The departure of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state is not a shocking development. It is a surprising one, however: Tillerson had survived months of antagonism from President Trump, and there was no particular reason to think that this was the moment when the ax would fall. In November there were rumblings that Trump planned to drop Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. That’s what happened, just earlier than might have been expected.
At the time, we noted that if Tillerson were ousted by the end of 2017 that would make him one of the shortest-tenured secretaries of state in American history. As it turns out, by lasting until March, he’s … still one of the shortest-tenured secretaries of state in American history.
Of the 69 people who’ve served in that role, Tillerson ranks 54th in tenure. Of the 15 secretaries who served shorter tenures than Tillerson:
- One died.
- Ten were appointed near the end of a presidential administration.
- One was appointed honorarily shortly before a transition.
- Two left for other diplomatic positions.
- One resigned over a dispute with the president.
In other words, only one secretary of state who served for a shorter period of time than Tillerson left the position under duress. Unlike Tillerson, Louis McLane wasn’t fired by President Andrew Jackson. He resigned after Jackson declined to implement trade reprisals against the French after the country declined to uphold a treaty.
The longest-serving secretary of state was Cordell Hull, who served under Franklin Roosevelt. His tenure was more than 10 times as long as Tillerson’s — a function, of course, of Roosevelt’s longevity in the office.
Tillerson is also not the first secretary to leave this particular Cabinet under duress. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price left last fall after outcry about his use of private planes.
Trump’s public frustrations with Tillerson began well before that.