Chief Diplomat

President Ulysses S. Grant greeting a Japanese delegation in the White House, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 23, 1872

The president is both a national spokesman and a world leader. Increasingly, as representative of a country of immigrants with ties around the globe, he is expected to defend America's security and economic interests, and also to promote democratic principles and human rights internationally.

Several presidents whose domestic policies were frustrated by an uncooperative Congress have focused their attention on foreign affairs, where their power and freedom to determine policy was less hindered.

Moccasins presented to Ulysses S. Grant during an 1870s peace conference in Washington, D.C.

Along with dealing with European powers, one of the earliest diplomatic issues facing a United States president was establishing and maintaining formal and legal relationships with the Indian nations within the country's declared borders.

Delegation of Potawatomi, Pawnee, Ponca, and Sac and Fox leaders at the White House in 1857
Courtesy of National Archives
Musket inlaid with coral and silver presented to Thomas Jefferson by Siddi Suliman Mella, Ambassador of the Bey of Tunis, after the end of the Tripolitan War in 1805.
Silver junk presented to Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 by Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi of China. The gift followed China's forced acceptance of an open-door policy for trade with the United States.

The "Big Four" leaders in Paris in 1919 for the World War I peace-treaty talks: (left to right) Prime Ministers David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and President Woodrow Wilson.

Woodrow Wilson received a hero's welcome in France. Though much of the World War I peace treaty fell far short of his idealist goals, he did gain acceptance for his League of Nations and the concept of international peacekeeping.

At home, however, isolationism had reasserted itself and Wilson failed to get Congress to ratify the treaty. His last efforts as president were spent in an unsuccessful attempt to build public and political support for the League. Exhausted from a cross-country tour, he suffered a stroke in September of 1919 and never fully recovered.

Courtesy of National Archives
This welcome poster for President Prado of Peru promoted good will between the United States and Peru during a state visit to Washington, D.C.

Signing the Camp David peace accord
The use of American presidential influence to settle international disputes has become a significant responsibility. In 1978 President Jimmy Carter hosted peace talks between Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. After almost two weeks of negotiations, the three leaders signed a peace accord on September 17, 1978, ending the state of war that had existed between Israel and Egypt since 1948.

Courtesy of Jimmy Carter Library
Camp David meeting
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin meet on the Aspen Cabin patio at Camp David, Maryland, September 6, 1978.
Courtesy of Jimmy Carter Library
Richard M. Nixon in China
President Nixon hoped that his administration could ease the strained relations and cold war tensions between the superpowers. Adopting a policy of détente, in 1972 he became the first American president to go to the Soviet Union. That same year, he made his historic visit to China, paving the way for restoration of diplomatic relations after a twenty-five-year break. Here, Nixon is shown on a return visit to China in 1979.
Courtesy of the Nixon Library and Birthplace

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
In the 1980s, the pressure from an increase in U.S. military spending and the change in leadership in the Soviet Union led to a new era of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

After a series of meetings, Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed an Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty on December 8, 1987. It promised to eliminate an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear missiles and was the first arms-control agreement to reduce the nuclear arsenal. The success of the negotiations marked a beginning to the end of the cold war.

Following the treaty signing, President and Nancy Reagan held a White House state dinner for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev.

Courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library