Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Sylvanus Bourne, 23 August 1790

To Sylvanus Bourne

New York August 23d. 1790.


Your favor of the 15th. instant has been duly received and laid before the President.

You will permit me to recall to your memory that when I proposed to you the Consulship of Hispaniola, I informed you that neither salary nor perquisites were annexed to the office, nor probably would be: that it was in contemplation of the Legislature to consider the subject, but that the result was too uncertain to be counted on. On this ground you took a day or two to make up your mind, and finally accepted. The ground has not changed at all, it is now exactly what it was then. The bill which was brought into Congress, has not been passed, and to delay your departure till it does pass, may be a delay without end. The probabilities of a general war taking place, the revolution now actually going on in Hispaniola, and the expediency that the representations, now asked from them by the mother Country, should be pointed to our common good, render it peculiarly interesting to the United States that the Consul of that Island should be in his place, and will, I am sure, justify in your judgment the wish of Government that you should repair thither with due dispatch. I have the honor to be, Sir &c.,

Thomas Jefferson

FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 121).

On Bourne’s insistent plea concerning Salary, see note to Bourne to TJ 24 Mch. 1790. In a letter to TJ of 8 July 1790 Bourne returned to the attack, saying that he had learned from the press that Congress had “rejected the plan of granting Consuls some small douceur from Vessells” and asked: “Will Congress consent to give a certain sum in the first instance … whereby we may be assisted in making our establishments?” Bourne added that he had been surprized to learn that the French government in the West Indies had “lately put in practice the droit d’Aubine in one or two instances Contrary to the Convention lately published” and that a memorial to Congress on this subject was “in contemplation” among Boston merchants. He also said that L’Étombe, the French consul, was “about to request of Government that some provision should be made directing in what manner the decrees of Consuls shall be put in force by the Executive Power where they reside” (RC in DLC: Applications for Office under Washington; endorsed by TJ as received 14 July 1790; on 5 Aug. 1790 Bourne again wrote TJ, but only to let him know that instructions would reach him in Boston and that he would not return to New York before departing; RC in same; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Aug. 1790 and so recorded in SJL). On the 15th Bourne wrote the letter that provoked the above peremptory reply: “as I am told by Mr. Thatcher that the Senate have assigned [the Consular Bill] over to the next session, I have to request permission from you to delay my departure for Hispaniola till this Bill is finished, of the probability of which you must be acquainted. I feel an anxiety to know on what grounds and principles I can support my oficial situation with a pride of having my public Conduct guaranteed by some legal sanction, and though the idea of a direct consulage seems to be exploded Government I think will have the manliness to allow some kind of pay for business to be done and will not require in return for an empty title the sacrifice of the time and services of Individuals whose peculiar situation will illy allow either.—Pardon, my respected Sir, the warmth of my feelings which do not arise from any disappointment relating to pecuniary emolument but of an ingeneous wish to support with a proper dignity a Commission from under the Seal of the United States of America” (RC in DLC: Applications for Office under Washington; endorsed by TJ as received 21 Aug. 1790 and so recorded in SJL).

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