Executive Agent

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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 .

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Executive Agent

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