Milestones of American Diplomacy, Interesting Historical Notes, and Department of State History


1778: Treaty of Alliance with France, engineered by Benjamin Franklin, enabled the fledgling republic to continue its struggle for independence.

1783: Treaty of Paris-Great Britain recognized American independence and control over western lands as far as the Mississippi.

1795: Jay's Treaty required Great Britain to remove troops from northwestern frontier; Pinckney's Treaty with Spain opened mouth of Mississippi River to U.S. navigation.

1803: Louisiana Purchase removed foreign control of Mississippi's mouth and doubled U.S. territory.

1819: Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain, transferring Florida, extended the U.S. to present boundaries in southeast.

1823: Monroe Doctrine established U.S. policy of opposing European intervention or new colonization in Western Hemisphere.

1842: Webster-Ashburton Treaty with Great Britain delimited northeastern U.S. (Maine) boundary.

1846: Oregon Treaty with Great Britain extended U.S. sole dominion to the Pacific.

1848: Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, ending 1846-48 war with Mexico, confirmed U.S. claim to Texas and completed U.S. expansion to Pacific.

1867: Alaska purchase ended Russian territorial presence and completed U.S. expansion on North American mainland.

1898: Treaty of Paris, at end of Spanish-American War, transferred to the United States Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillipines, expanding U.S. power into the Pacific.

1918: Allies and Germany accepted Wilson's 14 points as basis for just and lasting peace ending World War I.

1945: U. S. and 50 other countries founded the United Nations.

1947: Truman Doctrine asserted U.S. policy of containing Soviet expansion through economic and military aid to threatened countries.

1947: Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio treaty) committed the U.S. and Latin American republics to aid one another to resist military aggression.

1947: Marshall plan of aid to Europe set foundation for economic cooperation among industrial democracies.

1948: Ninth International Conference of American States created the Organization of American States (OAS) to intensify U.S. and Latin American collaboration in all fields.

1948: NATO, first U.S. alliance concluded in peacetime, provided integrated force for defense of Western Europe and North America.

1963: Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, first major-power agreement regulating atomic weapons testing, banned explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.

1967: Non-Proliferation Treaty, now signed by 110 governments, banned the spread of atomic weapons.

1972: Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements with U.S.S.R. prescribed mutual limitations on defensive and offensive weapons and established SALT as a continuing process.

1972: President Nixon's February visit to China followed Secretary Kissinger's earlier negotiations in Peking, marking first important step in the process of normalizing relations with the People's Republic of China.

1979: U.S. established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China ending 30 years of nonrecognition.

1979: Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty (Camp David Accords) ended 30 years of conflict between the two countries and provided possible framework for comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

1986: The U.S. Congress implemented strong economic sanctions against South Africa, which helped to bring an end to apartheid in 1991.

1989-1991: As President George H.W. Bush stated a desire to integrate the Soviet Union into the community of nations, the Cold War ended when communist regimes collapsed across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union disintegrated.

1990-1991: In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States built an international coalition to defend Saudi Arabia and, after United Nations approval, to eject Iraq from Kuwait through Operation Desert Storm.

1992: Representatives of more than 175 nations, including the United States, met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which produced a treaty on climate change and was the largest international meeting on the environment ever convened.

1994: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico took effect and the United States joined another structure that promoted global free trade, the World Trade Organization.

1995: The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended the Bosnian civil war by providing for NATO troops to serve as peacekeepers.

2001: The United States led a global coalition that fought a war against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 terroist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.


Seward's Abortive Initiative

At the beginning of President Lincoln's Administration in April 1861, the new Secretary of State, William H. Seward of New York, proposed to end domestic political strife over the all-consuming question of slavery by pursuing an active foreign policy, one that might lead to declarations of war against France or Spain, thus uniting domestic factions against a foreign threat. Seward even volunteered himself as the principal prosecutor of such a policy. The President tactfully rebuffed this extraordinary proposal. Thereafter, Seward, subordinated himself to the President and served him loyally and effectively.

The Hulsemann-Webster Exchange

In 1850 the Austrian charge in Washington, the Chevalier Hulsemann, who strenuously objected to supposed American interference in the domestic affairs of Hungary, communicated an insulting message to the Department of State. His Government, he stated, had "deemed it proper to preserve a conciliatory deportment making ample allowance for the ignorance of the Cabinet of Washington on the subject of Hungarian affairs and its disposition to give credence to the mendacious rumors which are propagated by the American press."

To this statement Secretary of State Daniel Webster replied in kind: "Nothing will deter either the Government or the people of the United States from . . . forming and expressing their own opinions freely and at all times upon the great political events which may transpire among the civilized nations of the earth. Their own institutions stand upon the broadest principles of civil liberty; and believing those principles . . . to be . . . in fact the only principles of government which meet the demands of the present enlightened age, the President has perceived with great satisfaction that in the constitution recently introduced into the Austrian Empire many of these great principles are recognized and applied."


Why is it called the Department of State?

On September 15, 1789, Congress passed "An Act to provide for the safekeeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes." This law changed the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State because certain domestic duties were assigned to the agency. These included:

  • Receipt, publication, distribution, and preservation of the laws of the United States;
  • Preparation, sealing, and recording of the commissions of Presidential appointees;
  • Preparation and authentication of copies of records and authentication of copies under the Department's seal;
  • Custody of the Great Seal of the United States;
  • Custody of the records of the former Secretary of the Continental Congress, except for those of the Treasury and War Departments.
Other domestic duties that the Department was responsible for at various times included issuance of patents on inventions, publication of the census returns, management of the mint, control of copyrights, and regulation of immigration. Most domestic functions have been transferred to other agencies. Those that remain in the Department are: preparation and authentication of copies of records and authentication of copies under the Department's seal, storage and use of the Great Seal, performance of protocol functions for the White House, drafting of certain Presidential proclamations, and replies to public inquiries.

Who was the first U.S. diplomat?

Benjamin Franklin was the first U.S. diplomat. He was appointed on September 26, 1776 as part of a commission charged with gaining French support for American independence. He was appointed Minister to France on September 14, 1778 and presented his credentials on March 23, 1779, becoming the first American diplomat to be received by a foreign government. Franklin was one of three Commissioners who negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain, and continued to serve in France until May 17, 1785.

When was the first U.S. treaty signed?

The first U.S. treaty to be signed was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France that was signed in Paris on February 6, 1778.

What is the oldest diplomatic property owned by the United States?

The oldest diplomatic property owned by the United States is the U.S. Legation building in Tangier (see page 205). The Sultan of Morocco made a gift of the building in 1821. It served as the U.S. Consulate and Legation until 1956. It is currently preserved as a museum and study center.