state.

The current secretary of state is Mike Pompeo of Kansas. Pompeo was nominated by President Donald Trump in March 2018, to replace Rex Tillerson of Texas, who had served as secretary of state since February 1, 2017. Mr. Pompeo was confirmed by the Senate on April 26, 2018, in a 57–42 vote.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the White House on January 10, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the White House on January 10, 2020. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Duties of the Secretary of State

Since the position was first created, the duties of the secretary of state have become more complex as the global geopolitical realm has changed. These duties include advising the president on foreign affairs and immigration policy, negotiating and terminating treaties with foreign countries, issuing passports, overseeing the Department of State and the Office of Foreign Services, and ensuring that the lives and property of American citizens living or traveling in foreign countries are protected to the greatest extent possible. The secretary of state also advises the president on the appointment and removal of U.S. ambassadors and diplomats, and when necessary, represents the United States in international conferences, organizations, and agencies.

Secretaries of state also have some domestic duties that have carried over from 1789. Ranging from rather esoteric to quite substantive, these include custody and protection of the Great Seal of the United States and the preparation of certain presidential proclamations. The secretary of state is also entrusted with preserving the journals and papers of the 1774 Continental Congress including the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

More importantly, the secretary of state represents the welfare of the American people in the process of extraditing fugitives to or from the United States.

Another rarely used but momentous duty of the secretary of state involves the resignation of sitting presidents or vice presidents. Under federal law, the resignation of a president or of a vice president only becomes effective after it has been declared in a written statement hand-delivered to the office of the secretary of state. In this capacity, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger received and formalized the resignations of Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1973 and of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Due to their direct involvement in foreign affairs, the secretaries of state have historically been required to travel abroad extensively. The record for the most foreign countries visited in a secretary of state’s tenure belongs to Hillary Clinton, who visited 112 countries during her four years as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Second place in the travel category belongs to Secretary Madeleine Albright who visited 96 countries between 1997 and 2001. The record for most air miles traveled in a secretary's tenure belongs to Secretary John Kerry who flew 1,417,576 miles. Secretary Condoleezza Rice logged 1,059,247 miles, while Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 956,733 miles in the air ranks third.

Qualifications of the Secretary of State

While the Constitution specifies no qualifications for the position of secretary of state, founding father John Adams summed them up when he told the delegates of the Continental Congress, “What are the Qualifications of a Secretary of State? He ought to be a Man of universal Reading in Laws, Governments, History. Our whole terrestrial Universe ought to be summarily comprehended in his Mind.”

The following table lists U.S. secretary of state, the president by whom they were appointed, their home state, and the year in which they were appointed.

Secretary of State Chart

Secretary of State President State Appointment
Thomas Jefferson George Washington Virginia 1789
Edmund Randolph George Washington Virginia 1794
Timothy Pickering George Washington
John Adams
Pennsylvania 1795, 1797
John Marshall John Adams Virginia 1800
James Madison Thomas Jefferson Virginia 1801
Robert Smith James Madison Maryland 1809
James Monroe James Madison Virginia 1811
John Quincy Adams James Monroe Massachusetts 1817
Henry Clay John Quincy Adams Kentucky 1825
Martin Van Buren Andrew Jackson New York 1829
Edward Livingston Andrew Jackson Louisiana 1831
Louis McLane Andrew Jackson Delaware 1833
John Forsyth Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
Georgia 1834, 1837
Daniel Webster William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
Massachusetts 1841
Abel P Upshur John Tyler Virginia 1843
John C. Calhoun John Tyler
James Polk
South Carolina 1844, 1845
James Buchanan James Polk
Zachary Taylor
Pennsylvania 1849
John M. Clayton Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Delaware 1849, 1850
Daniel Webster Millard Fillmore Massachusetts 1850
Edward Everett Millard Fillmore Massachusetts 1852
William L. Marcy Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
New York 1853, 1857
Lewis Cass James Buchanan Michigan 1857
Jeremiah S. Black James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Pennsylvania 1860, 1861
William H. Seward Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
New York 1861, 1865
Elihu B. Washburne Ulysses S. Grant Illinois 1869
Hamilton Fish Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
New York 1869, 1877
William M. Evarts Rutherford B. Hayes
James Garfield
New York 1877, 1881
James G. Blaine James Garfield
Chester Arthur
Maine 1881
F.T. Frelinghuysen Chester Arthur
Grover Cleveland
New Jersey 1881, 1885
Thomas F. Bayard Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
Delaware 1885, 1889
James G. Blaine Benjamin Harrison Maine 1889
John W. Foster Benjamin Harrison Indiana 1892
Walter Q. Gresham Grover Cleveland Indiana 1893
Richard Olney Grover Cleveland
William McKinley
Massachusetts 1895, 1897
John Sherman William McKinley Ohio 1897
William R. Day William McKinley Ohio 1898
John Hay William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
Washington D.C. 1898, 1901
Elihu Root Theodore Roosevelt New York 1905
Robert Bacon Theodore Roosevelt
William Howard Taft
New York 1909
Philander C. Knox William Howard Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Pennsylvania 1909, 1913
William J. Bryan Woodrow Wilson Nebraska 1913
Robert Lansing Woodrow Wilson New York 1915
Bainbridge Colby Woodrow Wilson New York 1920
Charles E. Hughes Warren Harding
Calvin Coolidge
New York 1921, 1923
Frank B. Kellogg Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Minnesota 1925, 1929
Henry L. Stimson Herbert Hoover New York 1929
Cordell Hull Franklin D. Roosevelt Tennessee 1933
E.R. Stettinius, Jr. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry Truman
New York 1944, 1945
James F. Byrnes Harry Truman South Carolina 1945
George C. Marshall Harry Truman Pennsylvania 1947
Dean G. Acheson Harry Truman Connecticut 1949
John Foster Dulles Dwight Eisenhower New York 1953
Christian A. Herter Dwight Eisenhower Massachusetts 1959
Dean Rusk John Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
New York 1961, 1963
William P. Rogers Richard Nixon New York 1969
Henry A. Kissinger Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Washington, D.C. 1973, 1974
Cyrus R. Vance Jimmy Carter New York 1977
Edmund S. Muskie Jimmy Carter Maine 1980
Alexander M. Haig, Jr. Ronald Reagan Connecticut 1981
George P. Schultz Ronald Reagan California 1982
James A. Baker 3rd George H. W. Bush Texas 1989
Lawrence S. Eagleburger George H. W. Bush Michigan 1992
Warren M. Christopher William Clinton California 1993
Madeleine Albright William Clinton New York 1997
Colin Powell George W. Bush New York 2001
Condoleezza Rice George W. Bush Alabama 2005
Hillary Clinton Barack Obama Illinois 2009
John Kerry Barack Obama Massachusetts 2013
Rex Tillerson  Donald Trump  Texas 2017
Mike Pompeo Donald Trump  Kansas 2018


mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "Every US Secretary of State." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/us-secretary-of-state-4051981. Kelly, Martin. (2021, February 16). Every US Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/us-secretary-of-state-4051981 Kelly, Martin. "Every US Secretary of State." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/us-secretary-of-state-4051981 (accessed June 8, 2023).