Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Sylvanus Bourne, 29 April 1791

From Sylvanus Bourne

Cape François, 29 Apr. 1791. Arrived and presented credentials on 16 Mch. Still awaits recognition “but cannot obtain any decision of the business: being constantly put off by the most equivocal and evasive Conduct on their part. One Day am informed that the Convention does not extend to the Colonies—the next that as my Commission is unacompanied by a letter from the Secy. of State, they cannot acknowledge its authenticity, and again that as the Convention has never been transmitted to them from France they are not bound to notice it. I am sent from the assembly to the Govr. the Govr. to the assembly without obtaining satisfactory answer from either.” He conceives such conduct to be in direct violation of Art. 29 of the commercial treaty and of the Consular Convention. Requests instructions and a letter to the Governor General specifically obviating their objections. Without this he doubts he can be established in face of determined opposition from admiralty officers who will “lose fees which they are ever ready to extort from our Countrymen… . I have ever made my official establishment the ground work of my mercantile one and without the former I shall lose many expected advantages.” This and exaction of droit d’aubaine show the colonists’ opposition to operation of any treaty. Only a few weeks ago the property of an American consignee who died at Port au Prince was seized as an escheat.

He is chagrined that Congress has again lost the Consular bill, thus placing public officers in a disagreeable predicament: “principles of liberal policy ought not to be thus neglected.”

Politics in this island excites in turn pity and indignation. The northern and southern parts are bitterly opposed, while principles and motives “are clouded in mystic darkness.” Both with equal fervor profess attachment to the National Assembly but differ much in evidence of it. Deputies are daily expected.

Questions whether the philanthropist can view the French conduct as leading these people from despotism to freedom. Hopes to hear from TJ by the “first conveyance.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, CD); endorsed by TJ as received at Bennington, Vermont, 4 June 1791 and so recorded in SJL.

Only four days before Bourne made this first report of his difficulty in obtaining recognition, TJ expressed the view that the United States had a clear right to appoint consuls in the French West Indies (TJ to Short, 25 Apr. 1791). He had in fact held this position during the negotiations leading to the Consular Convention of 1788. But, anticipating that there would be objections, he cautioned both Short and Bourne not to press the claim if the French government should find it inconvenient or disagreeable to grant it (see TJ’s circular to consuls, 13 May 1791, and note on the one sent to Bourne; see also TJ to Bourne, 14 Aug. 1791). This was characteristic of his style of diplomacy, as it was of Montmorin’s. On learning of the problem presented by Bourne’s appointment and on being given the mistaken information that an exequatur had been granted, Montmorin declared that this action placed the government in “un grand embarras” and gave instructions that the governor general be directed to consider it as non-avenu. At the same time, in pointing out that this was an exercise of sovereignty which could only belong to the monarch, he urged that any discussions that would be disagreeable to the United States be avoided (Montmorin to Thevenard, 30 July 1791; Thevenard to Montmorin, 21 July and 18 Aug. 1791, Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr.-Pol., E.-U., xxxv; photocopies in DLC). Earlier, on learning that Bourne and Skipwith had been appointed consuls in the islands, he had given emphatic instructions to Otto to make it clear to TJ that their nominations should remain without effect and that the Consular Convention did not include the French West Indies except with respect to the droit d’aubaine (Montmorin to Otto, 13 Nov. 1790, same).

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