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Georgetown Law Library

Treaty Research

This guide describes resources and methods for locating and updating treaties of the United States and other countries.

Drafting & Ratification History for U.S. Treaties

When interpreting the text of a treaty to which the U.S. is a party, it is often helpful to review the treaty's drafting history, if available, as well as its ratification history.  Drafting histories, also known as travaux préparatoires, include preliminary drafts of the treaty text and other official records generated during the course of the negotiations. 

For bilateral treaties, drafting histories are rarely compiled, and those that are compiled are almost never accessible to the public.  Drafting histories are more readily available for multilateral treaties, particularly those that were drafted under the sponsorship of an international or inter-governmental organization.  For guidance on how to locate drafting histories for multilateral treaties, see the Multilateral Treaties section of this research guide.

A treaty submitted to the Senate for ratification usually generates a lengthy paper trail, even if it is never ratified.  The following table describes different types of ratification documents, which may shed light on the meaning of the treaty.  It also describes where to access these documents.

Title and Description Citation Print/Microform Holdings Online Access
Senate Treaty Documents (1981-present)
Senate Executive Documents (1789-1980)

Senate Treaty Documents, formerly known as Senate Executive Documents, include the full text of the treaty in question and letters of transmittal from the president and/or the secretary of state.  They may also include additional supporting or explanatory documentation.
S. Treaty Doc. No. x

S. Exec. Doc. No. x
KF40 .C57 1987 Micro (1817-1969) Congress.gov (1995-present)

Senate Foreign Relations Comm. (recent treaties only)

HeinOnline (1981-present)

ProQuest Congressional (1981-present)
Congressional Committee Hearing Transcripts
Hearing transcripts usually include testimony by members of the executive branch who participated in the negotiation of the treaty.  Most treaty-related hearings are conducted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Other Senate committees also may hold hearings, depending on the subject of the treaty.
See Bluebook Rule 13.3. For print and microform holdings, consult this chart. ProQuest Congressional

For additional options, consult this chart.
Senate Executive Reports
These reports, issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, contain detailed (sometimes article-by-article) analysis of a proposed treaty and a recommendation as to whether the full Senate should ratify it.  They also specify whether the ratification should be made subject to one or more declarations or reservations.  Senate Executive Reports are generally considered to be the most authoritative ratification documents for purposes of treaty interpretation.
S. Exec. Rep. No. x KF40 .C57 1987 Micro (1817-1969) Senate Foreign Relations Comm. (only for select recent treaties)

ProQuest Congressional (1970-present)
Congressional Record
The Congressional Record contains official transcripts of all U.S. federal legislative proceedings, including Senate floor debates and roll call votes on the ratification of treaties.  Also a good source for confirming whether a treaty was ratified subject to one or more declarations or reservations.
See Bluebook Rule 13.5. For print and microform holdings, consult this chart. HeinOnline

ProQuest Congressional

For additional options, consult this chart.
Weekly/Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (1965-present)
Public Papers of the President (1945-present)
Public statements and speeches made by the president concerning treaties (and other topics) are published in the Compilation of Presidential Documents (weekly in print from 1965 and daily online since 2009) and in the Public Papers of the President, a cumulative assemblage of materials previously published in the weekly/daily compilations.
See Bluebook Table 1.2. Weekly Compilation
KF70 .A4 (1965-2005)

Public Papers
J80 .A283 (1945-present)
Compilation
FDSys (1993-present)
HeinOnline (1965-2009)

Public Papers
FDSys (1991-present)
HeinOnline (1945-2012)