World War I Foreign Policy Records, Part II: The Inquiry
April 6, 2017 marks the centennial of United States entry into World War I. As part of its commemoration of that event, the National Archives and Records Administration has digitized and put online three sets of records constituting the most important files relating to the foreign policy aspects of the war and the subsequent peace conference. Those records consist of the so-called “World War I file” of the Department of State, the reports and studies of The Inquiry, and the central file of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.
This second part, of three, describes records from The Inquiry.
The U.S. government began preparing for the postwar settlement soon after its entry into the war in April 1917. In the fall of that year, President Woodrow Wilson directed the organization of a group of experts to collect and analyze data on the geographical, ethnological, historical, economic, and political problems of those areas likely to be the subject of the peace negotiations. This staff became known as “The Inquiry.” Most of the experts were lawyers, geographers, political scientists, and historians from American colleges and universities and learned societies. The Inquiry ceased as an independent organization in December 1918. After that, it was absorbed into the Division of Territorial, Economic, and Political Intelligence of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace which represented the United States at the peace conference in Paris. In many ways, The Inquiry was the forerunner to the famed Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The records of The Inquiry are now part of Record Group 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.
Perhaps the most important records created by The Inquiry are the formal “Inquiry Documents.” President Wilson relied on those reports and studies for background information and used them when drafting the territorial propositions in his Fourteen Points and later used some of their suggestions in developing the peace treaties. Each of the documents was stamped “Inquiry Document” and given a sequential number.
Cover page of Inquiry Document 887:
Inquiry Document 887, December 22, 1917, “Inquiry Documents” (Special Reports and Studies), Entry 4, RG 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.
The Inquiry Documents were initially made widely available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1107: “Inquiry Documents” (Special Reports and Studies), 1917-1919. They can now be reached online from here. The online arrangement matches the microfilm publication (see below).[i]
As listed in an appendix to the National Archives inventory of the records (see below) there are the following number of reports on the topics and countries listed. The listing in the appendix includes additional information: author and date (when known), number of pages, and document number. For some entries there is a brief description.