By David Langbart
The Historical Office at the Department of State recently published a history of the documentary publication now referred to as Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). The book, entitled Toward “Thorough, Accurate, and Reliable:” A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, also is available online. The history describes the origins and evolution of the series and includes information on the production of the volumes.
A recently found document provides a good illustration of the early 20th century production process. The FRUS volume for 1908 included Despatch No. 265 from the U.S. Embassy in St. Petersburg, Russia. In that despatch, Secretary of Embassy Montgomery Schuyler reported the signing of a convention relating to the preservation of peace in the Baltic region. The image below is how the document appeared in its published form. While marked as an extract, there is nothing to indicate how much of the document is not included:
The original document follows. As you can see, it is marked for the typesetter. The word “Extract” is penciled in at the top of the first page, and directions to omit the final four paragraphs are penciled in the left margin of each page. Finally, the document is stamped to indicate that it was published in the 1908 FRUS.
From the perspective of over 100 years, it seems clear that the more interesting parts of the despatch, the Ambassador’s analysis, were omitted. But given that the volume was issued less than 4 years after the date of the document, that information was considered too sensitive for public release and only the fact of the signing of the convention could be published.
Today, of course, the producers of FRUS in the Historical Office compile and produce a manuscript from copies of the documents, so the originals will not include publication markings. More importantly, when excisions are made in documents, readers are informed of the amount of text (number of lines or pages) that is omitted.
Source: Despatch No. 265, from Embassy Russia, April 25, 1908, Numerical File 25818, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives. Also available on roll 1172 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M862.