Rogers Act

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The Rogers Act of 1924, often referred to as the Foreign Service Act of 1924, is the legislation that merged the United States diplomatic and consular services into the United States Foreign Service. It defined a personnel system under which the United States Secretary of State is authorized to assign diplomats abroad.

History[edit]

Article II, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution authorized the President to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, "Ambassadors, other public Ministers, and Consuls." From 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.[1]

With small appropriations from congress, overseas service could not be sustained based on salary alone. Diplomatic and consular service appointments fell on those with the financial means to sustain their work abroad. This, coupled with a government-wide practice of political appointments based on nomination rather than merit, led to careers for those with relations and wealth, rather than skill and knowledge.[2]

Reform[edit]

Wilbur J. Carr, joining the Department as a shorthand clerk in the late 19th century[clarification needed], sought to end the political turmoil that affected both the Diplomatic and Consular Services. Working with his colleague Francois Jones, they composed a congressional bill to change the services into one based on a merit system.[3]

Between 1895 and 1905, the bill was continually defeated. Then Secretary of State Elihu Root in 1905, a reformer himself, discovered Mr. Carr as head of the Consular bureau. Taking the original ideas, Root worked with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and succeeded in passing a merit based bill for the Consular Service in 1906.[3]

Carr began his initial overseas tour in London in 1916. He noted tensions between the diplomatic and consular corps in London and was "shocked to see the staff still wearing top hats and long-tailed coats to work each day". He was further surprised when he heard some of the American diplomatic staff speaking with British accents. He discovered that some of these officers had been living in London for so long they had become almost identical to the British foreign service members with whom they often met and socialized. Carr would later comment that "I have seen some of these young secretaries, who have had exceptional social opportunities and advantages in the capitals abroad, become the most abject followers of the social regime in the foreign capital. One of the things that I hope is going to follow from this bill is to send some of these de-Americanized secretaries to Singapore as vice consul, or to force them out of the service."[4]

With trade becoming an important foreign relations issue in the 1920s, US Representative John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts sought to complete reforms started by Carr, now Assistant Secretary of State. The bill passed May 24 as the Foreign Service Act of 1924 although it is also called the Rogers Act in honor of the principal author.[2]

Provisions[edit]

  • Merged the diplomatic and consular services into the unified United States Foreign Service
  • Personnel system for assigning diplomats and support personnel
  • Competitive examinations for new personnel
  • Promotion through merit
  • Retirement at age 65, which was later lowered to 60 in 1946[5]

Controversy after passage[edit]

After passage of the Rogers Act, the Executive Committee of the Foreign Service Personnel Board drafted a memorandum on avoiding appointment of blacks and women in the new competitive process. Then Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes dismissed such views. The first black candidate to pass the exam in 1925 was Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr.. While he was allowed to serve, his initial treatment appeared to be far from ideal.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • The Making of the Diplomatic Mind: The Training Outlook and Style of the United States Foreign Service Officers, 1908-1931 by Robert D. Schulzinger
  • American Government and Politics: Congress, the Foreign Service, and the Department of State, Irvin Stewart, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (May, 1930), pp. 355–366, doi:10.2307/1946654