Robert Livingston: First Secretary of Foreign Affairs U.S. Department of Seal
Department of State
[Photo Robert Livingston]

The first constitution of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, permitted Congress to select "such committees and civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the United States." Shortly after the congressional resolution of January 10, 1781, Congress selected Robert R. Livingston, a delegate from New York, as the first Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He took office on October 20, 1781, and served until June 4, 1783. Livingston experienced considerable frustration in office. One historian notes that his duties were not "clearly defined and he was never given a free hand." Later he served as Minister to France and in 1803 negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.