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I'd like to get a better understanding of the role of the Department of State when viewed as a citizen, a resident of one of the 50 US states, and as a non-US political entity.

I conflate the term state with its use in "United States", and "Department of State", an individual state (Pennsylvania) and likely many other usages.

This confusion is compounded when I consider that states themselves can't directly participate in war (what I understand to be the primary function of the Dept of State)

Can anyone help me clarify terms, roles, and scope of duty?

Perhaps even a historical account of how this department and name came to be would help

marked as duplicate by Bobson, indigochild, Giter, Drunk Cynic, JJJ Jan 31 at 19:30

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  • 4
    Possible duplicate of Why is the U.S. Foreign Ministry called "State Department"? The one line answer was "It started out communicating to the states, and doesn't handle that any more." – Bobson Jan 31 at 18:20
  • @Bobson - Good call! Wish I had seen that before posting an almost identical answer. – indigochild Jan 31 at 18:27
  • This might almost be a question for the English Language and Usage site. Like many English words, "state" has multiple meanings, and when you're doing your conflating, you're confusing several meanings. – jamesqf Feb 1 at 4:18

Why is it called the Department of State?

The Department of State was originally called the Department of Foreign Affairs back when it was created in July 1789. This pretty neatly matches what it's function is today - it deals with foreign policy.

However, by September of that same year statute assigned the Department of Foreign Affairs domestic duties also and renamed it the Department of State. The name change reflected its new duties, which included maintaining the Great Seal, immigration, documentation and record-keeping for the executive branch, and more.

According to the Department of State's website (cit.) most of these domestic duties have since been given to other agencies, but the name has stuck.

  • Worth acknowledging also the context of Britain, at the time, having 2–3 “Secretaries of State”? I had always assumed a link in the terminology. – owjburnham Feb 1 at 13:00
  • @owjburnham The comparisons don't end there. Each state in the U.S. has a Secretary of State who have nothing to do with foreign policy. Since this has been marked as a duplicate, I probably won't update it though. – indigochild Feb 1 at 16:23

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