Little Known Facts About the Department of State: The U.S. Passport, Marine Security Guards, Crisis Management Task Forces

The U.S. Passport

The term "passport" derives from the French word passer, to enter or leave, and port, a port. It literally means a permit to leave a country. Issuance of passports and travel documents was first mentioned as a function of the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1782. The Department of State did not receive exclusive authority to issue passports until 1856. Prior to that date, governors, mayors, and even notaries public were known to issue passports. During the 19th century, the U.S. Government required travelers to obtain passports only in wartime. They would not be required of all travelers until 1914.

The earliest surviving U.S. passport was issued in France by Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams to W.D. Cheevert, David Sears, and their servants on December 27, 1778, for travel to Holland. During the 1790s many passports were issued collectively to merchant ships and their crews. The passport function is the activity of the Department that the general public is most likely to encounter.

[Text version of a photo: Person sitting at a desk; Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State photo. No caption.]

Marine Security Guards

During the 19th century, the U.S. Navy was frequently called upon to protect American lives and property in remote parts of the world. Marine detachments took part in these operations and on occasion were expected to protect diplomatic missions. The first such instance took place in 1835, when four marines from the U.S.S. Brandywine were assigned to protect the Consulate in Lima, Peru. The next year, one Marine was detailed to this task. Legation guard detachments were stationed at various times in Tokyo, Seoul, and Managua.

Civilian guards were unable to maintain adequate security at overseas missions, and the Department accordingly turned to the Armed Forces. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy signed a memorandum of agreement on December 15, 1948, which established the present Marine Security Guard program. Today Marines are assigned to Foreign Service posts throughout the world.

Crisis Management Task Forces

Crisis task forces are formed to meet challenges to U.S. interests and include members from all affected government agencies. These task forces operate 24 hours-a-day and remain in operation until the crisis is resolved. The crisis task force pictured was formed because of the instability in Haiti in June 1964.

[Text version of a photo: People sitting around a table in a task force room; Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State photo. No caption.]