Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 10

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:
Records of the Committee on Foreign Relations, 1816-1968 (541 ft.)
The motion of Dec. 5, 1816 that created the Foreign Relations Committee and other standing committees.
The motion of Dec. 5, 1816 that created the Foreign Relations Committee and other standing committees.  (SEN14A-B6) from NARA's National Archives Catalog  

10.1 The Committee on Foreign Relations was established on December 10, 1816, when the Senate adopted a resolution offered by James Barbour of Virginia to create 11 standing committees, including one on foreign relations. There were both functional and political reasons for making foreign relations a standing committee. In the Senate's first 27 years, more than 200 separate committees dealt with foreign affairs. No rules governing Senate procedure with respect to either treaties or legislative matters existed. The general practice was to establish a select committee to report on each bill or treaty. The Senate relied on a rather small group of Members with a special interest or background in foreign relations to be appointed members of these select committees. Furthermore, the Senate's rules permitted a select committee to be kept in continuous existence throughout a session by referring to it related subjects. These factors provided an unexpected consistency in the Senate's handling of foreign relations.

10.2 By 1816, however, the increased business of the Senate, especially the consideration of nominations and national defense needs arising from the War of 1812, imposed additional burdens on the Senate and provided a further incentive to create standing committees. From the 2d session of the 14th Congress to the present, the Committee on Foreign Relations has met to consider legislation relating to foreign affairs, treaties (except those with Indian tribes), and nominations of diplomatic and consular representatives, among other subjects.

10.3 There is no single comprehensive history of the Committee on Foreign Relations, but several monographs on particular periods or aspects of its activities have been written. Periodically, the staff of the committee produces a brief history, printed as a Senate document, that contains a thorough description of committee procedures, responsibilities, and activities. Its most recent publication, S. Doc. 21, 99th Cong., 1st sess., contains an extensive bibliography on the role of Congress in foreign policy.

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.