Foreign Relations of the United States is a series of volumes of diplomatic correspondence published by the Department of State for each year beginning with 1861 (excepting 1869). The regular annual volumes have been supplemented by special volumes on particular subjects. For the period beginning with 1914 these extra volumes have included World War Supplements for the years 1914 to 1918 inclusive; volumes on Russia for the years 1918 and 1919; The Lansing Papers, 1914–1920; Japan: 1931–1941; and the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, these last named volumes being still in the course of publication.
The compiling and editing of the Foreign Relations volumes is performed by the Research Branch in the Division of Research and Publication in accordance with the principles set forth in an order approved on March 26, 1925, by Mr. Frank B. Kellogg, then Secretary of State. This order, which is still in force, is given here in full:
The publication of diplomatic correspondence relating to matters which are still current often presents an insuperable obstacle to effective negotiation, but it is obvious that after the completion of the business in hand, as much of the correspondence as is practicable ought to be made public. This object is attained by the publication of Foreign Relations which presents, in a form economical, compact and easily accessible, the documentary history of the foreign relations of the United States. The editing of Foreign Relations must, therefore, be recognized as an important part of the duties of the Department of State.
The Chief of the Division of Publications [Division of Research and Publication] is charged with the preparation for this purpose, as soon as practicable after the close of each year, of the correspondence relating to all major policies and decisions of the Department in the matter of foreign relations, together with the events which contributed to the formulation of each decision or policy, and the facts incident to the application of it. It is expected that the material thus assembled, aside from the omission of trivial and inconsequential details, will be substantially complete as regards the files of the Department.
The development of the science of international law has become a matter of such weight and general concern that it is recommended that the Chief of the Division of Publications [Division of Research and Publication], with the help and counsel of the Solicitor [Legal Adviser], should give special attention to the publication of all important decisions made by the Department relating to international law, with a view to making available for general study and use the annual [Page IV] contributions of the Department to this important branch of jurisprudence. It is likewise believed that the Department may profitably inaugurate the practice of printing a record of treaty negotiations, and it is, therefore, suggested that such material be added, beginning with Foreign Relations 1918, which is now in the process of editing.
When the documents on a given subject have been assembled in the Division of Publications [Division of Research and Publication], they should be submitted to the Solicitor [Legal Adviser] or to the Chief of the appropriate division which has had immediate supervision of the topic. The Solicitor [Legal Adviser], or the heads of these divisions, respectively, are charged with the duty of reviewing the material thus assembled and indicating any omissions which appear to be required. Omissions of the following kind are recognized as legitimate and necessary:
- Matters which if published at the time would tend to embarrass negotiations or other business;
- To condense the record and avoid needless details;
- To preserve the confidence reposed in the Department by other governments and by individuals;
- To avoid needless offense to other nationalities or individuals by excising invidious comments not relevant or essential to the subject; and,
- To suppress personal opinions presented in despatches and not adopted by the Department. To this there is one qualification, namely, that in major decisions it is desirable, where possible, to show the choices presented to the Department when the decision was made.
On the other hand, there must be no alteration of the text, no deletions without indicating the place in the text where the deletion is made, and no omission of facts which were of major importance in reaching a decision. Nothing should be omitted with a view to concealing or glossing over what might be regarded by some as a defect of a policy.
Where a document refers to two or more subjects, provided there are no other objections, it should be printed in its entirety, and not divided for purposes of more exact classification in editing. Great care must be taken to avoid the mutilation of documents. On the other hand, when a foreign government, in giving permission to use a communication, requests the deletion of any part of it, it is usually preferable to publish the document in part rather than to omit it entirely. A similar principle may be applied with reference to documents originating with the American Government.
The Chief of the Division of Publications [Division of Research and Publication] is expected to initiate, through the appropriate channels, the correspondence necessary to secure from a foreign government permission to publish any document received from it and which it is desired to publish as a part of the diplomatic correspondence of the United States. Without such permission, the document in question must not be used. The offices and divisions concerned in this process of editing may be expected to cooperate heartily with a view to the preparation of an adequate and honest record.