Library of Congress Manuscripts: An Illustrated Guide
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Foreign Policy

Only the official records of the State Department surpass the richness of the Manuscript Division's holdings for documenting American foreign policy. 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.

The Manuscript Division also has the papers of some foreign diplomats whose careers illuminate aspects of American policy. "Citizen" Edmond Genet, the first ambassador of the French republic to the United States, is represented by a large collection of papers reflecting his turbulent, provocative, and spectacularly unsuccessful mission to this country. Genet's papers found their resting place in America, because the sanguinary politics of revolutionary France forced him to accept permanent exile in the United States, notwithstanding his feud with the American government.

Thumbnail image of watercolor shows the temple in Macao This watercolor shows the temple in Macao where the first Sino-American treaty was signed in July 1844 clarifying the status of Americans in China and granting to the United States commercial privileges equal to those afforded to Great Britain. Drawn by George R. West, the item is in the papers of Caleb Cushing, the first American emissary to China, who negotiated the treaty.

Diplomacy during World War I is extensively documented in the division's holdings, notably in the papers of Robert Lansing. Of particular interest are nine volumes of private memoranda which Lansing started writing upon his appointment as secretary of state in 1915 and continued until after his resignation in 1920. These memoranda, which were kept confidential until 1949, include accounts of Cabinet meetings, detailed descriptions of the Paris Peace Conference, and vivid impressions of the dignitaries whom Lansing met. Twenty pages relate to the Cabinet meeting of 20 March 1917, which concerned America's entrance into the war, and another entire volume comprises a day-to-day account of the preparation of the Treaty of Versailles and of the covenant of the League of Nations.

In this letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, dated 24 October 1823, the former president reacts strongly and positively to President Monroe's proposed doctrine forbidding European governments from establishing new colonies in the New World. Monroe had solicited advice from Jefferson, James Madison, and John Quincy Adams before announcing to Congress the doctrine which later bore his name. Jefferson's opening sentence sets the tone for what follows: "The question presented by the letters you have sent me is the most momentous which has ever been offered to my contemplation since that of independance [sic] that made us a nation; this sets our compass, and points the course which we are to steer thro' the ocean of time opening on our view." (James Monroe Papers)
In this 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 "the time has come for us to reorient our whole attitude and our methods of dealing with the Soviet government. . . . Unless we wish to accept the 20th Century barbarian invasion of Europe . . . we must find ways to arrest the Soviet domineering policy". [1]

Thumbnail image of  letter to John Hay from President Theodore
          Roosevelt In this letter to John Hay, President Theodore Roosevelt instructed his secretary of state to oversee personally the negotiations to secure perpetual control of the Panama Canal. (John Hay Papers)

The Library's diplomatic collections are not limited to the papers of State Department officials and appointed ambassadors. Included as well are the papers of those who promoted the nation's foreign policy through covert means. For example, in a 1792 letter, David Humphreys, the American "minister resident" in Lisbon, Portugal, and a former aide-de-camp to George Washington, recommended to the American minister in Paris, Gouverneur Morris, that the United States assist the new revolutionary French government, then threatened with invasion by Austria and Prussia. Humphreys wrote, "If the Austrian & Prussian Armies should really enter France, they might be very much weakened & perhaps ruined by desertion, if suitable, secure & alluring measures could be taken to encourage it. Nothing, in my judgment, would be so likely to effect this, as for the Government of France to provide passages, at its own expense, for all such Non- Commissioned officers & Soldiers as should chose to go & settle in America."[2]

Thumbnail image of the Moscow Conference in August 1942 At the Moscow Conference in August 1942, W. Averell Harriman, President Franklin Roosevelt's special representative, met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to discuss the Soviet proposal for a second-front assault on Germany and alternative plans for Allied landings in North Africa. Interpreter V. N. Pavlov (left) and Soviet statesman Vyacheslav M. Molotov (right) are also pictured (W. Averell Harriman Papers)

Humphreys's imaginative suggestion was not adopted, but "psychological warfare," as it came to be called, played a role later in American foreign policy. The papers 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.

Thumbnail image of Mahabad, capital of a newly formed 
       Kurdish republic In 1946 Archibald Roosevelt, a United States intelligence officer, was one of the few Westerners to reach Mahabad, capital of a newly formed Kurdish republic. (Archibald Roosevelt Papers)


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

2. David Humphreys to Gouverneur Morris, 17 August 1792, David Humphreys Papers, Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Return to text

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