Senate Foreign Relations Committee Through the Ages

Posted January 15, 2010 at 5:23pm

1789
President George Washington appears before the Senate to request a vote on a treaty being negotiated with Southern Indian tribes. Sen. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania does not want to debate or vote on the measure in Washington’s presence, so the Senate creates an ad hoc committee to examine the question — to Washington’s consternation. The Senate creates more than 200 temporary committees to consider treaties and U.S. relations with foreign countries over the next 27 years — though the term “foreign relations— does not appear in Congressional journals until 1812.

1816
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is established as one of 10 standing Senate committees. Sen. James Barbour of Virginia becomes the first of 55 committee chairmen. The committee has five members at the outset, though the number fluctuates throughout history, topping out at 23 in 1946. Currently the committee has 19 members.

1834
Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky becomes committee chairman for two years.

1836
Sen. James Buchanan (D-Pa.) becomes committee chairman and holds the gavel for five years. He later becomes secretary of State and the 15th president of the United States.

1861
Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.), a leading opponent of slavery, becomes committee chairman and advises President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. But his attempts to keep former Confederate leaders out of leadership positions in the Senate after the war backfires, and his opposition to President Ulysses Grant’s attempts to annex Santo Domingo prompt Grant’s Congressional allies to maneuver to remove him as committee chairman in 1871.

1867
The committee ratifies treaties that lead to the U.S. purchase of Alaska.

1919
Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) leads the successful fight against the establishment of the League of Nations, as the committee votes not to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.

1924
Sen. William Borah (R-Idaho) becomes committee chairman and leads the effort to keep the U.S. out of the World Court.

1933
The committee moves into its current suite, S-116 and S-117 of the Capitol. The rooms had previously been used by several other committees, and in the first years of the 20th century housed the Senate Post Office. Sen. Key Pittman (D-Nev.) becomes chairman and sponsors neutrality legislation designed to keep the U.S. out of European conflicts.

1941
Sen. Tom Connally (D-Texas) takes over as chairman and, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, leads the fight to repeal neutrality legislation as the U.S. enters World War II. Connally, who is frequently mistaken for a relative of former Texas Gov. John Connally (D), was the step-grandfather of former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and the step-great-grandfather of current Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.). Connally serves as chairman through 1947 and then from 1949 to 1953.

1946
The committee hires its first professional staff. Francis Wilcox, who later becomes assistant secretary of State under President Dwight Eisenhower, is the first chief of staff.

1947
The committee is instrumental in supporting the Truman Doctrine, which reiterates America’s position as a world superpower — and its opposition to communism.

1948
The committee ratifies the Marshall Plan, which provides the economic foundation for the rebuilding of Europe following World War II.

1959
Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) becomes chairman and serves for 16 years, longer than any other Foreign Relations chairman in history. In the 1960s, a Georgetown University student from Arkansas named Bill Clinton works in his Capitol Hill office. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fulbright becomes an influential critic of the Vietnam War.

1976
Senate creates a Select Committee on Intelligence, taking that aspect of foreign policy oversight out of the Foreign Relations Committee’s portfolio.

1986
Committee Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), a committee member, negotiate the departure of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos following an uprising that eventually installs Corazon Aquino as president of the country.

1997
Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) flexes his — and the committee’s — muscle by refusing to schedule a hearing on President Bill Clinton’s nominee to be ambassador to Mexico, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R). His opposition to Weld is largely based on Weld’s support for abortion rights.

2000
The committee holds a field hearing at the United Nations — the first time the committee as a whole ever visits an international institution. Later that year, the U.N. Security Council visits Capitol Hill for a day of meetings hosted by the committee.

2008
Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) is elected vice president of the United States.

Source: Senate Foreign Relations Committee