The Foreign Relations of the United States is an important source of information about American foreign policy. It constitutes the State Department's official record and provides access to previously classified material that otherwise would be unavailable. Simultaneously, its status as the official record also compromises its completeness, since it is heavily edited, with much material remaining classified. The State Department offers a description of the series What is the Foreign Relations Series? For a critical description of what criteria are used for inclusion in FRUS volumes and how political and security processes compromise their comprehensiveness see this article from The Journal of American History .
It is organized by year or groups of years, with geographical or topical sub-divisions. For example, the volumes dealing with the Casablanca conference (1943) are part of the World War II group and not the year-by-year sequence. Some volumes can be quite specific, such as the two 1902 volumes called The Whaling and Sealing Claims against Russia. Particular countries interact intensively with the United States at different times, The documents in each volume are arranged chronologically. Each document has notes indicating its source and, where necessary, annotations providing contextual information or data relating the document to others. There is also a table of sources and abbreviations at the beginning of each volume, and each volume has its own detailed subject and author index. Prior to 1870, the series was published under various names. From 1870 to 1947, the uniform title Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States was used. From 1947 to 1969, the name was changed to Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers. After that date, the current name was adopted. The following is a list of volumes arranged by Presidential administration.
The American State Papers is the collection providing the most comprehensive coverage of U.S. government records related to foreign relations prior to 1861, covering the period from 1789-1838. It is available online and in print. The six volumes of the first class (Foreign Relations) bear most directly on foreign relations, but the 'Indian Affairs' and 'Commerce and Navigation' sections are also relevant.