Skip to main content

Executive Agent


EXECUTIVE AGENT, an individual appointed by a U.S. president to conduct negotiations with foreign countries on special terms and without Senate confirmation. Executive agents are assigned such tasks as establishing diplomatic relations with new countries, conversing with governments with which official relations have been broken, and negotiating special treaties and agreements. Usually confidantes of the presidents who appointed them, agents work outside of normal diplomatic channels and thereby give the presidents direct control of and access to the diplomatic process. Although such agents lack explicit constitutional sanction, Congress usually has acknowledged that presidents need them to conduct effective diplomacy.

President George Washington appointed the first executive agent in 1790, when he asked Gouverneur Morris to represent him personally in negotiations with Britain on trade and territorial issues. Most presidents have followed Washington's model. In 1847, for example, President James K. Polk appointed Nicholas Trist, chief clerk in the State Department, to negotiate a peace treaty with Mexico. From 1914 to 1916, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched Edward M. House to various cities in Europe to seek a settlement to World War I. In 1969–1973, President Richard M. Nixon sent National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on secret missions to China and elsewhere to conduct diplomacy beyond the purview of the State Department and Congress.


Plischke, Elmer. U.S. Department of State: A Reference History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Wriston, Henry M. Executive Agents in American Foreign Relations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967.

Peter L.Hahn

See alsoDiplomacy, Secret ; State, Department of .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Executive Agent." Dictionary of American History. . 17 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Executive Agent." Dictionary of American History. . (February 17, 2019).

"Executive Agent." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.