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U.S. Treaties: A Beginner's Guide

Primary Sources for U.S. Treaties

Many primary documents regarding U.S. treaties have been digitized and made freely available online. We have collected many of these resources on this page, grouped by those compiled by the Library of Congress and other resources.

There are many resources for researching treaties made available directly through the Library of Congress. In fact, we were originally inspired to write this guide when the Treaties digital collection was first added to the Law Library of Congress website. An ongoing project, the digital collection currently includes a digital copy of Charles I. Bevans’s Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949, which includes copies of the English version (or English translation) of multilateral treaties to which the United States was a party. Digital copies of the remaining volumes (5-12), which include the bilateral treaties to which the United States was a party during this period, will be added in the near future.

The Treaties page also links to the United States Department of State’s Treaties and Other International Acts webpage, which includes PDF copies of the executed English-language original of each published international agreement (and other important documents) for published international agreements entered into from 1996 to the present. 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.

Information about treaties considered in Congress from 1973 to the present (even if the treaty itself was submitted to Congress at an earlier date), can also be found on Congress.gov. Full text of treaties from 1995 to the present can also be found on Congress.gov. To find the treaty or treaties that interest you, simply select "Treaty Documents" from the dropdown menu and enter either the treaty number or keywords of interest into the search box. You can also refer to their "About Treaties" page for more information about treaty numbering and how to search for the document you are looking for.

Online Resources Referenced

Print Resources Referenced

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 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.

While there is enough information about treaties with American Indian tribes to make up a separate research guide, there are several resources that can be helpful for those starting their research.  The most helpful resource is likely the multivolume work Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler (a resource often colloquially referred to as Kappler's Indian Affairs or the Kappler Report), which contains laws and treaties relating to American Indians up to January 13, 1971. A free online copy of Kappler's Indian Affairs, digitized by Oklahoma State University, can be found on its Digital Collections External website.  Another important resource, particularly with regard to patrons doing their research using free online sites, is the National Indian Law Library External (NILL) website. While primarily focused on digitized tribal laws and constitutions, NILL offers researchers a "How to Find Treaties External" research guide and a "Tribal Law Gateway External" that can be searched by tribe and by keyword.  Some other websites with digitized American Indian treaties include Yale Law School's Avalon Project's "Treaties Between the United States and Native Americans External" page (coverage: 1778-1868), and University of Nebraska-Lincoln's "American Indian Treaties Portal External."

If you are most interested in reviewing the treaties that have been submitted to, and are currently being considered by, the Senate, you might want to visit the U.S. Department of State’s Treaties Pending in the Senate page.

Finally, you may want to visit a public law library External or federal depository library in your area, as they may have access to subscription databases, such as ProQuest CongressionalProQuest Legislative Insight, or HeinOnline, that contain treaty documents.

Online Resources Referenced

Print Resources Referenced

Database Resources

The subscription resources marked with a padlock  are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress.  If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.