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Researching Treaties and International Agreements

U.S. Bilateral Treaties

Charles E. Mills, artist. The signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and of Alliance between France and the United States. [Between 1900 and 1920]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that the President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…” An early attempt by the President and Senate to negotiate the exercise of this power provides an interesting anecdote. According to the Senate Historical Office, on August 22, 1789, President Washington traveled to the Senate to submit a treaty concerning Native American Indian Tribes. While President Washington waited, the Senate decided to postpone consideration of the treaty rather than debate the questions in front of the President. According to Maclay’s Journal, an irritated President Washington exclaimed, “This defeats every purpose of my coming here!” and resolved to send subsequent treaty communications to the Senate in writing.

This section of the guide brings together published resources researchers can use when looking for bilateral treaties to which the United States was or is a party. To learn more about the development of the treaty power and its application, please refer to the discussion of Article II, Section 2 in Constitution Annotated: Analysis and Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

For treaties entered into by the United States before the mid-1940s, researchers can also turn to the Treaty Series (TS) (1795-1945) and the United States Statutes at Large (1795-1948). The TS collection can be found in either bound form, or as separately-published pamphlets produced for each treaty. Treaties reprinted in the United States Statutes at Large are organized chronologically.

The Treaties and Other International Acts series (also known as TIAS), which is “the official print publication format for treaties and agreements that have entered into force for [the] U.S.,” was published by the Government Printing Office (now the Government Publishing Office, or GPO) in paper form from 1945 to 2006, but is now available online.

The United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST) collected TIAS prints in one chronologically-organized bound collection from 1950 to 1982. Each UST volume also includes a subject index for ease of use.

In addition to TIAS, the U.S. Department of State has also, since 1944, produced Treaties in Force. Published yearly, this resource provides a listing of all the bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements to which the United States is a party that, as the name suggests, are still in force. The bilateral treaties and agreements are organized “by country or international entity, with subject headings under each entry,” while the multilateral treaties and agreements are organized by subject. The most recent edition of Treaties in Force can be found online at the U.S. Department of State’s Treaties in Force website.

Often, citations to treaties will include either a “TIAS” or a “KAV” number. The “KAV” number is referencing the Guide to the United States Treaties in Force, by Igor I. Kavass (see our catalog records for the 1982-2007 and 2008-present editions). Kavass’s Guide provides more extensive indexes to U.S. treaties and international agreements, including both a more wide-ranging subject index and a chronological index.

Researcher's should also note the differences between an executive agreement and a treaty. The Congressional Research Service has created a helpful flowchart illustrating the process by which an executive agreement is made. Basically, there are three types of executive agreements:

  • Congressional-Executive, where the agreement was authorized by passage of a statute,
  • Sole Executive, where the agreement was entered into under the President's constitutional authority, and
  • Pursuant to Treaty, meaning that the making of the executive agreement was previously authorized by a treaty. It should be noted that approximately 90% of international agreements entered into by the United States are done as executive agreements rather than treaties.

The following links are to resources made available by the Library of Congress that cover U.S. treaties.

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress.

The following resources link to both government and other sources for online access to U.S. treaties.

Below you will find a list of treaty compilations specific to U.S. treaties.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional digital content are provided when available.

Below, please sample citations to some of the resources referenced above, with corresponding explanations of how to interpret citations to U.S. bilateral treaty compilations.

Treaty Citation Publication Name Explanation
TIAS 12189 Treaties and Other International Acts The number refers to the chronological listing where the treaty can be found in the TIAS series.
17 UST 2205 United States Treaties and Other International Agreements The first number refers to the publication’s volume, while the second number lists the specific page in the volume where the first page of the treaty can be found.
39 Stat. 1645 United States Statutes at Large The first number refers to the publication’s volume, while the second number lists the specific page in the volume where the first page of the treaty can be found.
6 Bevans 550 Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 The first number refers to the publication’s volume, while the second number lists the specific page in the volume where the first page of the treaty can be found.