America Needs a Professional Foreign Service

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With the broad array of problems facing the United States and the world today, we need a strong, professional diplomatic service to look after our nation’s global interests. This has not always been the case. For more than a hundred years after independence, America’s foreign and diplomatic affairs were in the hands of amateurs.

There were two principal reasons for the lack of a professional diplomatic corps. First, during the colonial period, foreign affairs were handled out of London. Second, and perhaps most important, early American political leaders equated diplomacy and ambassadors with European monarchies and didn’t trust either. Thomas Jefferson, America’s first Secretary of State, believed that an independent America had no need for diplomats other than commercial consuls.

The senior American diplomatic representatives were ministers extraordinary and plenipotentiary, ranking below ambassadors, which was considered appropriate for a second-rate power. Embassy and consulate staffs, and commercial consuls, were individuals who had connections with the American ruling political elite. After elections, there were often wholesale changes in diplomatic and consular representation abroad. This patronage system reached a peak during the administration of Andrew Jackson, when the mantra in Washington was “to the victor belong the spoils.”

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