Instructions to Benjamin Franklin in re Consuls
MS (NA: PCC, No. 25, II, 177). Undated.
In a dispatch of 23 October 1782, Thomas Barclay, consul of the United States in France, informed Congress that the exequatur issued to him by the court of France barred him from appointing vice consuls and consular agents as long as he was consul rather than consul general. He also pointed out that Article III of the proposed consular convention between the United States and France, adopted by Congress on 25 January 1782, “interdicted” the consular appointees “from all traffick or commerce for their own or another’s benefit.” In Barclay’s judgment this restriction would cause merchants in the ports to decline to serve as consuls, even though they were the persons best qualified for appointment (NA: PCC, No. 91, I, 13–15). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 201, n. 1; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 48.
On 24 December 1782, upon receiving Barclay’s dispatch, Congress referred it to a committee comprising Thomas FitzSimons (Pa.), Alexander Hamilton (N.Y.), and John Lewis Gervais (S.C.) (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 50; No. 186, fol. 76). This committee recommended on 2 January 1783 that the proposed consular convention be suspended, that Barclay be commissioned as consul general, that he be empowered to appoint as many vice consuls and consular agents in French ports “as he shall deem necessary,” and that they be permitted to trade as merchants “till Congress shall otherwise direct” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 3). For JM’s purpose in offering the present motion, see JM Notes, 6 Jan. 1783.
[2 January 1783]
That the Minister Plenipo: at the Ct. of Versailles1 be instructed to propose that the plan of the Convention respecting consular powers2 may be so varied3 as to leave the parties at liberty to prohibit or permit to their respective Consuls, the privilege of carrying on commerce on their private accts. and also to propose such other variations as may be consequent thereon.4
1. Benjamin Franklin.
2. See ed. n.
3. From “Versailles” through “varied,” JM originally wrote, “be authorized & instructed so to vary the propos plan of the Convention regulating the consular powers.”
4. The printed journal of Congress leaves the erroneous impression that JM’s motion was an addendum to, rather than a proposed substitute for, the report of the FitzSimons committee. See ed. n.; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 3–4. On 2 January Congress laid over the report and JM’s motion for decision at a later date. In his Notes on Debates for 2 January, JM recorded only, “Nothing requiring notice.” For the next mention of the subject of consular powers, see JM Notes, 6 Jan. 1783.