FRUS Moves from Contemporary Accounting to Historical Collection

Through the early twentieth century, the Foreign Relations series disseminated important foreign policy documents within a year of their creation. That suddenly changed after 1906, but not because of concerns about too-rapid sharing of national security information with the public. Rather, Congress failed to appropriate sufficient money to publish the volumes. In an attempt to corral what they perceived as increasingly out-of-control and wasteful federal publishing practices, the House and Senate imposed severe restrictions on the production of government documents.

FRUS was victim of the “squeeze” as the Department of State had to significantly curtail its printing expenditures. By 1914, the series had fallen five years behind its traditional release schedule. When World War I erupted in August 1914, the workload of the Department increased exponentially, and publication of foreign policy documents related to the war had to be postponed until the hostilities ended. By 1919, the series was eight years behind the traditional release schedule, and the timeliness of volumes steadily receded thereafter as Congress continued to impose severe restrictions on government printing. In the 1920s, expectations faded that the Department could ever return to its contemporaneous release practices, and FRUS became a different kind of publication that reflected a new era in U.S. relations with the world.


A significant miscommunication then occurred. Fourteen months passed until, on June 15, 1908, Elihu Root abruptly interrogated his staff: “Why is Foreign Relations for 1906 not out yet?” Root to Buck, June 15, 1908.


Another personnel change, again involving the Chief Clerk’s position, had resulted in confusion about Root’s intentions. The distinctions between postponement, suspension, and discontinuation apparently became blurred; the partially compiled volume had never been completed. Carr to Root, June 15, 1908. Secretary Root informed his subordinates, “I never for a moment entertained the idea of the discontinuing of the publication of the volumes of Foreign Relations. The volume for 1906 ought to have been published last fall [1907] and I never had any idea of postponing it any further than that. It should be published immediately and the volume for 1907 should be finished as soon as practicable.” Root to Carr, June 15, 1908.

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