Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

Only the official records of the State Department surpass the richness of the Manuscript Division's holdings for documenting American foreign policy. Aside from the wealth of information available in the Library's twenty-three presidential collections, the division houses the papers of more than half of the individuals who have served as secretary of state from the first secretary, Thomas Jefferson, who assumed office in 1789, to Alexander Haig, who resigned in 1982. More than two hundred other collections comprise the papers of diplomats or contain significant material relating to American diplomacy. These, too, span American history, from Benjamin Franklin's letters as the American colonies' diplomatic representative to France in 1776 to the papers of William Howard Taft IV, who became the United States ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1989. Watercolor by George R. West of Buddhist Temple

Many of the division's earliest documents relating to American diplomatic history are, in fact, transcripts, photoreproductions, and other copies of rare materials held in repositories outside the United States. In 1898, within a year of its creation, the Manuscript Division acquired Benjamin Franklin Stevens's collection of facsimiles and transcripts of British manuscripts. Soon thereafter it obtained photoreproductions of additional papers relating to America held in European archives. Donations from two private sources--James B. Wilbur in 1925 and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1927--provided financial resources for the expansion of the division's Foreign Copying Program, which today has grown to include thousands of volumes of transcripts, photostats, microfiche, and microfilm. Supplementing the foreign reproductions were donations from two private collectors of original materials concerning the early Spanish and Portuguese involvement in North America. The gifts of Edward S. Harkness in 1927 and Hans P. Kraus in 1969 have made available to the public invaluable documents for the first two centuries of European exploration, conquest, and settlement of the New World.

Some of the division's oldest diplomatic materials reflect not only the colonists' relationship with Great Britain, Spain, and France, but also their dealings with the original inhabitants of the continent. The records of the Virginia Company of London, for example, document some of the first contacts between European settlers and the Indians of North America. Early Indian treaties may be found in the Levi Woodbury Papers, while military and diplomatic interaction between later generations of settlers and Native Americans may be researched in the papers of Andrew Jackson, James McHenry, Timothy Pickering, and the Return Jonathan Meigs family. Other holdings, like the Indian Language Collection and the papers of ethnologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, reflect more subtle and intellectual efforts of both civilizations to understand one another.

American diplomatic affairs during the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the first third of the eighteenth century are reflected in the papers of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler as well as in the papers of various members of Congress and the cabinet, including Timothy Pickering, Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, James McHenry, Caleb Cushing, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. The mid- to late eighteenth century also witnessed important events in American foreign affairs and diplomacy, including the Mexican-American War (1846-48), American Civil War (1861-65), and Spanish-American War (1898). Some of the more notable collections documenting these events and others include the papers of James K. Polk, John C. Calhoun, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, John Sherman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Elihu Root.

Diplomacy during World War I is extensively documented in the division's holdings, notably in the papers of President Woodrow Wilson and his cabinet members Robert Lansing, Philander C. Knox, William Jennings Bryan, Newton D. Baker, Josephus Daniels, and others. Of particular interest are nine volumes of private memoranda in which Secretary of State Lansing recorded accounts of cabinet meetings, vivid impressions of dignitaries whom he met, and detailed descriptions of the Paris Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles, and the covenant of the League of Nations.

In the twentieth century no foreign policy relationship has been so fraught with danger as that of the United States and the Soviet Union. The Library's manuscript resources are particularly rich for studying the relations between these two superpowers, as the division's holdings include the papers of several of this country's diplomats to tsarist Russia (including George Washington Campbell, Simon Cameron, and George von Lengerke Meyer) and five of its ambassadors to the Soviet Union (W. Averell Harriman, Charles E. Bohlen, Laurence A. Steinhardt, William H. Standley, and Joseph E. Davies). The Harriman Papers comprise one of the richest collections of primary source material on modern American foreign policy. Harriman served as director of Lend-Lease in Great Britain (1941-43), ambassador to the Soviet Union (1943-46), coordinator of the Marshall Plan (1948-50), United States negotiator for the Test Ban Treaty (1963), and American representative at the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam (1968-69). There is no better place to understand the development of the Cold War than in Harriman's papers, where one can follow the shift in his opinion from an initial view that American and Soviet goals were compatible to his 1945 warning that "we must find ways to arrest the Soviet domineering policy."1

The Library's diplomatic collections are not limited to the papers of presidents, State Department officials, and appointed ambassadors. Included as well are the papers of those who promoted the nation's foreign policy through covert means. The collections of Central Intelligence Agency officials David Atlee Phillips, Archibald Roosevelt, Jr., and Cord Meyer document the institutionalization of American espionage and intelligence operations in the post-World War II period. These and other recently acquired collections focusing on the government's covert policies and activities complement the papers of ambassadors, members of Congress, and State Department officials who pursued more open and traditional diplomatic approaches to American foreign policy. When consulted together, the division's varied holdings provide a remarkably complete and nearly unparalleled record of this country's most significant foreign policy initiatives.

Selected items relating to:

Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

1. W. Averell Harriman cable to State Department, 21 March 1945, W. Averell Harriman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Items List | Words and Deeds

am Sep-8-97