Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Sylvanus Bourne, 10 September 1800

From Sylvanus Bourne

Amsterdam Sept 10 1800


I beg leave to acquaint you that Mr Lusac printer of the french Gazette at Leyden lately presented me an Account for his Papers, sent you in the years 93 & 941 while you filled the Office of Secretary of State requesting its transmission for payt. but presuming you received them in your official Capacity I veiwed it as a just debt from the U States & having explained myself accordingly to our Bankers they agreed to discharge it & I hope this procedure will prove to be right.

I proffit of this occasion to Solicit your aid & influence in favr. of an application to Govt. by a memorial in behalf of myself & Colleagues to be laid before Congress in the ensuing Session, praying for some due Compensation for our Services & indemnification for the loss of our Rights & privileges as Citizens of the U States involved in the acceptance of our places2 as may be seen by the inclosed documents & to which other examples of the like sort might be added. I am at a loss to know exactly on what grounds the opinion of the Court at New york is founded. It certainly cannot be derived from the Laws of the U:S as these in cases where any doubt existed have been particular in confirming the rights of Citizens as appertaining to our Consuls in foreign Countries—nor can it be collected from the Laws of Nations as these are silent & even defective in duly explaining Consular Rights & Privileges—nor is to be explicitly deduced from the Custom or Usage of Nations as this is not sufficiently uniform to establish a principle so important in its consequences in many points of view—France has not acted upon it in this war as mr Johnsons property while Consul at London was I believe uniformly respected as neutral by that Govt. It is true Great Britain has acted on this principle because it is his interest to do it & in conformity to [a] favorite system of ruling the Seas—but I regret to say the solemn verdict of an American Court of Judicature adduced in Support of the Arbitrary procedings of any foreign nation in violation of the rights of other Nations. If we have not the prevent3 the exercise this affirmed right we can at least forbear to avow or acknowlege it.4

If I recollect right you were formerly of opinion that some more valuable provisions ought to have been made for the due Support of our Consular Establishments & I humbly confide that this opinion will be confirmed on finding that our position has become so embarrassing from external Causes those unforeseen.

It was urged in Congress some years past (when a Bill was brought in for allowing due Compensation to our Consuls) that the advantages in trade which their public Situation would give them in Commerce ought to be deemed a due equivalent rendering any provision for them unnecessary & inexpedient—but as the Contrary of all this proves to be the fact—I presume every candid mind will be ready to acknowlege that the Contract between the Consuls was not duly understood by either & that Some remedy ought in future to be applied.

Should a Consular fee on vessels according to their tonnage or a pr Centum on the Cargoes not be deemed eligible—a fixed Stipend proportioned to the importance of the Several Stations may be allowed them over & above the fees they receive under the existing Laws—so as to make their combined Income to meet the Intent of Govt. in their regard— Chearfully Submitting our Case to your patronage & to your Convictions of the propriety of complying with our request—I have the honor to be very respectfully Yr Ob. Sert

Sylvs Bourne

It appears by the principle of British Jurisprudence that residence makes an Enemy but not a friend. What [reciprocity] or justice in that?

RC (DLC); torn at seal; addressed: “The Honble Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Vice President of the U: States at the City of Washington Via Newyork”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Jan. and so recorded in SJL. Dupl (same); dated 20 Sep. 1800; with variations in language from RC; at head of text: “Duplicate”; a postscript on verso of address sheet, which replaces final sentence and question above, reads: “PS. The Main Source of any emolument to Consuls under the existing Laws are from the Legalisation of Drawback Certificates so called & in prior times the revenue here from would not in the most frequented Station of any Consuls exceed 5 to 700 Dolls & even this depending on the uncertain Contingency whither American Navigation will have permission to bring West India produce to Europe after the War”; addressed: “The Honble Thomas Jefferson Eqr Vice President of the U:States of America City of Washington, Mr. Munroe”; endorsed by TJ as received 22 Apr. 1801 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures not found.

On 20 Jan. 1801, Bourne’s September 1800 memorial, requesting compensation for the services of consuls and indemnification for their losses in wartime, was presented to the House of Representatives on his behalf and that of many of his colleagues residing in Europe. The House rejected Bourne’s request on 2 Feb. (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 10:914; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:768, 782; National State Papers: Adams, 23:52–3; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:10). For TJ’s instructions to Bourne on an earlier consular bill, see Vol. 19:307–8.

1Dupl: “years 94 & 95.”

2In Dupl remainder of sentence reads “as will be seen by the documents which accompany the memorial in hands of the Secy of State.”

3Dupl: “If we cannot prevent.”

4In Dupl Bourne here adds: “I have conveyed these Sentiments on the Subject to Brown & Relf at Phila desiring their insertion of them in their Gazette.”

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