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Diplomacy in Action

150 Years of an Official Diplomatic History Source: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series

Fact Sheet
Office of Public Liaison
Bureau of Public Affairs
October 31, 2011


“Historians are excavating, sifting, and … helping us know our history more fully so that we can put the past behind us and move forward together.” – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Did You Know That…

  • The U.S. Government used FRUS as a weapon against the Confederacy during the Civil War?
  • An intentional "leak" in FRUS raised fears of a war with Spain in 1872?
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill vetoed publication of records from the 1919 Paris peace conferences in the middle of World War II?
  • The release of records from the Yalta conference was headline news around the world in 1955?

The U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy. FRUS has been an indispensible resource for anyone seeking to understand the making of U.S. foreign policy and a wide variety of related topics.

The FRUS series covers:

  • international relations
  • strategic planning
  • crisis management
  • economic affairs
  • intelligence and decision-making
  • transnational and cultural developments

As mandated by Congress, the series incorporates an array of sources to "thoroughly, accurately, and reliably" capture how the highest levels of the U.S. Government made decisions on a wide range of historical foreign policy, national security, and global issues.

The Evolution of FRUS

The series began in 1861, grew more scholarly after 1925, and acquired a Congressional mandate in 1991. Over time, the kinds of material included in FRUS volumes changed. The original purpose of the series was to inform Congress of current (rather than historical) diplomatic activities undertaken by the executive branch.

In the early twentieth century, FRUS volumes began to be published years after the events described between its covers. This made the volumes less useful to Congress, but more useful for a growing academic community of international legal experts, historians, and political scientists as well as a wide range of media and public consumers, both inside and outside the United States.

The FRUS Sesquicentennial Initiative

FRUS marks its 150th anniversary in 2011. It is the oldest and most comprehensive series of its type anywhere in the world. To commemorate this history, the Office of the Historian has explored the story behind FRUS to discover how it evolved into the invaluable resource and the leading example of responsible transparency that it is today. Our research sheds light on significant issues, including:

  • transformations in the organization and operation of the U.S. Government
  • changing conceptions of "transparency" and "national security"
  • America’s shifting role in the world  

The series captures how the highest levels of the U.S. Government made decisions on a wide range of historical foreign policy, national security and global issues.

As we approach FRUS’s anniversary on December 3, you can learn more about the history of the series and our outreach efforts by visiting our website, frus150/. At the website, you will find research posts, videos, and original documents that tell the story of how the U.S. Government discloses its activities to the American people. To explore the Foreign Relations series itself, visit, stop by your nearest university or major public library, or contact the Government Printing Office for information about purchasing individual volumes.

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