Government Documents Guide: U. S. Foreign Relations

U.S. State Department Publications

As the country's central diplomatic agency, the U.S. State Department's mission is to "Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system."

Ellis Library's collection of U. S. State Department documents include the popular Background Notes which tell about the culture, history, government, political conditions, economy, natural resources and foreign relations of most other nations of the world from 1990 to the present. The State Department collection overall tends to focus on areas with which there is some conflict, but also covers efforts to build positive international relations, such as student exchange programs. Most State Department publications are shelved in the Government Documents section on Ellis Library's 1st floor, under call numbers beginning with the letter S.

One way to find State Department publications in the library's Government Documents collection is to enter this search into MERLIN's keyword field:

("Department of State" or "U.S. Dept. of State") AND [any country name]



The State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series is the official historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series began in 1861 and is available for dates up until about 40 years ago. For security purposes, there is a moving wall on release of information.

Foreign Relations volumes contain more than just material originating from the Department of State. Included are communications and reports from other federal agencies, and material from individuals who were involved in international relations such as executives of commercial organizations operating in foreign countries. The FRUS series is not an exhaustive collection. Editors in the State Department's Office of the Historian have selected particular items for inclusion based on their ability to elucidate the history and formulation of U.S. foreign policy.

One especially useful and regularly occurring feature in the FRUS were the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate reports. These were high-level interdepartmental reports first published in the fall of 1950. According to the source, "Each Estimate was intended to be the most authoritative interpretation and appraisal of a situation available to policy makers. It presented the coordinated expression of the best intelligence opinion from the CIA, FBI, the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Department of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Atomic Energy Commission. Provision was made for the notation of dissent where unanimity did not exist." See sample National Intelligence Estimates for the time period 1950-1953 (opens rtf file.) We also invite you to browse a selection of NIEs concerning the Soviet Union during the Cold War period.



Published weekly from 1939-1989, the Department of State Bulletin provided news coverage of world events and analysis of government policy and international relations. It served as the official record of U.S. foreign policy for that 50-year time period. Regularly occurring features include “Traffic in Arms”; which indicates the character, value, and countries of destination of the arms, ammunition, and implements of war licensed for export by the Secretary of State during a certain year and month. Also in most issues there are articles about treaty information that the U.S. is a party or may become a party or treaties of general international interest. Aside from international relations the Department of State Bulletin also includes “The American Republics”, which are articles that deal with American relations across the nation. This could be anything from travel grants of professors and students to relations in the field of music.

Print copies of the Department of State Bulletin collection are located in Ellis Library (see MERLIN catalog record.) Indexing is presented at the back of each volume. Alternatively, the source is available in full text and fully keyword searchable through the database HeinOnline. Simply follow these easy steps:

      1. Start on MU Libraries homepage
      2. Click on the “Database” tab and type in the search box “HeinOnline”
      3. Click on the “HeinOnline” hit
      4. Once in the “Heinonline” database, click on “Law Journal Library”
      5. Search for “Department of State Bulletin” or click "D" and scroll down to it
      6. Click on the title to expand it and you will have an option to search through each individual year or search the whole publication for keywords.

In 1990, the title changed to Department of State Dispatch and it became a monthly publication. The Dispatch provided text of key speeches and testimony by senior State Department officials, as well as information on U.S. treaty actions. The Dispatch ceased with the December 1999 issue. Starting in 2000, all speeches, briefings, and testimony from State Department officials and new information on U.S. treaty actions began being published on the Department of State website.


Congressional Publications

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Publications from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its subcommittees are available in full text through the Lexis Nexis Congressional database, or in print copy in the library's government documents collection.

The Senate Foreign Relations committee was established as a standing committee of the Senate in 1816. Its most important responsibilities are those relating to the Department of State, The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the United States Information Agency, and the United Nations. It has jurisdiction over foreign aid, international financial institutions, treaties, and nominations to high positions in the State Department and related agencies. Many of the committee’s hearings and reports are on non-legislative subjects, such as the threat of foreign terrorism or major issues of U.S. policy in East Asia.

Since 1950, the Committee on Foreign Relations has maintained a series of subcommittees, corresponding generally to the organization of the Department of State. The subcommittee system is designed to foster more extensive consultations between the members of the Foreign Relations Committee and officers of the Department of State. Since 1950 these have been the established committees at various times (presented in alphabetical order):

  • Africa and Global Health (MERLIN)
  • African Affairs (MERLIN)
  • American Republics Affairs (MERLIN)
  • Arms Control, International law, and Organization
  • Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment
  • Canadian Affairs
  • Central Asia and the South Caucasus
  • Disarmament
  • East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Economic and Social Policy Affairs
  • Europe and the Middle East
  • European Affairs
  • Far Eastern Affairs
  • Foreign Assistance and Economic Policy
  • Genocide Convention
  • Human Rights and International Organizations
  • International Economic Policy, Export, and Trade Promotion
  • International Economic Policy and Trade
  • International Economic Policy, Trade, Oceans, and Environment
  • International Organization Affairs
  • International Organization, Human Rights, and oversight
  • International Operations
  • International Operations and Terrorism
  • International Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Human Rights
  • Investigate Activities of Nondiplomatic Representatives of Foreign Principals in the United States
  • Multinational Corporations
  • Near Eastern Affairs
  • Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Oceans and International Environment
  • Overseas Information Programs
  • Personnel
  • Public Affairs
  • South Asian Affairs
  • State Department Organization
  • State Department Organization and Public Affairs
  • Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Communications
  • United Nations Affairs
  • U.S. Foreign Aid to Free Europe
  • U.S. Security agreements and commitments abroad
  • West Hemisphere Affairs
  • Western Hemisphere and Peace Corps Affairs


U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee

Publications from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its subcommittees are available in full text through the Lexis Nexis Congressional database, or in print copy in the library's government documents collection.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee grew out of predecessor committees which date back to 1775. The Continental Congress first established the "Committee of Correspondence" to represent the United States abroad. Over time this committee has come to be overshadowed by its more powerful Senate counterpart, the Committee on Foreign Relations. Unlike the Senate committee, which has authority over treaties and the appointments of foreign policy officials, Foreign Affairs has had a more limited foreign policy agenda, mainly confined to foreign aid and State Department authorization bills. Source

The Foreign Affairs Committee established a subcommittee system in 1945. This usually contains 4-5 regional committees and several subcommittees. The subcommittees which have been established since 1945 are as follows (in alphabetical order):

  • Africa
  • Africa and Global Health
  • Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations
  • Arms Control, International Security, and Science
  • Asia and Pacific Affairs
  • Europe
  • Europe and Emerging Threats
  • Europe and the Middle East
  • Foreign Economic Policy
  • Future Foreign Policy Research and Development
  • Human Rights and International Organization
  • Inter-American Affairs
  • International Development
  • International Economic Policy, trade, Oceans, and Environment
  • International Operations
  • International Operations and Human Rights
  • International Organizations and Movements
  • International Political and Military Affairs
  • International Resources, Food, and Energy
  • International Security and Scientific Affairs
  • International Trade and Commerce
  • International Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Human Rights
  • International Terrorism and Nonproliferation
  • Investigations
  • National Security Policy and Scientific Developments
  • Near East
  • Near East and South Asia
  • Oversight
  • Oversight and Investigations
  • Special Subcommittee for Review of Foreign Aid Program
  • State Department Organization and Foreign Operations
  • Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Communications
  • Western Hemisphere Affairs
  • Western Hemisphere and Peace Corps Affairs

American State Papers : Foreign Relations (1789-1828)

In our country's early years, American foreign policy was closely tied with its commercial policy, and places which held our greatest attention were Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Germanic states such as Prussia, Hamburgh and Bremen. To a somewhat lesser degree, there was focus on Mediterranean countries and kingdoms such as Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, Naples, and Sicily. There are a few mentions of the South and Central American republics such as Colombia and "Buenos Ayres" as early as the 1810s.

The Foreign Relations section of the American State Papers contain reports and communications to Congress for the period 1789 to 1828. U. S. presidents' messages and speeches are included, as well as very early reports from the U. S. State Department and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. We have these original printed materials in our Special Collections Department, but they are also available in full text online.

For some interesting examples from these early documents, see


Special thanks to Kristy Sigafoos, Govt Docs Student Assistant, who assisted in the creation of this web page.

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