Thomas Jefferson Papers

Circular to Consuls and Vice-Consuls, 31 May 1792

Circular to Consuls and Vice-Consuls

Philadelphia May 31. 1792.


Congress having closed their session on the 8th. inst., I have now the honour to forward you a copy of the laws passed thereat. One of these, Chapter 24. will require your particular attention, as it contains such regulations relative to the Consular office as it has been thought proper to establish legislatively.

With respect to the security required by the 6th. section, I would prefer persons residing within the U.S. where the party can procure such to be his security. In this case his own bond duly executed may be sent to me, and his sureties here may enter into separate bond. Where the party cannot conveniently find sureties within the U.S. my distance and want of means of knowing their sufficiency, oblige me to refer him to the Minister or Chargé des affaires of the U.S. within the same government, if there be one, and, if not, then1 to the Minister of the U.S. resident at Paris. The securities which they shall approve, will be admitted as good. In like manner the accounts for their disbursements authorised by this law (and no other can be allowed) are to be settled at stated periods with the minister or Chargé within their residence, if there be one, if none, then with the Minister of the U.S. at Paris. The person who settles the Account is authorised to pay it. Our Consuls in America are not meant to be included in these directions as to securityship and the settlement of their accounts, as their situation gives them a more convenient communication with me. It is also recommended to the Consuls to keep up an ordinary correspondence with the Minister or Chargé to whom they are thus referred, but it would also be useful if they would forward directly to me from time to time the prices currt. of their place, and any other circumstances which it might be interesting to make known to our merchants without delay.

The prices of our funds have undergone some variations within the last three months. The six per cents were pushed by gambling adventurers up to 26/ or 27/ the pound. A bankruptcy having taken place among these, and considerably affected the more respectable part of the paper holders, a greater quantity of paper was thrown suddenly on the market than there was demand or money to take up. The prices fell to 19/. This crisis is past, and they are getting up towards their true value. Tho’ the price of public paper is considered as the barometer of the public credit, it is truely so only as to the general average of prices. The real credit of the U.S. depends on the ability and the immutability of their will to pay their debts. These were as evident when their paper fell to 19/ as when it was at 27/. The momentary variation was like that in the price of corn or any other commodity the result of a momentary disproportion between the demand and supply.

The unsuccessful issue of our expedition against the savages the last year, is not unknown to you. More adequate preparations are making for the present year, and in the mean time some of the tribes have accepted peace and others have expressed a readiness to do the same.

Another plentiful year has been added to those which had preceded it, and the present bids fair to be equally so. A prosperity built on the basis of agriculture is that which is most desireable to us, because to the efforts of labor it adds the efforts of a greater proportion of soil. The checks however which the Commercial regulations of Europe have given to the sale of our produce, has produced a very considerable degree of domestic manufacture, which so far as it is of the household kind will doubtless continue, and so far as it is more public will depend on the continuance or discontinuance of the European policy.2 I am with great esteem Sir your most obedt. humble servt.,

PrC (DLC); unsigned; in margin at beginning of letter: “Circular to all. A copy of this part to be sent to each of our ministers and Chargés.” This is followed by a list of the consuls and vice-consuls: “Joseph Fenwick. Bordeaux. De la Motte. Havre. Cathalan Marseilles. Edward Church. Lisbon. John Marsden Pintard. Madeira. John Street. Fayal. Joshua Johnson. London. James Maury. Liverpool. Elias Vanderhorst. Bristol. Thomas Auldjo. Cowes. William Knox. Dublin. Hans Rodolph Saabye. Copenhagen. Fulwar Skipwith. Martinique. Ebenezer Brush. Surinam. James Yard. Santa Cruz.” Following the text of the letter on separate sheets with the instruction “particular paragraphs to be added to particular letters.”, TJ added the following insertions to be made in the letters to all listed with the exception of Street, Vanderhorst, and Saabye:

“Fenwick Since the date of my last I have to acknolege the receipt of yours of Dec. 24. and Feb 13. In answer to a part of the former I have only to say that so far from wishing our Consuls to cover English Contraband under American colours, it is their particular duty to detect it. We owe this as a proper return for any favors which a nation may chuse to shew us particularly.
The late resolution of the legislature to print on the back of the clearances the method of distilling fresh from salt water, if done for American vessels only, will form a distinction between the clearances of foreign and American vessels.
Be so good as to present our thanks to the National club of Bordeaux for marks of fraternity with which they were pleased to distinguish us at their feast. It is a sentiment which we reciprocate with great sincerity.
de la Motte. Since the date of my last I have to acknolege the receipt of yours of Dec. 19. and Feb. 24. Mr. Coffyn was appointed Agent for the U.S. at Dunkirk by Dr. Franklin, and conducted himself well while I corresponded with him. Possession of an office naturally gives title to preference where no demerit in the execution of it can be alledged. We would wish for exact accounts from that part of the annual amount of the French whale fishery stating the number of vessels, their tonnage, number of men, and quantity taken.
Cathalan. Since the date of my last I have received your favors of May 20. June 10. July 5. Sep. 4. 1791. and Mar. 11. 1792. The prices current which you are so kind as to communicate to me from time to time are regularly published in our papers for the information of merchants. I do not now add your name, because I never do that without leave. If you would wish it, and will so express it, I will hereafter add it, as it increases the authenticity of the information.
Church. Your favor of Jan. 1. has been duly received. After writing my last to you, it was found on enquiry, that what had been suggested on your subject did not merit attention. You were therefore nominated by the president Consul for Lisbon, and approved by the Senate with very little opposition.
Pintard. Since the date of my last I have duly received yours of July 17. and 20. and Jan. 5.
Johnson. Since the date of my last I have received your favor of Dec. 31. Mr. Pinkney, now going over as our Minister Plen. to London, is charged with the settlement of your accts. and payment of the balance. He will also relieve you in future from the trouble of forwarding the public papers.
Maury. Since the date of my last I have duly received your favors of July 12. 29. Aug. 13. 22. Sep. 14. Nov. 10. The order of the British government respecting our commerce to Jersey and Guernsey was published here under a very serious aspect, which is smoothed by an explanation of the British minister here.
Auldjo Since the date of my last I have duly recd. your favors of July 8. Sep. 8. Nov. 2. 1791. and Feb. 1. 1792. I am particularly to thank you for the hint from Mr. Newman which shall be attended to in proper time and place.
Knox. Since the date of my last I have duly received your favors of Apr. 19. Sep. 7. 1791. Jan. 17. 18. and Feb. 15. 1792. We consider Mr. Pearce as a valuable acquisition and shall cherish him accordingly. Mr. Pinkney who now goes as our Minister to London is desired to settle and pay your acct.
Skipwith. I have duly recd. your favor of Mar. 28. 92. written since your return to Martinique and I inclose you the answer to Mr. Behague’s letter to the President. The situation of the French islands being interesting I shall be glad if you will send me as frequently as possible continued narratives of the transactions in those within your district.
Yard I have recd. in due time your favors of May 31. and Oct. 5. Transactions in the West Indies are now so interesting that I shall be glad to hear from you as often as convenient.
Brush. I have never had the honor of a line from you since your appointment, so that I am as yet uninformed whether you have proceeded to, or continue in the exercise of the functions of your office, whether you were admitted by the government, or whether objections were made to your admission.”

Tr (DNA: RG 59, DCI). FC (NNC); first half of letter only; at head of text TJ wrote: “Extract from a circular letter to the Consuls and Vice-consuls of the U.S. in Europe.”; in margin of second page, TJ wrote in pencil: “for Mr. Morris.” TJ’s letter to Joshua Johnson contains a postscript not included in above PrC: “P.S. Since writing the above, your favor of april 6. and 15. are received.” (RC in DNA: RG 59, CD; in clerk’s hand and signed by TJ; docketed as received and answered 9 Oct. 1792). Printed extract enclosed in Edmund Randolph’s circular to Sylvanus Bourne, 31 Dec. 1794 (RC in DLC: Sylvanus Bourne Papers).

The 6th. section of the 1792 Act concerning Consuls and Vice-Consuls required these officials to give bond of not less than two nor more than ten thousand dollars with sureties approved by the Secretary of State as security for the faithful performance of their consular duties (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled from Authentic Materials by Joseph Gales, Senior, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The edition cited here has this caption on both recto and verso pages: “History of Congress.” Another printing, with the same title-page, has “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. Those using the latter printing will need to employ the date or, where it is lacking, to add approximately 52 to the page numbers of Annals as cited in this volume. description ends , iii, 1360–3). For a discussion of TJ’s interest in this legislation, see note to Plan of Bill concerning Consuls, 1 Dec. 1791.

1TJ first wrote “Minister or Chargé des affaires of the U.S. where they have one within the same government, and where they have not,” then altered it to read as above.

2TJ added here in brackets: “here insert special clauses where there are any.”

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