What is the reasoning behind the somewhat odd and awkward naming of the U.S. Foreign Ministry as "State Department"? I get the department being the American equivalent of ministry but in what way does the word "state" relate to foreign affairs. This question is perhaps about more then just the etymology of the term and seeking to delve into the history that may have lead to such unusual naming?
The State Department was originally created as the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1787, shortly after the Constitution was adopted. Later that year, it was renamed to Department of State, and given various State-relationship duties as well. The first of these (defined in that same statute) was the responsibility to pass the decisions of Congress on to the individual States after they became law. The statute continues on, giving other paperwork-type jobs to this Secretary (and their staff), which all relate to the fact that they were to be the keeper of the Seal of the United States (and thus had to handle all official correspondence).
Later, a lot of the State Department's responsibilities were split off into their own departments (such as the Treasury), but Foreign Affairs is still there.
The Department of State was originally called the Department of Foreign Affairs, but its name was changed in 1789 when Congress assigned the department some domestic duties. These domestic duties, from the Department of State's website, are:
- 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;
- Custody of the records of the former Secretary of the Continental Congress, except for those of the Treasury and War Departments.
A "state" can refer to an entire country (or rather its political organization). So the Department of State handles affairs with other states (i.e. other countries).
This might seem to collide with our American interpretation of "state", but consider that each of our states have their own government, and that the federal government is an encompassing "superset".