Research at the National Archives

Department of State Records

Department of State and Associated Agency Records

The Department of State was established as the Department of Foreign Affairs by the act of July 27, 1789. It received its present name by the act of September 15, 1789. The Department is responsible for planning and implementing American foreign policy. The Secretary of State is the President's chief advisor for foreign affairs.

For over 150 years, the Department largely stood alone as the agency handling American foreign policy and foreign affairs. During World War I and World War II, Congress and the President established a number of agencies to handle special functions and circumstances arising from the wars. In addition, during the Cold War new agencies were established, often being split out of the Department of State, to give special attention to new aspects of American foreign relations. Some of these agencies existed only for short periods of time, while others lasted far longer.

During the 20th Century, a community of agencies specifically tasked with handling America's formal diplomacy and foreign relations has evolved.

As you read about the records of the various agencies in the foreign Policy Community, please remember that for the records for the period since the beginning of World War II, access to some documentation may be restricted due to security-classification and/or privacy concerns. In addition, use of some materials may be restricted due to copyright. Please see our information about the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

To begin your research on topics relating to U.S. foreign policy, we suggest that you consult Foreign Relations of the United States.