U.S. State Department: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

The United States government is made up of different agencies responsible for carrying out different duties. The U.S. State Department is one of these agencies. In this lesson, you will learn about the history of this department and its duties.

Creation of the U.S. State Department

Have you ever gotten into an argument with your friends? If so, you know that it's no fun to be upset with others. Because of this, you probably avoid getting into arguments with them.

The U.S. government is just like you and your friends--it wants to get along with the other countries of the world. Back when the U.S. was first starting out, the Founding Fathers recognized that the U.S. would only be successful if it could work with other countries and be involved in what was going on in the world.

Since the President of the United States already had a lot of responsibilities, it was decided that another group of people within the government would help the president interact with other countries. In 1789, James Madison formed the Department of Foreign Affairs, which would later become the U.S. State Department.

State Department seal

The leader of this department was called the Secretary of State. Thomas Jefferson became the first Secretary of State in 1790, and this position still exists today. The Secretary of State doesn't answer phones or make copies like you might think. Rather, he or she is responsible for representing the U.S., along with the president, when working with other nations.

Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State.

So what does the U.S. State Department do today? Let's find out!


Just like you have goals, like getting good grades on your report card, the State Department has goals too. First and foremost, the state department is responsible for helping the United States to work with other countries to support:

  • Peace
  • Prosperity, or wealth
  • Justice
  • People's rights

When working with other countries, the State Department makes decisions based on what is best for the U.S. and the American people.


Similar to the way your school is divided into different classrooms, the State Department is organized into different offices. Each office is run by an under secretary who is responsible for overseeing a part of the department's goals.

These offices deal with situations that come up with other countries related to:

  • Security
  • Defense against missiles and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons
  • Supporting strong governments in other countries
  • Protecting the environment
  • Science and technology
  • Money
  • Energy
  • Terrorism

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