150th Anniversaries for both GPO and Foreign Relations of the United States

By Pat Behles
Gov. Docs. & Reference Librarian
University of Baltimore Law Library

Government Printing Office

If you happen to be in Washington over the holidays, stop into the Government Printing Office  (732 North Capitol Street, NW).  A GPO history exhibit now showcases work produced by employees since the agency opened for business, 150 years ago.

GPO opened its doors for business on March 4, 1861, the same day as President Lincoln’s inauguration. Since then, GPO has produced countless historic publications for the Government, including the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the vast range of documents that Americans have used for generations, such as passports, social security cards, census forms, and tax forms. The exhibit also depicts the technological transformation that has always been a part of GPO’s past and has paved the way for future direction.

As part of the exhibit, GPO is displaying an original printed copy of the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1862, GPO printed the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation in general orders format issued as an order from President Lincoln in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. GPO printed 15,000 copies for the War Department, which were distributed to military commanders and their troops, as well as diplomats in foreign countries. The displayed copy at GPO, on loan from the Library of Congress, contains a printer’s proofing marks; those corrections were made in the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863.

For those not able to make the trek to the nation’s capital, there are two links that provide a snapshot of history.

The first has a slideshow of the exhibit: http://www.fdlp.gov/component/content/article/19-general/977-150years

From GPO’s homepage,  you can also access a short video that shows the exhibit and highlights history.

From the GPO’s website: “Keeping America Informed: The U.S. Government Printing Office: 150 Years of Service to the Nation tells the story of GPO’s history through text and photographs, many never published before. Its authoritative text and unique images depict the enormous contribution of its employees, past and present, to the well-being of the American people and nation.”

One of the latest offerings from the GPO is available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys).  The electronic version of President Richard Nixon’s 1975 grand jury testimony related to the Watergate investigation is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-NARA-WSPF-NIXON-GRAND-JURY-RECORDS/content-detail.html

Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)

In addition to the 150th anniversary of the Government Printing Office, it is also the 150th anniversary of the series Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). The series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions. The series began in 1861 and now comprises more than 400 individual volumes. The FRUS series provides an indispensable resource for American citizens and others around the world who seek to understand U.S. foreign policy and strategic planning, international relations, economic affairs, and transnational social and cultural developments.  The series has become a leading example of governmental openness and embodies the U.S. Government’s commitment to responsible transparency.

Over the past 150 years, FRUS evolved to become the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy decision-making and major diplomatic activity. The series is prepared according to scholarly best practices under a 1991 Congressional mandate for “thorough, accurate, and reliable” coverage and timely release. The Office of the Historian at the Department of State is exploring the story behind FRUS to uncover how it became both an invaluable information resource and a leading example of the U.S. Government’s commitment to openness.

Titles include national security, individual countries like Vietnam (and the conflict), Japan and Korea to name just a few.

Who would have thought that a government document would make headline news?  But the 1955 release of the official records of the Yalta conference was headline news around the world. Also, leading U.S. historians accused the State Department of manipulating history as the Cold War ended.

Recent publications are distributed to federal depository libraries in paper and electronic format.  For a list of recent and planned publications see http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/status-of-the-series.