On July 27, 1789, the President of the United States approved an act (1 stat. 28) that provided for the first executive department of the Federal Government. Designated the Department of Foreign Affairs, the new Department was established to help the President carry out his constitutional responsibility for conducting U.S. relations with foreign governments. Section 4 of the established act directed that the former secretary for the [)epartment of Foreign Affairs (under the Continental Congress) should turn over his records, books, and papers to the new secretary for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Within the next few weeks the Congress established two other executive departments-war and finance--but some domestic functions of the Government still remained unassigned. By an act of September 15, 1789 (1 stat. 68), therefore, the Congress changed the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State and assigned those domestic functions to the secretary of state in addition to his foreign duties. From time to time over the years, the secretary's domestic duties were expanded; when a particular duty became too burdensome, a separate executive department or agency was created to handle it. In the 20th century the Department inherited functions of certain terminated wartime. Government agencies. After World War I, it was given charge of the records and rerraining work of the War Trade Board. After World War II it was assigned the records and functions of the terminated offices of Inter-American Affairs and of War Information. It continued to carry on these functions until they were transferred to the Foreign Operations Administration and the U. S. Information Agency. The Department also inherited the functions and records of the terminated Foreign Economic Administration relating to lend-lease operations and the disposal of surplus war property abroad.
The Department's domestic duties have varied considerably through the years. For some time after its establishment, the Department administered practically all the domestic affairs of the United states except those concerning war and finance. Its domestic duties have included preserving the original acts of the Corqress and the records of the Continental Congress; produring the statutes of the states; administering the "patent business" ; receiving and preserving copyrights; supervising the decennial censuses; publishing the U. s. laws, statutes at large, and the Biennial Register ("blue book") of Goverrment officials; preparing and issuing commissions for Federal officers; preparing and recording Presidential pardons: and administering Territorial affairs. These and other domestic activities of the Department were later terminated or passed on to other agencies.
Most of the records maintained by the Department of State in carrying out its many functions (except those inherited from wartime Government agencies) were incorporated into its central files. Before 1906 the central files were divided into three large groupings: diplomatic, consular, and miscellaneous correspondence. A few Department offices, however, such as the Passport Division, the Bureau of Accounts, the Chief Clerk's office, and the Bureau of Rolls and Library, maintained their own records. After 1906 the [)epartment changed the system of recording in its central files by adopting a subject-numeric case file system (the Numerical File) in which the types of correspondence mentioned above were combined. A more comprehensive subject file (the Decimal File) was adopted in 1910 and was used, with modifications, until 1963. Some record series, however, notably those of the Passport Division, the Visa Division, and the Bureau of Accounts, continued to be maintained apart from the central files. The volume of records maintained separately from the central files expanded greatly during and after World War II. As various offices retired their files, the Department's records officers created numbered lot files as a method of maintaining administrative control. Many of these lot files have been accessioned by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and some are described in parts II and IV of this inventory. However, because of the centralized filing system, not all offices retained their records and some offices retained only selected portions.
This inventory describes the 23,508 cubic feet of records received by NARA from the Department of State (as of April 1, 1985) that have been allocated to Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State. They consist of 23,267 cubic feet of textual records, 213 cubic feet of audiovisual records, and 28 cubic feet of cartographic records. These records pertain to virtually all of the Department's activities from 1789 to 1949.
Other records resulting from the Department's activities are in Record Group 11, General Records of the U.S. Government; Record Group 43, Records of International Conferences, Commissions, and Expositions; Record Group 76, Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations; Record Group 84, Records of the Foreign service Posts of the Department of State; Record Group 256, Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace; and Record Group 353, Records of Interdepartmental and Intradepartmental Committees (state Department). In Record Group 360, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, are records of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
NARA has also received other related records that form the following record groups: Record Group 169, Records of the Foreign Economic Administration; Record Group 182, Records of the War Trade Board; Record Group 208, Records of the Office of War Information; Record Group 229, Records of the Office of Inter-American Affairs; Record Group 239, Records of the American Commission for the Protection and salvage of Artistic an::l Historic Monuments in War Areas; Record Group 261, Records ot' Fonner Russian Agencies; Record Group 268, Records of the Philippine War Damage CC:mnission; Record Group 286, Records of the Agency for International Development; Record Group 306, Record of the U.S. Information Agency; Record Group 364, Records of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; and Record Group 383, Records of the U. S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
NARA has published inventories describing the records in Record Groups 11, 43, 76, 169, 182, 208, 229, and 256 as well as same of the records in Record Group 84 (those of five Foreign service'posts, selected as typifying posts of different kinds, size, and importance). These inventories are available on request.
This inventory is organized in four parts: Part I describes the central files of the Department of state, 1789-1949; Part II describes subgroups of records created or maintained by organizational units of the Department and is organized alphabetically by the keyword in the name of the unit; Part III describes subgroups of records relating to various functions of the Department and is also organized alphabetically by key word; and Part IV describes subgroups of records relating to special subjects or events in which the Department was involved. The subgroups are arranged chronologically according to the earliest date on the records for each subject or event.
Many of the important series of records described in this inventory have been microfilmed by NARA. see Diplomatic Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, 1986). Information on available microfilm may also be obtained from the Publication services Branch (NEPS), National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408.
The original draft of this inventory, prepared in part by H. Stephen Helton, was completed, organized, and partly rewritten by Daniel T. Goggin for publication in 1963. The present revision and reorganization of the 1963 edition was prepared by Ronald E. Swerczek with the assistance of the following members of the Diplomatic Branch: Kent C. Carter, Patricia G. Dowling, Gerald K. Haines, Kenneth E. Harris, J. Dane Hartgrove, Clarence F. Lyons, Jr., Sally M. Marks, Frederick W. Pernell, Sandra K. Rangel, and Howard H. Wehmann. The reorganization follows the general pattern used in the section for Record Group 59 in the Guide to the National Archives of the United States (Washington, 1974), which was prepared by Milton O. Gustafson.Cartographic records were described by Charlotte M. Ashby in the 1963 ediition; revisions for the present edition were supplied by William J. Heynen. Descriptions of audiovisual records were supplied by William T. Murphy, Richard Myers, Joe D. Thomas, and Leslie C. Waffen.