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Job Description for the Secretary of State

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Ever since Thomas Jefferson, the first secretary of state under President George Washington, the secretary of state office has been the president's official voice on foreign policy. The secretary is appointed by the president and must be approved by the Senate. It is the highest secretary position, and is fourth in line of succession to the president, after the vice president, speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate.

Official Duties

The secretary is the principal adviser to the president on foreign policy, and carries out the president’s orders regarding relations with other countries. The secretary conducts negotiations, terminates treaties and agreements, and expresses the president’s perspective to world leaders. As head of the State Department, she is in charge of all U.S. embassies abroad. As of 2013, the salary was $183,500.

Background of Secretaries

Many who have served as secretary of state have been experts in foreign affairs, as professors or high-ranking government officials. These include Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. Many have been U.S. senators, such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. The only real qualification is the unmitigated trust of the president. Six secretaries of state have gone on to be president.


Nate Lee was senior editor of Chicago's "NewCity" newspaper and creative director in a global advertising agency. A playwright and published poet, Lee writes about the arts, culture and business innovation. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane University.

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