Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 10 Treaty Files 1817-1861

Table of Contents

Chapter 10. Records of the Committee on Foreign Relations, 1816-1988

Records of the Committee on Foreign Relations, 1816-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States


Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Committee on Foreign Relations: Other Records, 1817-61 (14th - 36th Congresses)

10.9 The pre-Civil War records of the Committee on Foreign Relations consist of three series: Committee reports and papers, 1817-47 (9 in.); committee papers, 1851-60 (10 in.); and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures that were referred to the committee, 1817-61 (5 ft.). There are no extant committee reports and papers for the 22d and 30th Congresses, but there are at least some records in the other two series for each Congress. The records are arranged by Congress, thereunder by series, and thereunder chronologically by date of petition, memorial, or report or by bill number. For some Congresses, petitions and memorials have been partially arranged by subject if warranted by volume.

10.10 Many of the committee papers and petitions referred to the committee during the pre-Civil War period concern claims. A file may occasionally contain correspondence, business and financial records, and affidavits and other written statements as exhibits to substantiate a claim.

10.11 Three types of claims were referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. One type includes claims from diplomatic and consular officers for additional compensation or relief for personal expenses incurred in the conduct of their official duties. These may detail certain aspects of the diplomatic relations between the United States and the host country. Some claims dragged on long after the claimant (minister, consul, or agent) left Government service or even after his death. For example, the heirs of Thomas Sumter, U.S. Minister to Brazil (1809-11) and Senator from South Carolina (1801-9), submitted 9 inches of correspondence and exhibits, mostly dated 1833, relating to their claim (25A-G7.2). While the volume of documentation in this case is atypical, many such officials, including Edmund Roberts (23A-G5) and Commodore Matthew C. Perry (33A-E5), who were instrumental in opening up the Far East to the United States, submitted petitions or had bills introduced on their behalf. Both the Roberts and Perry files contain correspondence and other records in addition to the bill or petition.

10.12 The second type includes claims of nondiplomatic personnel for contributions they believed they had made, directly or indirectly, to the U.S. Government through their overseas activities. For example, James Morrow, an agriculturist on Perry's China expedition, collected specimens for the Smithsonian Institution, and upon his return a bill to compensate him was introduced (34A-H7). Similarly, when John Reeves, an American naval architect residing in Turkey, was forced by the Sultan to construct vessels for the Ottoman Navy, he sought financial relief from the U.S. Government (36A-H7).

10.13 The third type of claims concerns damage to or loss of private property of Americans at the hands of foreign nationals or damage to foreign-owned property resulting from the action of the U.S. Government. One set of claims, known as the French spoliation cases, resulted from French attacks chiefly on American merchant vessels during the French Revolution through 1800, including the period of the so-called undeclared war. Between 1826 and 1860, four separate select committees considered these claims; however, many such claims were referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

10.14 Other than claims, the subjects of the papers referred to the committee most often relate to diplomatic relations with Great Britain, Spain, and their respective colonies (e.g., Canada, West Indies, Mexico, Cuba) and matters concerning present and future States, chiefly Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas.

10.15 Great Britain: Much of the diplomatic activity of the United States between the Treaty of Ghent and the onset of the Civil War concerned Great Britain, including