Why is the Department called the Department of State?
On September 15, 1789, Congress passed “An Act to provide for the safe keeping 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; and
- 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: 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.
More information on the Great Seal and its history can be found at the National Museum of America Diplomacy’s online exhibit.