Locating Information on Historical Treaties in Senate Records

Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution grants the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on treaties, which are agreements between the United States and other nations that have been negotiated by the Executive Branch. The Senate approves, by a two-thirds vote, a resolution of ratification for most treaties presented to them, but has the power to disapprove treaties or approve them with conditions.

 Not all international agreements are treaties -- only those that are submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent. Executive Agreements are agreements between the United States and other nations that are not treaties and not submitted to the Senate. However, Executive Agreements are treated as treaties in the sense that they are binding under international law. Confusing, yes?

In this post, we are strictly looking at Senate records on treaties held by the Center for Legislative Archives in Record Group 46 -- Records of the United States Senate.

Senate treaty files may include a copy of the proposed treaty, a message from the President, a copy of the Committee on Foreign Relation's report, transcripts of hearings, committee prints, correspondence of committee chairpersons, correspondence indicating the administration's position, internal staff communications and analyses, tally sheets of committee votes, and, for treaties relating to taxation, a statement from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Department of the Treasury. Treaty files that postdate the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which authorized the creation of professional staff for committees, are more likely to contain fuller documentation.

In order to locate records on a particular treaty, researchers need to know the Congress in which the treaty was disposed of by the Senate and the parties to the treaty. This means that if the President submitted a treaty before one Congress and it was neither accepted nor rejected until the next Congress, records pertaining to the treaty are in the latter Congress. This disposition information can be located in either the Congressional Record and its antecedents, or in the Senate Executive Journal.

The Congressional Record is the record of proceedings and debate on the floor of the House and Senate, while the Senate Executive Journal (which is separate from the Senate's legislative journal) is a record of the Senate's executive proceedings relating to its function of confirming executive nominations and consenting to the making of treaties.

To give you a flavor of treaty documentation in Senate records, check out these documents available in the National Archives Catalog:

Published and Online Sources of Treaty Information

The texts of treaties were published in the United States Statutes at Large until 1948. The Library of Congress's Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website has the Statutes at Large through 1875. Later volumes of the Statutes at Large may be accessed from another Library of Congress website.

Information on treaties from the 94th Congress (1975-1976) onward is available via Congress.gov -- the official website for United States federal legislative information.

Treaties in Force is an annual publication of the Department of State to provide information on treaties and other international agreements to which the United States has become a party and which are carried on the records of the Department of State as being in force as of its stated publication date.

For further reading, we suggest the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report Senate Consideration of Treaties (2017) and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations committee print Treaties and Other International Agreements: the Role of the United States Senate (S.Prt.106-71, 2001).

We also recommend researchers consult Record Group 59 -- General Records of the Department of State (start either with the U.S. Foreign Affairs Research portal or a search of the National Archives Catalog) and Record Group 11 -- General Records of the United States Government (see section 11.4 International Treaties and Related Records and the National Archives Catalog search results for RG 11 Series related to treaties).

If you have a specific question about Senate records on treaties, please email us at legislative.archives@nara.gov. We'd love to help!