To the diplomatic officers of the United States.

Gentlemen: Your attention is called to that clause of article 19 of the “Instructions to diplomatic officers” reading as follows:

In the absence of the head of the mission the secretary acts ex officio as chargé d’affaires ad interim, and needs no special letter of credence. In the absence, however, of a secretary and second secretary, the Secretary of State may designate any competent person to act ad interim, in which case he is specifically accredited by letter to the minister for foreign affairs.

In framing this instruction it was contemplated by the Department of State that in all ordinary cases, in the absence of the head of the mission, its affairs should be placed in the temporary charge of the [Page 5] actual first secretary of the mission, whose official title is “secretary.” It is understood by the Department of State that the term “the secretary” of the mission designates the actual first secretary, the designation of the second and third secretaries, when they exist, being specifically noted in their commissions.

It is believed by the Department of State that a generous spirit of mutual consideration will permit questions of leave of absence from their posts to be arranged between the head of the mission and the secretaries under him in such a manner that the secretary of the mission shall always be present during the absence of its head, and vice versa, and such a course is expected by the Department under ordinary circumstances. When, however, an emergency arises requiring the affairs of the mission to be left under the temporary direction of the second or third secretary as chargé d’affaires ad interim, the Department should be first consulted, by telegraph if necessary.

While the Department relies upon the discretion of the head of the mission in determining the time at which the secretaries under him may take their leaves of absence under permission of the Secretary of State, it is to be observed that the secretary in his capacity of chargé d’affaires ad interim will, in the absence of the actual bead of the mission, act as its temporary head, and as such should exercise his discretion as to the necessity of the presence of one or both of the other secretaries, if there be such, during the period of his service in that capacity.

I am, gentlemen, your obedient servant,

David J. Hill,
Acting Secretary.