The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy, was born in the opening months of the Civil War. Originating in a response by the Department of State to a request from Congress, the series has endured through vast changes in the international system and the United States’s role in the world, through equally vast changes in the Department of State and in the nation’s government, and through recurrent crises that at times threatened the very survival of the series. The series’s longevity testifies to the power of the ideal it represents and upholds—of the need for transparency and accountability in a democratic system.
As the sesquicentennial of its foundation neared, it became clear that much of the series’s history had vanished over time. The Historian at the time, Ambassador Ed Brynn, directed the Special Projects division, under Dr. William McAllister, to resurrect that history—both to honor those who have built and executed the Foreign Relations series, and to capture the lessons available from a study of the past, as managers and historians have struggled to address the issues that have recurred throughout the 150 years of the series.
Dr. McAllister assembled a team from within the office, each member a specialist in their own right, to pull together the complex history of the series. Dr. Aaron W. Marrs had already begun an investigation into the 19th-century origins of the series, and extended that work for inclusion in this volume. Peter Cozzens, a nationally-recognized historian of the Civil War and the postbellum era, addressed the development of the Foreign Relations series from 1865 to 1895. Dr. Joshua Botts picked up the story in the 1920s, covering the succession of dramas that have led to the current series. In addition to coordinating and editing the overall effort, Dr. McAllister took upon himself the responsibility to research the pre-1861 precedents of the series and to explain the critical transformation in the series’s mission that unfolded between the Spanish-American War and the 1920s. Together they have created a comprehensive narrative with as much to say about the evolution of the nation as about the evolution of the Foreign Relations series.
No one expected to find the sort of dramatic story that Dr. McAllister and his team have unveiled. As with any good research project, this trail led into unanticipated complexities and yielded unexpected benefits. The resulting history has demonstrated the world-class research skills of the members of the Office of the Historian. Moreover, like the series itself, this history has depended on support from other offices of the Department of State and from agencies across the government for its success.
Neither did anyone expect the extraordinary value of the ongoing research for the volume in shaping and informing the decisions of the current leaders of the Office of the Historian. Again and again, as we have faced issues ranging from the realm of declassification, to questions of managing the surpassingly complicated processes needed to produce the series, to decisions on technology, we have called upon the experience of the past to inform the future.
Today the Foreign Relations of the United States stands as the global gold standard in official documentary history. It is the longest-running public diplomacy program in U.S. history, and the largest and most productive documentary history program in the world. This outcome was never foreordained. It rests upon the perseverance and vision of generations of historians, from the anonymous Clerks of the 19th century, through the first generation of professional historians entering the Department during the interwar years, to those of the present day—compilers, reviewers, declassification coordinators, and editors—working to uphold the promise of the 1991 FRUS statute. All have contributed to the continuing quest to provide a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” official record of U.S. foreign relations. This volume is dedicated to the men and women, past and present, who have created this unique and invaluable contribution to U.S. democracy.
Although this volume was prepared in the Department of State’s Office of the Historian, the views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Office of the Historian or the Department of State.
U.S. Department of State