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A Little Glimpse at Treaty Research at the Law Library of Congress – International Day of Peace

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Yesterday was International Day of Peace and since, historically speaking, peace often meant treaties between various countries, it seemed a good occasion to talk about doing treaty research.  When I began working at the Law Library of Congress over 11 1/2 years ago, I was excited by the variety of questions from patrons.  But there was one type of question that made me secretly shudder – and those were questions related to treaties.  When I started working at the Law Library in 2006, almost all treaty research had to be done using print resources.  With the sole exception of volumes seven (Indian treaties) and eight (treaties with foreign nations) of the U.S. Statutes at Large, available through The Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation 1774-1875, there were no free online resources for treaties.  And not much available through subscription online resources either.  Instead we had to haul out various indexes and finding aids such the U.S. Treaties in Force and United States legislation on foreign relations and international commerce: a chronological and subject index of public laws and joint resolutions of the Congress of the United States, otherwise known as Kavass for the editor, to help track down the treaty requested by a patron, research that might take several hours to complete.

Since that time, the Law Library has digitized the U.S. Statutes at Large which contain treaties up to 1950 as well as other treaty publications.  Other institutions have also digitized material in recent years, including Oklahoma State University which digitized Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties while the United Nations has made UN treaties available online.  Finding bilateral and multilateral treaties in which the United States is a party has become significantly easier in the last few years.  However, if one is looking for historical information on treaties between the European powers it is still necessary to do the research in print.  The most comprehensive resource for this type of research is a publication titled “The Consolidated Treaty Series.”

This work begins in the mid-17th century, 1648 to be exact with the Treaty of Peace between Spain and the Netherlands – otherwise known as the Treaty of Munster – which put an end to over 80 years of war between these two countries.  It includes copies of the treaties in the languages in which they were issued.  It also includes citations to other treaty publications in which a particular treaty might be found.  Although there are fewer requests for treaties between foreign countries which do not include the U.S., this work has been helpful in locating some more obscure items for our patrons.  I aided a college student in locating the treaties concluding the French and Indian War and responded to a request for an 1856 agreement between various European powers over the telegraph – an early instance of an international telecommunications treaty.  It is also fun for me, as a history buff, to look up various agreements and treaties.  For example volume 16 includes a “Treaty of Marriage between Prince George of Denmark and Princess Anne, Daughter of James, Duke of York (Great Britain), Signed at Whitehall.”  The Princess Anne referred to in this treaty, would become Queen Anne I of Great Britain, and the last of the Stuart line to hold the throne.  Her marriage to Prince George of Denmark was an arranged marriage but apparently happy.  Unfortunately, although Anne had 17 pregnancies, none of her children survived to adulthood and the English throne passed to George I of Hanover.

The Index Guide to the Treaties is kept in the Law Library Reading Room while the 231 volumes of the main series reside in the Law Library’s closed stacks and can be ordered up using the Library’s Automated Call Slip system.

Nine-Power Treaty. [Washington] D.C., Oct. 14. The signature page of the […] [passed?] Nine Power Treaty signed at the […] conference at Washington in 1922. […] Hyde Parks says President Roosevelt has […] to send a representative to the Nine Power […] at Brussels which is expected to convene […] month, 10/14/37. Harris & Ewing. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,


  1. Fascinating! Thanks for the background.

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