Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 572 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SECRETARY OF STATE, in England, the designation of certain important members of the administration. The ancient English monarchs were always attended by a learned ecclesiastic, known at first as their clerk, and afterwards as secretary, who conducted the royal correspondence; but it was not until the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth that these functionaries were called secretaries of state. Upon the direction of public affairs passing from the privy council to the cabinet after 1688 the secretaries of state began to assume those high duties ' Curiously enough, Boddaert in 1783 omitted to give it a scientific name. 2 The scientific synonymy of the species is given at great length by Drs Finsch and Hartlaub (Vogel Ost-Afrikas, p. 93) and by R. B. Sharpe (Cat. B. Brit. Museum, i. p. 45). s It is from the fancied resemblance of these feathers to the pens which a clerk is supposed to stick above his ear that the bird's name of Secretary is really derived.which now render their office one of the most influential of an administration. Until the reign of Henry VIII. there was generally only one secretary of state, but at the end of his reign a second principal secretary was appointed. Owing to the increase of business consequent upon the union of Scotland, a third secretary, in 1708, was created, but a vacancy occurring in this office in 1746 the third secretaryship was dispensed with until 1768, when it was again instituted to take charge of the increasing colonial business. How-ever, in 1782 the office was again abolished, and the charge of the colonies transferred to the home secretary; but owing to the war with France in 1794 a third secretary was once more appointed to superintend the business of the war department, and seven years later the colonial business was attached to his department. In 1854 a fourth secretary of state for the exclusive charge of the war department and in 1858 a fifth secretaryship for India were created. There are therefore now five principal secretaries of state, four of whom, with their political under-secretaries, occupy seats in the House of Commons. One of these secretaries of state is always a member of the House of Lords. The secretaries of state are the only authorized channels through which the royal pleasure is signified to any part of the body politic, and the counter-signature of one of them is necessary to give validity to the sign manual. The secretaries of state constitute but one office, and are coordinate in rank and equal in authority. Each is competent in general to execute any part of the duties of the secretary of state, the division of duties being a mere matter of arrangement. For the existing division of duties, see under separate headings, COLONIAL OFFICE, FOREIGN OFFICE, &C. In the United States the " secretary of state " is a member of the executive, who deals with foreign affairs, and who, in the event of a vacancy in the office of president, is next in succession after the vice-president. The title of " secretary "—" of the treasury," " of war," &c.—is used for some other members of the executive. In various states there is an executive officer called " secretary of state."
SECRET (Lat. secretum, hidden, concealed)

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