United States Secretary of State

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This article refers to the United States Secretary of State. For the Secretary of State for the state governments, go to Secretary of State (U.S. state government)

The United States Secretary of State is the head of the U.S. Department of State. The Secretary of State is the highest ranking member of the President's Cabinet in both line of succession and order of precedence. The first Secretary of State was John Jay, under President George Washington. The current Secretary of State is Condoleezza Rice.


The Second Continental Congress created the office of Secretary of Foreign Affairs to head the Department of Foreign Affairs on January 13, 1781. Later that year, on July 27, President George Washington signed a law authorizing the executive department. On September 15th of the same year, the Department and Secretary of Foreign Affairs were renamed the Department and Secretary of State.

The title Secretary of State is of British origin. This title was given to senior members of the King's cabinet.

Original Domestic Duties

  • Receipt, publication, distribution and preservation of laws of the U.S.
  • Custody of the Great Seal of the United States
  • Authentication of copies and preparation of commossions of executive branch appointments
  • Final custody of the books, papers, and records of the Contintental Congress including the Constitution itself and the Declaration of Independence

Current Duties

  • Storage and use of the Great Seal of the United States
  • Performance of protocol functions for the White House
  • Drafting of certain proclamations
  • Formally accepting notice of the president's resignation - this has only happened once, when President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974.
  • Replies to inquiries