Thomas Jefferson Papers

Circular to American Consuls, 26 August 1790

Circular to American Consuls

New York August 26th. 1790


I expected ‘ere this to have been able to send you an Act of Congress, prescribing some special Duties and Regulations for the Exercise of the Consular Offices of the United States; but Congress not having been able to mature the Act sufficiently, it lies over to their next Session. In the mean while I beg Leave to draw your Attention to some Matters of Information which it is interesting to receive.

I must beg the Favor of you to communicate to me every six Months, a Report of the Vessels of the United States which enter at the Ports of your District, specifying the Name and Burthen of each Vessel, of what Description she is (to wit, Ship, Snow, Brig &c.), the Names of the Master and Owners, and Number of Seamen, the Port of the United States from which she cleared, Places touched at, her Cargo outward and inward, and the Owners thereof, the Port to which she is bound, and Times of Arrival and Departure; the whole arranged in a Table under different Columns, and the Reports closing on the last Days of June and December.

We wish you to use your Endeavours that no Vessel enter as an American in the Ports of your District which shall not be truly such, and that none be sold under that Name which are not really of the United States.

That you give to me from time to time Information of all military Preparations, and other Indications of War which may take place in your Ports; and when a War shall appear imminent, that you notify thereof the Merchants and Vessels of the United States within your District, that they may be duly on their guard: and in general that you communicate to me such political and commercial Intelligence, as you may think interesting to the United States.

The Consuls and Vice-Consuls of the United States are free to wear the uniform of their navy, if they chuse to do so. This is a deep blue coat with red facings, lining and cuffs, the cuffs slashed and a standing collar; a red waistcoat (laced or not at the election of the wearer) and blue Breeches; yellow buttons with a foul anchor, and black cockades and small swords.

Be pleased to observe that the Vice-Consul of one district is not at all subordinate to the Consul of another. They are equally independent of each other.

The ground of distinction between these two officers is this. Our Government thinks that whatever there may be either of honor or profit resulting from the Consular office, native Citizens are first entitled, where such of proper character will undertake the duties; but where none such offer, a Vice-Consul is appointed of any other Nation. Should a proper native come forward at any future time, he will be named Consul, but this nomination will not revoke the Commission of the Vice-Consul: it will only suspend his functions during the continuance of the Consul within the limits of his jurisdiction, and on his departure therefrom, it is meant that the Vice-Consular authority shall revive of course without the necessity of a re-appointment.1

It is understood that Consuls and Vice-Consuls have authority of course to appoint their own Agents in the several ports of their district, and that it is with themselves alone these Agents are to correspond.

It will be best not to fatigue the Government in which you reside, or those in authority under it, with applications in unimportant cases. Husband their good dispositions for occasions of some moment, and let all representations to them be couched in the most temperate and friendly terms, never indulging in any case whatever a single expression which may irritate. I have the honor to be &c.

Thomas Jefferson

FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 121); this text does not contain the paragraph indicated in note 1 below, which is here inserted from the text addressed to vice-consuls; at head of text: “To the Consuls of the United States”; at foot of text there is a list of the consuls to whom this circular was addressed: Joseph Fenwick at Bordeaux; Burrill Carnes at Nantes; Nathaniel Barrett at Rouen; Sylvanus Bourne at Hispaniola; Fulwar Skipwith at Martinique; James Maury at Liverpool; William Knox at Dublin; Edward Church at Bilbao; John Marsden Pintard at Madeira; Joshua Johnson at London; and Ebenezer Brush at Surinam. RC (DNA: RG 59, CD); in hand of Henry Remsen, Jr., with TJ’s signature cut away; endorsed in part by its recipient, Joshua Johnson: “Receivd October Answ’d 2 Novemr. [1790] per the Two Brothers Capt. Sely.” FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 121); at head of text: “To the Vice-Consuls of the United States”; at foot of text: “To Monsr. De la Motte Vice-Consul at Havre. The Sieur Etienne Cathalan the younger Marseilles. Thomas Auldjo Esquire. Cowes. John Parish. Hamburgh. John Street. Fayal.” Not recorded in SJL. Printed text of this circular is in DLC: Silvanus Bourne Papers, being incorporated, along with a text of TJ’s circular to the consuls of 31 May 1792, in Edmund Randolph’s circular of 31 Dec. 1794 referring to the “rule of office” established by TJ in this general communication.

1This paragraph appears only in the text of the circular that was addressed to vice-consuls.

Index Entries