Thomas Jefferson Papers

Circular to Consuls and Vice-Consuls, 21 March 1793

Circular to Consuls and Vice-Consuls

Philadelphia March 21st. 1793.


Present appearances in Europe rendering a general war there probable, I am to desire your particular attention to all the indications of it, and on the first imminent symptoms of rupture among the maritime powers, to put our vessels on their guard. In the same event the patronage of our Consuls will be particularly requisite to secure to our vessels the rights of neutrality, and protect them against all invasions of it. You will be pleased also in the same case to give no countenance to the usurpation of our flag by foreign vessels, but rather indeed to aid in detecting it, as without bringing to us any advantage, the usurpation will tend to commit us with the belligerant powers, and to subject those vessels which are truly ours to harrassing scrutinies in order to distinguish them from the counterfeits.

The law requiring the Consuls of the United States to give bond with two or more good sureties for the faithful performance of their duties, I enclose you a blank bond for that purpose. According to a standing regulation which places our Consuls in Europe in relation with the minister of the United States in the same Country with them, if there be one, and if none, then with their minister in Paris, and our Consuls in America in immediate relation with the Secretary of State, you will be pleased to have your sureties approved by the person to whom you stand thus refferred, and to send [the] bond when executed, by a safe conveyance, to the Secretary of State, to [be] disposed of according to law; and this with all the expedition the [case] will admit: provided this should not have been done before.1

A copy of the laws of the last Session of Congress is2 sent to [Mr.] Pinckney, Minister plenipotentiary of the United States in London to be forwarded to you.3

PrC (DLC); entirely in a clerk’s hand, unsigned; at head of text: “Circular to the Consuls of the United States”; bracketed words lost in frayed right margin of first page supplied from FC; includes one minor correction in ink by TJ; lacks substitute third paragraph to Samuel Shaw given below. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DCI); contains postscript to James Maury and substitute third paragraph to Samuel Shaw. SJL does not record the text to Shaw, but indicates that a text was sent to Benjamin Joy, consul at Calcutta. At foot of text in PrC and FC are listed, individually or in groups, twenty-four recipients (twenty-three in PrC) to whom the circular was sent and the additional paragraphs, some with clerical directions, that were to be incorporated into their letters immediately following the text of the circular. Except where noted, the paragraphs given below are taken from the PrC:

(1) To Thomas Auldjo, vice-consul at Poole: “With acknowledgments of the receipt of your letter of Decr. 6th. and a desire that you will continue the address recommended in my letter of Novr. 14th. I have to add assurances of the esteem with which I am Sir, your mo. obt. hble. Servt.”

(2) To Joshua Johnson, consul at London: “I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of October 9th. and am sincerely sorry that the provisions made by Congress relative to our Consuls have not been such as you expected, and still more so that this or any other circumstance should induce you to decline giving the bond which they require, and which in your case is a mere formality. We have been sensible that your services have been faithful and useful, and have no reserve in giving you the fullest assurances of it; and if this has not been done before it has proceeded from the circumstance that the multiplicity of business in this Department puts it out of my power to correspond with the Consuls but by Circular letters, except as to particular and urgent circumstances. I am persuaded that on a review of my letter of August 7. 1790. you will find no promise but what Mr. Pinckney is fully authorized to comply with, there being none in it beyond what the laws authorize. To return to the circumstance of the bond, I cannot but hope you will be sensible that the law in prescribing cautions proper for the generality of cases, cannot give offence to the particulars in whose case they would be unnecessary and would therefore have been unprescribed if such case had stood alone, and that reconsidering your resolution expressed in your letter of October 9th. you will by a compliance with this formality before Mr. Pinckney, still give us the benefit of your services; with which I can assure you the President is so well satisfied that it would be with regret he should proceed to the nomination of a successor as proposed in your letter, and as the precepts of the law would require, with which he has no power to dispense. I beg you to be assured from myself personally of those sentiments of perfect esteem and respect with which I am, Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servt.” (RC in DNA: RG 59, CD, in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ, at foot of text: “Joshua Johnson Esqr.,” endorsed on separate sheet as received 17 June 1793 and answered 24 Aug. 1793 per the Pigou Capt Loxley”; Tr in Lb in DNA: RG 360, FL, subjoined to Tr of TJ to Johnson, 7 Aug. 1790). This paragraph was substituted for the second and third paragraphs of the circular in accordance with the bracketed clerical direction given in the PrC: “In this letter the Circular passage respecting the bond must be omitted.”

(3) To James Maury, consul at Liverpool: “With acknowledgments of the receipt of your letters of Septr. 19. Novr. 13. and Decr. 1. (the first of which however did not cover any bond) and a desire that you continue to use the address recommended in my letter of Novr. 14. I am with great esteem Dear Sir your &c.” (FC in DLC; in Taylor’s hand; consists only of postscript: “I have sent the blank bond agreeably to your desire to your Brother Mr. Fontaine Maury requesting him to execute it”; at head of text: “P.S. to Mr. Maury”).

(4) To Benjamin Hamnell Phillips, consul at Curaçao; John Street, vice-consul at Fayal; Nathaniel Cutting, consul at Le Havre; Edward Fox, consul at Falmouth; Joseph Yznardi, Jr., consul at Cadiz; John Parish, consul at Hamburg; Henry Cooper, consul at Santa Cruz; David Matthew Clarkson, consul at St. Eustatia; Samuel Cooper Johonnet, consul at Demerara; Michael Morphy, consul at Malaga; Fulwar Skipwith, consul at Martinique; James Greenleaf, consul at Amsterdam: “You will be pleased to address your letters always to ‘the Secretary of State for the United States of America at Philadelphia,’ without adding the name, in order to prevent the casualties to them which changes in the office might otherwise occasion. I have the honor to be, Sir Your most obedient and most huml. Servant” (RC owned by George Green Shackelford, Orange, Virginia, 1961, on deposit ViU, in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ, lacks third paragraph of circular, at head of text in the hand of George Taylor, Jr.: “Circular,” at foot of text in a clerk’s hand: “Saml. Cooper Johonnet Esqr.”; RC owned by Mrs. Henry M. Sage, Albany, New York, 1954, in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ, lacks third paragraph, at head of text in Taylor’s hand: “Circular,” at foot of text: “Fulwar Skipworth, Esq.”; RC in PWacD: Feinstone Collection, on deposit PPAmP, in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ, containing variant of third paragraph recorded in note 2 below, at foot of text: “James Greenleaf Esqr.”).

(5) To Robert Montgomery, consul at Alicant: “to the preceding clause add, in the case of Montgomery as follows. Acknowledging the receipt of your letters of July 17. and 24. I have the honor to be Sir &c.” (The letters from Montgomery were dated 1791.) The “preceding clause” is the one quoted in No. 4 above.

(6) To Elias Vanderhorst, consul at Bristol: “Same as preceding, only as to dates, which are Octr. 10. Decr. 24. and 31.”

(7) To Delamotte, vice-consul at Le Havre: “According to what was mentioned in my letter conveying your Commission to you, the case has occurred wherein a respectable native (Captn. Cutting) proposing to settle at your Port has received the appointment of Consul there; This you will be pleased to observe does not revoke your Commission, nor otherwise affect you than by a suspension of your functions while he is within the limits of his jurisdiction. Acknowledging the receipt of your letter of Octr. 5 I have the honor to add every assurance of personal esteem and respect from Sir your &c.”

(8) To Stephen Cathalan, Jr., vice-consul at Marseilles; Edward Church, consul at Lisbon; Joseph Fenwick, consul at Bordeaux; John M. Pintard, consul at Madeira; Hans Rodolph Saabÿe, consul at Copenhagen: “Desiring a continuance of the address recommended in my letter of Novr. 14. I have the honor to be with great esteem & respect, Sir Your most obedient & most humble Servant” (RC in Archives municipales, Marseilles, France; in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ; contains variant of third paragraph recorded in note 2 below; at foot of text: “Stephen Cathalan Esqr.”).

(9) To Samuel Shaw, consul at Canton: “A set of the laws of the United States is likewise herewith enclosed together with copy of a former circular letter, intended as a standing instruction to our Consuls. I am with esteem, Sir, Your most obedient, and most humble servant” (PrC in DLC; in a clerk’s hand, unsigned; at foot of text in ink in Taylor’s hand: “Saml Shaw—Consul at Canton in China”). This paragraph was substituted for the third paragraph of the circular in accordance with the bracketed clerical direction given in FC: “in lieu of the last paragraph in the Letter.” The “former circular letter” was TJ’s Circular to American Consuls, 26 Aug. 1790.

TJ submitted this circular to the President on 22 Mch. 1793, and he approved it the same day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 99).

1This paragraph omitted in RC addressed to Joshua Johnson. See notes above for substitute paragraph.

2Word reworked to “will be” in RCs addressed to James Greenleaf and Stephen Cathalan, Jr.

3This paragraph omitted in RCs addressed to Joshua Johnson, Samuel Cooper Johonnet, and Fulwar Skipwith. See No. 9 above for substitute paragraph to Samuel Shaw.

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