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US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

History of the Committee

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was established in 1816 as one of the original ten standing committees of the Senate. Throughout its history, the committee has been instrumental in developing and influencing United States foreign policy, at different times supporting and opposing the policies of presidents and secretaries of state. The committee has considered, debated, and reported important treaties and legislation, ranging from the purchase of Alaska in 1867 to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. It also holds jurisdiction over all diplomatic nominations. Through these powers, the committee has helped shape foreign policy of broad significance, in matters of war and peace and international relations. Members of the committee have assisted in the negotiation of treaties, and at times have helped to defeat treaties they felt were not in the national interest.

Historical Photo

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with Senator Charles Sumner presiding at the far end of the table. Every Saturday, February 11, 1871.

The Foreign Relations Committee was instrumental in the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and 1920, and in the passage of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and Marshall Plan in 1948. A bipartisan spirit prevailed as the committee confronted the perils of the Cold War. However, the state of almost constant crisis that the Cold War spawned eventually resulted in the vast expansion of presidential authority over foreign policy. Since the 1960s, the committee has sought to redress this imbalance of powers.

Click here to read about the history of the committee from 1816 - 2000.

History of the Committee Room

During the nineteenth century, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met in a variety of rooms in the United States Capitol. Following World War I, these accommodate the committee’s expanding responsibilities. In1933 the committee moved into its current suite in the Capitol. While the Foreign Relations Committee maintains several offices spread over four buildings, the two rooms in the Capitol have become symbolic of the committee and its work.

These rooms, S–116 and S–117, were first occupied around 1859 with the completion of the new Senate wing of the Capitol. Until their assignment to the Foreign Relations Committee, the rooms housed a variety of tenants. Former occupants, whose names are reflective of the concerns of a growing nation, included the committees on Retrenchment, Patents, Agriculture, Immigration, Territories, Female Suffrage, and Naval Affairs. At the turn of the century, S–116 even served as the Senate’s post office.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee uses these rooms to receive visiting dignitaries and to conduct national security briefings and hearings in executive session. The rooms have hosted American presidents, heads of foreign nations, secretaries of state and defense, ambassadors, and others who have informed and advised the committee in its fulfillment of the Senate’s constitutional role in foreign policy.

Name Served Party/State
James Barbour 1816–1818 (DR–VA)
Nathaniel Macon 1818–1819 (DR–NQ)
James Brown 1819–1820 (DR–LA)
James Barbour 1820–1821 (DR–VA)
Rufus King 1821–1822 (F–NY)
James Barbour 1822–1825 (DR/CRR–VA)
Nathaniel Macon 1825–1826 (J–NC)
Nathan Sanford 1826–1827 (Adams–NY)
Nathaniel Macon 1827–1828 (U–NQ)
Littleton Tazewell 1828–1832 (J–VA)
John Forsyth 1832–1833 (J–GA)
William Wikins 1833–1834 (J–PA)
Henry Clay 1834–1836 (AJ–KY)
James Buchanan 1836–1841 (D–PA)
William C. Rives 1841–1842 (W–VA)
William Archer 1842–1845 (W–VA)
William Archer 1842–1845 (W�VA)
William Allen 1845–1846 (D–OH)
Ambrose Sevier 1846–1848 (D–AR)
Edward Hannegan 1848–1849 (D–IN)
Thomas Hart Benton Mar. 1849 (D–MO)
William R. King 1849–1850 (D–AL)
Henry S. Foote 1850–1851 (D–MS)
James Mason 1851–1861 (D–VA)
Charles Sumner 1861–1871 (R–MA)
Simon Cameron 1871–1877 (R–PA)
Hannibal Hamlin 1877–1879 (R–ME)
William Eaton 1879–1881 (D–CT)
Ambrose E. Burnside (R–RI) Mar. 1881
George F. Edmunds Oct. 1881 (R–VT)
William Windom 1881–1883 (R–MN)
John F. Miller 1883–1886 (R–CA)
John Sherman 1886–1893 (R–OH)
Name Served Party/State
John T. Morgan 1893–1895 (D–AL)
John Sherman 1895–1897 (R–OH)
William P. Frye 1897 (R–ME)
Cushman Davis 1897–1901 (R–MN)
William P. Frye Mar. 1901 (R–ME)
Shelby M. Cullom 1901–1913 (RAL)
Augustus O. Bacon 1913–1914 (D–GA)
William J. Stone 1914–1918 (D–MO)
Gilbert M. Hitchcock 1918–1919 (D–NE)
Henry Cabot Lodge 1919–1924 (R–MA)
William E. Borah 1924–1933 (R–ID)
Key Pittman 1933–1940 (D–NV)
Walter F. George 1940–1941 (D–GA)
Tom Connally 1941–1947 (D–TX)
Arthur H. Vandenberg 1947–1949 (R–MI)
Tom Connally 1949–1953 (D–TX)
Alexander Wiley 1953–1955 (R–WI)
Walter F. George 1955–1957 (D–GA)
Theodore Francis Green 1957–1959 (D–RI)
J. William Fulbright 1959–1974 (D–AR)
John J. Sparkman 1975–1979 (D–AL)
Frank Church 1979–1981 (D–ID)
Jacob Javits Dec. 1980 (R–NY)
Charles A. Percy 1981–1985 (R–IL)
Richard G. Lugar 1985–1987 (R–IN)
Claiborne Pell 1987–1995 (D–RI)
Jesse Helms 1995–2001 (R–NC)
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. 2001 (D–DE)
Jesse Helms 2001 (R–NC)
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. 2001–2003 (D–DE)
Richard G. Lugar 2003–2007 (R–IN)
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. 2007–2009 (D–DE)
John F. Kerry 2009– (D–MA)


S-116 Room History

  • 40 | 1869 | Senate Folding Room
  • 41 | 1870 | Committee on Retrenchment
  • 42 | 1872 | Committee on Patents
  • 47 | 1882 | Committee on Patents and Committee on Female Suffrage
  • 48 | 1885 | Committee on Patents
  • 54 | 1896 | Senate Post Office
  • 63 | 1914 | Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
  • 64 | 1916 | Committee on Contingent Expenses
  • 65 | 1917 | Committee on Industrial Expositions
  • 65 | 1918 | Committee on Immigration
  • 68 | 1924 | Committee on Territories
  • 69 | 1926 | Committee on Territories and Insular Possessions
  • 71 | 1929 | Committee on Printing
  • 72 | 1932 | Committee on Naval Affairs
  • 73 | 1933 | Committee on Foreign Relations

S-117 Room History

  • 40 | 1869 | Committee on Post-Offices and Post-Roads
  • 54 | 1896 | Committee on Foreign Relations
  • 57 | 1902 | Committee on Printing
  • 61 | 1910 | Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
  • 63 | 1914 | Committee on the Library
  • 64 | 1915 | Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
  • 65 | 1918 | Committee on the Census
  • 67 | 1921 | Committee on Enrolled Bills
  • 68 | 1923 | Committee on Naval Affairs
  • 73 | 1933 | Committee on Foreign Relations