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Using Department of State Records
Publications and Websites
The Department of State has issued many publications, both as part of a series and as individual documents, that will be of interest to foreign affairs researchers. Some of those publications were issued on a near-contemporary basis in order to inform the American public and the business community. Those publications now form a unique historical resource of their own. This section contains information on some of the more important serial publications.
To locate publications issued before 1910, consult the CHECKLIST OF UNITED STATES PUBLIC DOCUMENTS, 1789-1909 (3rd Edition) issued by the Government Printing Office in 1911. For information about documents dated after 1909, please consult a Government Documents Librarian.
Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)
The most important publication to consult before beginning research on U.S. foreign policy is the series Foreign Relations of the United States, commonly referred to as FRUS. This series, prepared and issued by the Department of State since 1861, is a compilation of selected documents from the files of the Department of State, the White House, and other agencies. It presents a historical view of American foreign policy and now comprises more than 450 individual volumes. Besides providing the text of important foreign policy documents, FRUS also includes source citations (printed either with the document or as footnotes) that indicate the location of the original documents. In this way, FRUS serves as a guide to the location of additional documents on the same and related subjects not selected for publication.
FRUS is usually available at large university or public libraries, and at U.S. Government Depository Libraries. Volumes are available online at:
During the period 1869 to 1914, the Department of State submitted collections of diplomatic correspondence (called reports from the Secretary of State) to Congress in response to specific requests. Congress, in turn printed those collections as Senate or House Executive Documents, House or Senate Miscellaneous Reports, or House or Senate Reports. Those publications serve as supplemental FRUS volumes. A list of those volumes can be found here.
Among the more comprehensive publications are those relating to commercial relations during the second half of the nineteenth century. The reports originated with a Congressional requirement for information. To prepare the report called for by a December 1853 resolution, the Department created a “Statistical Office” in 1854, which was given permanent status by an 1856 law. That law provided for the appointment of a “Superintendant of Statistics,” an office abolished by law in 1868. Despite the abolishment of the position, the work continued and in 1874, Congress authorized the establishment of the Bureau of Statistics. In 1897, the name was changed to the Bureau of Foreign Commerce. In 1903, that bureau and the Bureau of Statistics in the Department of the Treasury were consolidated and transferred to the Department of Commerce as the Bureau of Statistics.
The following are the main publications of the Bureau of Foreign Commerce and its predecessors. The titles of some of these publications varied over time. These reports might include copies of the enclosures to or statistical information submitted with consular despatches that are not found with the file copies of those despatches filed in the Department and available on National Archives microfilm publications.
- Commercial Relations. Issued annually from 1855 to 1902.
- Advance Sheet, Consular Reports. Issued daily except Sundays and holidays from January 3, 1898 to June 30, 1903 (numbered 1-1685). There also are annual indexes for 1898-1902.
- Consular Reports. Issued monthly (with some gaps) from October 1880 to June 1903 (numbered 1-275). There also are annual indexes for 1880-August 1900.
- Special Consular Reports. Reports on special topics made pursuant to instructions from the Department of State.
- Exports Declared for the United States, 1883 – March 1903. Summaries of information concerning exports from foreign countries to the United States. Similar information for earlier years is found in the Consular Reports noted above.
Information about the continuation of these and related publications by the Department of Commerce will be found in the CHECKLIST OF UNITED STATES PUBLIC DOCUMENTS, 1789-1909.
American Foreign Policy: Current Documents
This series presented, on a near-contemporary basis, public foreign policy messages, addresses, statements, interviews, press briefings and conferences, and congressional testimony. The last published volume covered the year 1991.
The Department published volumes with various titles in this series.
- In 1950, it published A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-1949
- In 1957, it published American Foreign Policy, 1950-1955
- The Department issued annual volumes entitled American Foreign Policy: Current Documents for the years 1956 through 1967
- The Department resumed the series in 1983 with the publication of American Foreign Policy : Basic Documents, 1977-1980
- In 1984 resumed the annual volumes with the publication of American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1981. The last published volume covers 1991.
- In 1985, the Department published a revised edition of A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-1949
The Department of State issues other publications that may be of interest. Among them are:
- Department of State Bulletin (1939 - 1989) The Bulletin was the official record of U.S. foreign policy. It was established to provide Congress, other agencies, and the public information about U.S. foreign policy and the work of the Department of State and the Foreign Service.
- United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (1950 - )
- Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States, 1776-1949, compiled by Charles I. Bevans
- Digest of International Law (1963-1971)
- Digest of United States Practice in International Law (1973 - )
- Biographic Register. Published by the Department of State between 1860 and 1974, this publication includes entries for all employees of the Department, both in headquarters and serving abroad. Entries include basic biographic information as well as details on assignments.
Public information of a more recent vintage is available on the Department of State's website. You can search: