The Record - May 1998

Accessions and Openings

Funding Foreign Policy: General Records of the Department of the Treasury Pertaining to American Foreign Policy

By Kenneth Heger

The National Archives and Records Administration and other Federal agencies have recently sought out and declassified records that may contain records pertaining to Nazi gold. An interesting side benefit of that process has been the release of important new bodies of records documenting American foreign policy. Some of the more significant of these new releases have been among the records of the Department of the Treasury. These new accessions, combined with previously available records, make the General Records of the Department of the Treasury (Record Group 56) an important body of records for scholars of American foreign policy.

The Treasury Department came into existence by an Act of Congress of September 2, 1789 (1 Stat. 65) and was to administer and implement all aspects of public revenue and expenditures of the Federal government. As the Federal government increased its activities abroad, the Department of the Treasury came to play a key role in determining America's role in international financial and economic affairs. As a result, Treasury Department records contain a great deal of information pertaining to US economic relations with foreign countries, American foreign aid programs, and US participation in international economic organizations and institutions.

Office of the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs (OASIA), 1934-70

By far the most important Treasury records pertaining to foreign affairs are newly accessioned from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs (OASIA). These records document the functions of OASIA, created in 1964, and its predecessor agencies within the Treasury Department. They document the office's role in advising and assisting the Secretary of the Treasury and other senior departmental officials in the formulation and execution of policies and programs relating to the responsibilities of the Treasury Department in the international economic, financial, and monetary fields. The records contain correspondence, memoranda, studies, reports, briefing books, and other documents. Two subgroups of OASIA records warrant special attention:

OASIA's Geographic Files cover the years 1934-59. Most of these records are country files arranged by geographic region or individual country. Within each geographic division, the records are arranged by subject, and cover topics such as currency and financial issues, US economic aid programs, loans, and information concerning trips of Treasury Department officials overseas. In addition to large country files, there is a subgroup that contains three series pertaining exclusively to Germany: Subject Files Relating to Germany, 1931-52; Records Relating to External Debt Settlements by West Germany, 1950-57; and General Records of the Tripartite Commission on German Debt, 1951-53.

The OASIA records also document Treasury's participation in international organizations and institutions. There are files on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), 1950-70, that include GATT meeting minutes and files on subjects of special interest to Treasury. OASIA's United Nations files are arranged by U.N. organization, such as the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (USECAFE), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (UNECLA). The UN files cover the years 1945-71 and include minutes of committee meetings and official committee documents. Files pertaining to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) cover the years 1961-69 and contain subject files and briefing books. There are also extensive files on the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (IA-ECOSOC) and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, as well as smaller files on other organizations.

Central File, 1934-66

In addition to the newly accessioned OASIA records, Record Group 56 contains other records documenting American foreign policy. The Treasury Department's central file contains letters received, letters sent, reports, memoranda, newspaper clippings and other documents relating to the activities of the Department. The file is divided into two time segments (1934-56 and 1957-66) and there is a file-title list for both of them. The early period contains numerous files on countries, primarily covering the period from the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s.

The early portion of the central file also contains records of Treasury Department participation on boards, commissions, and committees, such as the Psychological Strategy Board (1951-53), the Joint Philippine-American Finance Commission (1946-47), the Advisory Committee on Occupied Areas (1946-47), and the Interdepartmental Committee on Scientific and Cultural Cooperation.

Documentation of American foreign policy is much sketchier in the second time period; most material pertaining to Treasury's foreign activities is located in the OASIA files. The most significant difference is that for the years after 1956 there are no country files. There are, however, several file categories of note: Advisory Commission on International Monetary Affairs (1965), Interagency Committee on Inter-American Cultural and Trade Center (1965-66), and the International Monetary Fund (1946-57).

Desk (Office) Files of Treasury Department Employees, 1934-65

Records maintained by several Treasury Department Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and Under Secretaries also contain a significant amount of material pertaining to US foreign affairs. The records of Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary for Monetary and International Affairs, are the most voluminous of these files. Covering the years 1934-46, White's files include records pertaining to lend-lease aid to Great Britain, correspondence files, and memoranda of conversation of meetings.

Japanese Minister of Finance letter to Secretary of Treasury, October 17, 1957
Hisato Ichimada, Japanese Minister of Finance, to Robert Anderson, Secretary of the Treasury, October 17, 1957.

Edward F. Bartelt's office files, covering the years 1947-54, document his activities as U.S. representative on the United Nations's Economic and Social Council.

Although not as voluminous as White's or Bartelt's records, office files of several other Treasury Department officials warrant attention. The International Subject Files of Secretary Robert B. Anderson, 1957-60, and the Classified Office Files of Under Secretary Henry H. Fowler, 1961-64, both contain country files and documents pertaining to international organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Researchers may also wish to examine Office Files of Under Secretary Edward H. Foley, 1948-53; Office Files of Assistant Secretary John W. Hanes, 1938-39; Office Files of Assistant Secretary John S. Graham, 1949-52; and Classified Executive Secretariat Files of Secretary Douglas Dillon, 1961-65.

National Advisory Council on International Monetary and Financial Policies (NAC), 1945-70

The National Advisory Council on International Monetary and Financial Problems was established under the Bretton Woods Agreement, July 31, 1945. It was abolished in 1965 and superseded by the National Advisory Council on International Monetary and Financial Policies (NAC). NAC coordinates US foreign financial and monetary policies.

NAC records in the custody of the National Archives include: Minutes of Council Meetings, 1945-70; Minutes of Staff Meetings, 1945-70; Numbered NAC Actions, 1945-70; Staff Meeting Agendas, 1945-70; Correspondence, Memoranda, and Reports, 1946-53; Subject Files, 1946-53; and Briefing Books, 1946-53.

Record Group 56 is housed at the National Archives' facility in College Park, MD. For additional information, researchers should consult the in-house guide "Treasury Department Records Pertaining to US Foreign Policy" and pertinent file title lists prior to beginning their research. Treasury Department records provide a unique source of information on the United State's expanded role in world affairs and the numerous American foreign aid programs after World War II. Scholars of the Cold War era would be well advised to examine them.

Kenneth Heger is an archivist with NARA's Office of Records Services, Civilian Records.