It is the first of the executive departments of the government. It has the supervision of all foreign affairs, and of all affairs concerning the states of the Union. It directs the diplomatic and consular service, has charge of all international claims commissions, issues passports, publishes and preserves all the laws enacted by Congress, and has other important duties. At first the foreign affairs of the government were directed by commissioners, but in 1789 Congress passed an act creating the Department of State, and authorizing the appointment of a chief official with the title of Secretary of State. For a time the department issued all patents and copyrights, had charge of the work of taking the census, and supervised the affairs of the territories. As now constituted it has a Diplomatic Bureau, a Consular Bureau, a Bureau of Indexes and Archives, a Bureau of Accounts, a Bureau of Statistics, a Bureau of Rolls, and several minor divisions. The entire business is carried on in a strictly confidential manner, and all persons connected with it are required to maintain the closest secrecy in regard to every matter which comes to their knowledge.
The Secretary of State is the first in rank of the members of the President’s Cabinet, and on account of his office, and from long custom, his relations with the President are very intimate. His compensation is $8,000 per year. He has the general supervision of the Department of State, and, under the direction of the President, negotiates treaties with foreign powers, decides the various questions arising from the relations of the United States with other countries, and is charged with the execution of all the state business. There is a first assistant Secretary of State, who has a compensation of $4,500 per year, and there are two other assistant secretaries who have $3,500 each. The assistant secretaries have the supervision of the diplomatic and consular correspondence, and perform other duties as signed them by the Secretary of State. There is a chief clerk, with a salary of $2,750, who is in charge of the employes of the department ; and there are six chiefs of the bureaus, with salaries of $2,000, and nearly seventy clerks and employes. Congress annually appropriates $113,000 for the compensation of the officials and others, and about $20,000 for the miscellaneous expenses of the department.
Since 1875 the department has occupied the southern portion of the imposing State, War, and Navy Building, which stands directly west of the White House, on part of the government reservation called ” The President’s Grounds.” This building, in massive pro-portions and architectural beauty, has few equals in the world. It was begun in 1871, and has cost very nearly $12,000,000. It was designed by A. B. Mullett, and was constructed in the style of the Italian renaissance, the material being Maine and Virginia granite. Over a sub-basement and basement are four stories, surmounted by a mansard roof of artistic design. From north to south, including the projections, the building is five hundred and sixty feet; exclusive of projections, four hundred and seventy-one feet. From east to west it is three hundred and forty-two feet; exclusive of projections, two hundred and fifty-three feet. Its greatest height is one hundred and twenty-eight feet. There are four facades, alike in design and construction, and four grand entrances through lofty pavilions reached by broad flights of stone steps.’ Huge blocks of granite, each over twenty tons in weight, form the platforms to the entrances. The greatest possible care has been taken in the construction, and the building is entirely fire proof. All the parts are in harmony, the ornamentation is a tasteful combination of the classic and modern methods, and the result is an almost perfect specimen of architecture.
The interior of the building has been constructed in a very magnificent and yet entirely substantial manner. There are wide stair-cases of granite with bronze balusters, long.spacious corridors, and innumerable apartments, richly frescoed and adorned, and furnished with every convenience that could be suggested for the transacting of the business of the three departments for which the building was erected. The War Department occupies the whole of the northern and western portion, and the Navy Department the eastern.
Very large and elegant apartments are occupied by the Department of State. On the second floor are the apartments of the Secretary of State and his assistants. They are finely painted in distemper, and splendidly furnished.
The diplomatic reception-room, in which the foreign ministers have audience with the Secretary of State, is sumptuous in its appointments. It is sixty feet long, and twenty feet wide. A great mirror in an ebony and gold frame reaches from the floor to the ceiling ; the furniture is of ebony, and the upholstery of bluish-brown brocade. The walls are painted in Egyptian style, and the floor is tessellated and partially covered by oriental rugs. Paintings and busts adorn the walls and mantels, and two large chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The ante-room is also richly decorated and furnished.
The Bureau of Indexes and Archives occupies large apartments excellently arranged for its business. This bureau has charge of all the letters and documents of the department, and hundreds of official papers are carefully examined and filed every day by its employes. A most perfect system is used, and although the accumulation of state documents during the past century is vast almost beyond belief, anything that is wanted can be produced in a very short time. Whenever the officials of the department desire certain papers they apply to this bureau. The demand is constant, and embraces an extensive range of subjects daily. Papers of the widest variety and character in reference to every country in the world with which the government has official relations, and also to all parts of the United States, are called for to be used in the settlement of the multifarious questions under consideration. The correspondence with foreign ministers and consuls is enormous, and the miscellaneous correspondence is also large and important. All the letters are opened and indexed in this bureau before they are delivered to the chief officials for their inspection.
Several apartments of the bureau contain many precious archives of the Nation. The first draft of the Declaration of Independence and of the Federal Constitution are here carefully preserved. Washington’s commission as Commander-in-chief of the American Army, and a host of documents pertaining to the Revolution and the early days of the government, are to be seen. The letters and papers of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, and some of the other Presidents, are preserved in large volumes, many of the manuscripts appearing as clear and distinct as if written yesterday. Autograph letters from kings and queens, princes, statesmen, and historical personages who have flourished during the past one hundred years, are to be found in these collections. Here are the original copies of all the laws enacted by Congress, and of all the treaties made by the United States with foreign nations, from the first, with France in 1778, and the second, with England the treaty of peace, bearing date of Sept. 3, 1783 down to those of recent years. One treaty with Turkey is gorgeously embellished with golden letters ; but the most unique treaty in the collection is one with Japan, which is contained in a costly lacquered case covered with silk. The quaint Japanese characters, covering many pages of fine paper, are clearly and boldly portrayed. The royal signature appears at the top, and you read from the bottom. The treaty was brought to Washington by two officials of high rank, who were charged with its safe delivery on peril of their lives. One day they triumphantly marched into the Department of State bearing aloft on long bamboo poles a queerly-constructed box, in which was the important document. Glad, in-deed, were they to have escaped the disastrous chances” of land and sea, and when the royal agreement finally passed into the hands of the Secretary of State they appeared greatly relieved, for their heads were no longer in danger.
The great seal of the United States is kept in one of the apartments. This seal is affixed to all executive proclamations, to all war-rants of extradition or pardon, and to all commiSsions issued to ministers and consuls to foreign countries.
The library of the department is in the third story. It is in a spacious room with three balconies, and is well lighted by a dome of glass. The room is constructed entirely of iron, wrought in graceful forms, and beautifully decorated in pearl and gold tints. Jefferson established the library, and many of the oldest books contain his autograph. On the shelves are over thirty thousand volumes, comprising the laws of all the states, and works relating to history, diplomacy, and international affairs. They are in many languages, and are extensively used by the members of the foreign legations in Washington, and by the officials of the department.
The diplomatic and consular service requires a large force of officials stationed in the important cities and towns throughout the world. The expenditure for this servicefor what is termed ” the foreign intercourse “ is about $2,500,000 per year. Thirty-three legations, with ministers, secretaries, and attaches, and more than nine hundred consular offices, are maintained by the United States. The ministers at London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg receive salaries of $17,500 per year, those at Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Peking, Rio de Janeiro, Tokei, and the City of Mexico, $12,000 ; those at Guatemala, Santiago, and Lima, $10,000; those in minor countries, $7,500 and $5,000. The consuls-general at London, Paris, Havana, and Rio de Janeiro receive $6,000.
There are twenty-five foreign legations in Washington, most of them occupying large, finely furnished mansions. They represent all the prominent countries, and have many attaches, and a throng of servants. Numerous receptions and dinners are given by the diplomatic corps, and at certain seasons the members are entertained at the White House. Then they wear their gaudy court costumes, and display their glittering orders and decorations. By the United States statutes they are exempt from arrest, and no process of law can reach them. This immunity extends to all the members of a diplomat’s family, and even to the servants, if they are not citizens of the United States.
The Chinese Legation occupies a fine mansion, in which there is ample room for the grand entertainments given by the Chinese Minister during the winter. It is furnished entirely in the Mongolian style of high official life, and its apartments are filled with rare and curious articles. The walls of the parlors are hung with Chinese tapestry of delicate texture, elegantly embroidered with the sacred maxims of Confucius upon the virtues of charity, honesty, and justice ; and massive oriental vases of peculiar design mingle their bright colors with the gold and scarlet of the unique and magnificent furniture. One strangely fashioned vase has been in the possession of the minister’s family for more than two centuries. There are silk-embroidered screens, worked by Chinese ladies, and in various nooks are well-filled book-cases with costly volumes of the Chinese classics. The parlors, and many of the other apartments, are the very perfection of bric-a-brac and oriental adornment, and are very attractive to guests.’ The smoking-room is furnished with a varied collection of Chinese pipes, and has comfortable divans, and,, in fact, is a veritable smoker’s paradise. In the halls are groups of Chinese statuary, some being of a humorous character, modeled with much skill and fidelity to nature. At the minister’s banquets the tables are spread in grand style, with exquisite oriental ware, silver and gold dishes,and many unique articles of table service. Numerous Eastern delicacies are furnished, and first chop Chinese tea, rarely to be had in the United States, is served in quaint wicker-covered pots. The minister receives his guests attired in his gorgeous court dress of colored silks, and the attaches of the legation, numbering more than a dozen, appear in silken robes of superb quality and brilliant hues.
The Japanese Minister has a large residence furnished in the picturesque fashion of his country, and within its walls are many quaint and beautiful articles. There are a number of young Japanese gentlemen of good education and refined manners attached to the legation. The minister gives brilliant receptions and banquets, and is fond of society.
Fetes are frequently given by the English, French, Spanish,Russian, and Mexican legations. The residence of the English Minister was erected by his government, and is one of the notable mansions of Washington. It has broad halls, a great ball-room illuminated by three chandeliers, a spacious dining-room, and elegant parlors. It is situated on Connecticut Avenue.
Upon their arrival in Washington the members of the diplomatic corps present themselves to the President and the Secretary of State, and then make ceremonious calls upon the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the members of the Cabinet, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the Senators. They call on the President on New Year’s day. During the winter the Secretary of State gives a series of dinners, at which all the foreign ambassadors appear.