Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 10 Treaty Files 1861-1917

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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, 1861-1917 (37th-64th Congresses)
Chairman Shelby M. Cullom
Photograph of Shelby M. Cullom, Mathew Brady Studio, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (RG 111) from NARA's Online Catalog  

10.19 Records of the committee for this period consist of two series. The committee papers, 1869-1917 (8 ft.), include legislative case files, 1869-1901; certain Presidential messages on foreign affairs; executive communications, chiefly from the Department of State; and originals of certain Senate documents and reports. No committee papers from the 37th-40th Congresses (1861-69) have survived. Beginning with the 57th Congress (1901), legislative case files for all committees are found in the series papers supporting specific bills and resolutions for each Congress. The committee papers also include a small amount of correspondence of Chairman Shelby Cullom (62A-F8) and an unpublished hearing transcript concerning the alleged sale of U.S. Military Academy cadetships (45A-E7). Of the petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee, 1861-1917 (66 ft.), over half concern the issues of U.S. neutrality and the prohibition of export of firearms to belligerent nations before the entry of the United States into World War I (63A-J29, 64-J32).

10.20 The subject matter of the committee records reflects the transformation of the United States from a minor power into a burgeoning imperial nation during this period. Whereas its records before 1861 had focused on Great Britain and its colonies and on Western Hemisphere neighbors, by 1917 its records demonstrate the expansion of America's worldwide interests.

10.21 Great Britain: Strained relations with Great Britain, beginning with British sympathy for the Confederacy during the Civil War and aggravated by a succession of other incidents through the late 1890's, are amply illustrated by petitions and memorials referred to the committee. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, many petitioners sought a reciprocity treaty with Great Britain to improve trade by reducing the high duties of the Morrill Tariff of 1861 (37A-H6, 38A-H6, 39A-H6, 40A-H8, 43A-H9). Petitions concerning the Alabama claims also document exacerbated ill feelings of Americans toward the British (41A-H8.1). By far the most outspoken of the anti-British groups were Irish-American sympathizers of the Fenians, who petitioned the Senate to protect the rights of naturalized U.S. citizens in foreign countries (40A-H8.1, 41A-H8.1). These petitioners protested the arrest of fellow Irish-Americans charged with riot incitement while visiting Ireland. Even after the British recognized U.S. naturalization in 1870, individual arrests still provoked outpourings of support for these alleged victims of British policy (44A-H8, 46A-H8, 52A-J11.2). Americans' general support of Venezuela's demand for arbitration of a long-standing dispute with Great Britain over the border with British Guiana is documented in the petitions and memorials referred to the committee (54A-J12.2, 54A-J12.3, 55A-J11). The Senate rejected a U.S.-British arbitration treaty in May 1897, but calls for such a treaty persisted until 1912 (58A-J22, 59A-J36, 60A-J48, 62A-J36). American reaction to the Boer War was mixed. Petitions and memorials reflect Irish-American support for the Boers (56A-J12, 57A-J18). Lingering anti-British sentiment in the early 20th century was expressed in opposition to proposals to appropriate money to commemorate the centennial of the Treaty of Ghent (62A-J37, 63A-J27).

10.22 Other European nations: The records of the committee suggest that relations between the United States and European states other than Great Britain were uneventful during the 1861-1917 period, except for certain colonial issues, such as German interest in the Samoan Islands (50A-J10.1) and conflict with Spain over Cuba and the Philippines (50A-J10.1, 55A-J11.1, 56A-J12.3). Other subjects include: The transatlantic cable (39A-H6, 41A-H8.1), international expositions (43A-E5, 50A-F9), reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Belgrade and Bucharest in 1884 (48A-E9), commercial treaties and relations with France (53A-F11, 56A-J12.1, 57A-J22) and Spain (48A-H10), and persecution of Jews in Rumania (41A-H8.1) and in Russia (47A-H10.1, 51A-H10, 58A-J28, 62A-J41).

10.23 Canada: Petitions and memorials on U.S-Canadian relations, 1861-1917, indicate that trade, especially reciprocal tariffs, was the foremost issue from 1870 to 1910 (40A-H8, 43A-H9, 44A-H8.1, 55A-J11.5, 57A-J19, 61A-J33). Also related to trade are records of the Select Committee on Relations with Canada (51A-J32) and the standing Committee on Relations with Canada (57A-J64, 59A-F3), in which documentation relating to the Great Lakes deep sea waterway (56A-F11) and preservation of the Niagara Falls (59A-J38) also can be found.

10.24 Cuba: The 1868 rebellion against Spanish rule spawned public demands for the recognition of Cuban independence (41A-H8, 42A-H9.1) that almost led to war in 1870. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish's 1874 executive communication on S.J. Res. 8 (43A-E5), illustrates the administration's efforts to diffuse the warlike atmosphere, but in the mid-1880's, local residents petitioned the Senate to remove the collector of customs at Key West, FL, for "filibustering" (sic) on behalf of Cuban insurgents (48A-H10.1). In 1896, growing support for the Cubans led to Senate passage of S. Res. 163 recognizing Cuban independence. Papers supporting this resolution include communications to Senator Wilkinson Call and clippings from various Cuban newspapers (54A-F11). Petitions referred to the committee in the following Congress urged U.S. intervention in Cuba (55A-J11.1). Following the Spanish-American War, records of U.S.-Cuban relations focus on trade reciprocity (57A-J21), tobacco tariffs (58A-J25), and the Isle of Pines Treaty (59A-J37). In 1899, the Senate established the standing Committee on Relations with Cuba. The records, 1899-1921 (10 in.), include petitions relating to cable construction (56A-J36), trade reciprocity (57A-J65), and postal affairs (59A-J16); a report of the Provisional Governor of Cuba for 1908 (60A-F7); and minutes of a meeting on S. Res. 322, 62d Cong., to determine what legislation was necessary to intervene in Cuba under the Platt Amendment (62A-F5).

10.25 Hawaii: Records of the committee relating to Hawaii focus on trade, reciprocity, and annexation. Rice farmers in southern States, concerned about competition, petitioned for a rice duty in a pending treaty (44A-H8.1). Other petitions followed the 1875 reciprocity treaty (47A-H10.1). The records include a message from President Grover Cleveland, December 18, 1893, on relations with Hawaii following the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani (53A-F11) and a number of proannexation petitions in 1893 (53A-J11.3). When native Hawaiians submitted an antiannexation petition to the Senate, its authenticity was challenged (55A-J11.1). This petition has been published in microfilm as "Petition against the Annexation of Hawaii Submitted to the U.S. Senate in 1897 by the Hawaiian Patriotic League of the Hawaiian Islands," M1897.

10.26 Mexico: Post-Civil War records relating to Mexico begin with petitions opposing Maximillian's intervention in Mexico (39A-H6). Except for petitions relating to claims dating from the Mexican War, there are few records until the eve of the Mexican Revolution in 1911. The Senate received petitions from groups and individuals who feared U.S. intervention (62A-J39, 63A-J28). Undertaking an investigation of the Mexican Revolution pursuant to S. Res. 335, 62d Cong., the Senate held extensive hearings, the transcripts of which have been printed (62A-F8). Records of this investigation also include correspondence of Senator Albert Fall, chairman of the subcommittee conducting the investigation (63A-F9).

10.27 Other Western Hemisphere nations: Records include petitions concerning the Russian-American Fur Company (41A-H8.1); a report on the Alaskan fur seal fisheries (59A-F10); committee papers and petitions relating to Chile (52A-J11.3, 52A-F12); petitions from insurance companies requesting restoration of the diplomatic mission in Bogota, Colombia (45A-H8.1); petitions favoring recognition of Haiti (37A-H6); papers accompanying S. 2636 to incorporate the Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua (49A-E12) and petitions supporting completion of the canal (47A-H10.1, 52A-J11.1, 53A-J11.1); petitions supporting the ratification of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (58A-J28); papers relating to Samoa (50A-J10.1); and claims against Venezuela (41A-H8.1, 48A-H10.1, 49A-E12, 52A-F12).

10.28 China: Records relating to China concern the use of the Chinese Indemnity Fund (41A-H8.1, 42A-H9.1, 48A-E9, 48A-H10.1), U.S courts in China (63A-F9), and restriction of Chinese immigrants to the United States. (44A-H8.1, 45A-H8.1, 47A-H10.1, 48A-E9, 48A-H10.1, 49A-H11, 50A-J10, 50A-J11, 52A-J11).

10.29 Japan: The records concern protection of U.S. citizens living in Japan and the administration of the consular courts (41A-E7, 44A-E6, 47A-E8, 47A-H10.1) and the use of the Japanese Indemnity Fund (46A-H8).

10.30 Philippines: The records include petitions from antiimperialist organizations opposed to the extension of U.S. sovereignty over the Philippines (55A-J11.4, 56A-J12.3). On December 15, 1899, the Senate created the standing Committee on the Philippines, for which the National Archives has records for the 56th-66th Congresses (1899-1921).

10.31 Other subjects: Committee records also document State Department administrative issues and miscellaneous foreign policy interests of the Senate and the public between 1861 and 1917. Among them are a series of petitions, 1866, supporting an international copyright law signed by such 19th-century U.S. literary figures as William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, and Walt Whitman (39A-H6); several petitions by peace groups calling for establishment of a congress of nations to arbitrate international disputes (42A-H9); petitions supporting a metric system of weights and measures (45A-H8); petitions and memorials calling for reform of the consular service (56A-J12.5, 57A-J20, 58A-J23, 59A-J35, 62A-J38) and construction of new diplomatic and consular buildings (60A-J49, 61A-J34, 62A-J38, 63A-J30); and a message from the Secretary of State endorsing the establishment of a prime meridian and a universal day (50A-F9). Bills and supporting documents concern the incorporation of the American National Association of the Red Cross (51A-F12, 52A-F12, 53A-F11) and the National White Cross of America (56A-F11). Bills and related papers relating to individual claims are found throughout the committee papers, 41st-56th Congresses (1869-1901).

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.