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Govt paper - Essay Example

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On September 15th, 1779, President George Washington signed into law a congressional bill which authorized the renaming of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the State Department, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State (Fishman, Pederson and Rozell, 2001)…
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On September 15th, 1779, President George Washington signed into law a congressional bill which ized the renaming of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the State Department, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State (Fishman, Pederson and Rozell, 2001). Since that date, the United States has had 66 Secretaries of State. As DeConde (1962) explains, while the duties associated with this position are predominantly concerned with the nation’s foreign affairs, there are a number of domestic responsibilities. These include the acceptance of the resignation of the U.S. President, the use and custodianship of the Great Seal, and the execution of the White House’s protocol functions. As may be deduced from the stated, therefore, the office of the Secretary of State is an extremely influential one, with its associate powers reaching far beyond those assigned to the Vice-President. It is precisely because of this that, even though the Secretary of State is fourth in line to the succession of the presidency, this particular office has been traditionally viewed as a stepping stone to the Presidency. Indeed, several secretaries of state, including Thomas Jefferson, were later elected to the Presidency (DeConde, 1962). Given the importance of the defined office, it is useful to research the occupation of those who filled this position and comparatively analyze the historical retention rate of Secretaries of State between Democratic and Republican Administrations.
Focusing on the time period from 1897 to the present, history shows that there were thirty-two U.S. Secretaries of State. Many had had a career in politics prior to their appointment and, several had been appointed to various offices in previous administrations. Only three of the thirty-two had had an army career which, in light of this office’s primarily being a diplomatic one, is understandable. Similarly, only four were university professors/academics while a total of six had been career diplomats prior to their appointment. As regards the majority, records show that seventeen were lawyers (“Federal Government,” 2006)
A more critical analysis of the facts outlined in the above leads to an interesting conclusion. While both Democratic and Republican Administrations display a comparable tendency to select their secretaries of state from amongst those who have a legal background, the Republicans have a much more pronounced preference for university professors, having appointed three of the four which served, than Democrats. As pertains to all other mentioned careers, there exists a balance. The implication here is that Secretaries of State are not selected according to their career but on the basis of their stand on issues and, most especially, on the basis of whether or not their foreign policy perspective corresponds with that of the president.
Turning to the question of retention rate, basic facts indicate that of the thirty-two Secretaries of State which served from 1897 to the present, nineteen were Republican and thirteen were Democrats (“Federal Government,” 2006). This, however, does not allow us to conclude that the latter have a higher retention rate than the former since this can only be established by determining how many presidencies and years they served under. As regards the Republican Party, throughout this time span, calculated at 109 years, it had occupied the White House for a total of twelve presidencies, spanning sixty-one years (“Federal Government,” 2006). In other words, there is an average of one secretary of state for every 3.2 years and 1.6 secretaries of state per Republican president. The implication here is that there is a high turnover rate, whereby secretaries of state within Republic Administrations tend not to serve the full four years. More precise calculations indicate that there were eleven different elected Republican presidents during this period, implying that each Republican President had 1.72, or approximately two, secretaries of state.
In direct comparison, the Democrats occupied the White House for a total of 48 years, spanning twelve presidencies, over the same time period. It must be noted here that even though the number of presidencies is equal, the Democrats had only six different elected presidents (Lyndon Johnson stepped in following Kennedy’s assassination). Calculations indicate that this means that under Democratic Administrations, secretaries of state served an average of 3.7 years, depicting a higher retention rate than the Republicans. Further confirming the fact that Democratic Administrations have a higher retention rate of secretaries of state than republicans is that the two longest serving Secretaries of State in the United States, since the creation of this position, Cordell Hull and Dean Rusk, served under Democratic Administrations. Consequently, it is factual to assert that Democrats have a higher retention rate than do Republicans.
In final remark on the two issues analyzed, it is necessary to concede that no significant differentiations were detected between Democrats and Republican as regards the first. Both parties, it seems, have an equal preference for Secretaries of State with a background in law but not for any other professional background in particular. Accordingly, one may determine that those chosen for appointment to this position are selected on the basis of their political positions and most especially as pertains to foreign affairs. As regards the second issue, it is clear that the Democrats have a higher retention rate than the Republicans. One can arrive at numerous interpretations for this but, the most obvious, as can be inferred from John Owens’s article, is that Republican policies have tended to be much more controversial than those propagated by Democrats, whether evaluated in terms of effect on public opinion or within the party itself. Quite simply stated, Republican Presidents have been at the forefront of some of the most controversial foreign policy decisions the United States has ever made, whether the Vietnam War and the subsequent involvement of Cambodia or the current Iraq War. When considering the controversial nature of these decisions and many more, the reasons behind the high turnover rate among Republican Administrations, compared to a high retention rate among Democrat Administrations become all the more clearer..
DeConde, A. (1962) The American Secretary of State: An Interpretation. New York, Praeger.
“Federal Government: Secretaries of State.” (2006) U.S. History. Retrieved from on 20 November 2006.
Fishman, E., Pederson, W.D., and Rozell, M.J. (2001) George Washington, Foundation of Presidential Leadership and Character. Westport, Praeger.
Owens, J.E. [1998) `Parties in Congress.’ CSD Bulletin, 5(2). Read More
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