James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Sylvanus Bourne, 10 June 1801

From Sylvanus Bourne, 10 June 1801

Consular Office of the United States Amstm. June 10. 1801


It has long been a matter of ⟨greate⟩st Regret that the Consular Establishment ⟨of⟩ the U: states does not rest on a more firm & ⟨sy⟩stematic base, both as to the Powers, which pertain to our Consuls under the Laws of their own Country & the Privileges & exemptions they ⟨ha⟩ve a Right to claim from the operations of ⟨the Law⟩s of the Countries where they reside; ⟨I⟩ therefore take the Liberty to Suggest such ⟨regula⟩tions & alterations on this Subject as the ⟨Exp⟩erience of many Years has taught me to believe ⟨wi⟩ll be Promotive of the Publick Service, Viz that Consular Conventions be made (when they Can) ⟨wi⟩th the several Nations where our Consuls reside ⟨th⟩at shall Specifically explain the Rights, Privileges, ⟨& E⟩xemptions they Shall be entitled to under the ⟨Regul⟩ations of the Laws of Said Countries, & define More accurately the Powers they are to be suffe⟨red⟩ to exercise over the Masters & Crews of Vessel⟨ls⟩ of their own Country within the due limits of Jurisdiction & for the Proper exercise of thei⟨r⟩ official functions. This would tend to Pre⟨vent⟩ many Collissions & Obstructions which ⟨wrest⟩ them in Performance of their duties & M⟨ight⟩ be made to Correct the inconveniencies which ⟨some⟩times have been found to occur in our Ow⟨n⟩ Country for the want of a due definition ⟨of⟩ the Powers of foreign Consuls &c &c—that the Laws of the U. States should m⟨ore⟩ clearly & accurately explain & define the ⟨Powers⟩ & duties of Consuls pointing out their li⟨mits⟩ & extent—detailing Such Various objects ⟨&⟩ cases to which they are applicable, as the nature of the thing & the advantage of th⟨e⟩ publick Service may dictate, & particularly Stating the Process to be followed for th⟨e⟩ Settlement of disputes between Masters ⟨&⟩ sailors on Account of Wages &c &c that in order to guarantee a due observ⟨ance⟩ of the injunctions of the Laws on the Par⟨t of⟩ the Masters—it shall be made their duty ⟨to⟩ Report their arrival at the Consular Office & there deposit the Register & other Ships Papers with a list of the Crews &c—that no Man be discharged or taken on board of an American Vessell without the Consent & Knowledge of the Consul. This Regulation is Rendered very proper & necessary by an Abusive Practise which has taken place of discharging American Seamen in a foreign Port, in order to take on board others at cheaper Wages; the Consequence of which is that they either are obliged to enter on board of Public Ships of War & that their services are thereby lost to their Country or become Poor ⟨or⟩ helpless, & Objects of charge to the U:s: the high wages which have of late years been given to Amern. Sailors has opened a great temptation for adopting the Practise above alluded to—& the vague expressions of the Law regulating the Merchants service as it Regards the Penalties—to which Sailors are Subject if absenting themselves from the Ship &c. has given but too many occasions to Masters of Vessells to impose ⟨u⟩pon their Crews by Seeking quarrels with them ⟨o⟩n trifling occasions in order to drive them on ⟨S⟩hore & then Consider them as deserters &c. If You will have the goodness (in a momen⟨t⟩ of leisure) to recur to the Law in question, You will observe that there are three different Kin⟨ds⟩ of Penalties to which Sailors are subjected ⟨on⟩ account of absenting themselves from their Ves⟨sell⟩ but neither of which Can be clearly construed ⟨to⟩ apply to Cases happening in foreign Ports. ⟨The⟩ Prescription of the Process to be Pursued in ⟨such⟩ instances Speaks, of Justices of the Peace which goes to Prove that the Law Contemplat⟨es⟩ only Cases arising within the U. States. The defects of the Laws on the Points in quest⟨ion⟩ loudly Calls for a Revision & alteration, wh⟨ich⟩ shall be Particularly defined the Penalties ⟨to⟩ be incurred & the Process to be pursued to ⟨preserve⟩ the due order & Oeconomy of our Vessells in a foreign Port, (and in no Cases whatever ought Captns. to be allowed to turn their ⟨Crew⟩ a Shore in a foreign Country by way of Puni⟨shment⟩ for any Misdemeanors, seing that they are vested with other due Powers over them, su⟨ch⟩ as witholding their wages if they Refuse to ⟨do⟩ their duty on board & that of Confining them at the Sailors own expence) till the Vessell is ready for Sea, in cases where they absent themselves from the Vessell without leave. Such an arrangement would tend to preserve better ⟨d⟩iscipline in our Vessells—to prevent the injustice too often practised towards Sailors, & Save a great expence to the Publick which arises from Supplies given to Seamen left destitute, & unprotected in foreign Country’s, as they generally become so through the Means just referred to, & if (as ⟨here⟩tofore observed), the Masters are forbid from ⟨di⟩scharging or taking on board any Men in a ⟨fo⟩reign Port but under due Report thereof at ⟨the⟩ Consular office—the Consuls will have the opportunity of Seing that the Laws are obeyed, which shall among other things affix a Certain sum to be pay’d by the masters in favor of the Sailors if turned on Shore & to be recovered by the Consul. In short it would be ⟨we⟩ll that in most of the cases involving the ⟨c⟩onnections between the Masters of Vessells ⟨o⟩ur Consuls that what by the existing Laws is left to the option of the Masters Shoul⟨d be⟩ made a Positive Duty. In all other Cons⟨ular⟩ offices in Europe, but ours, every matter & thin⟨g⟩ Relative to Vessells, Masters, & Crews is exclud⟨ed⟩ under the controul & direction of the Consul⟨s⟩ by the Laws of their Respective Countries, a⟨ll⟩ Protests declarations & reports are duly ma⟨de⟩ there, & much to the advantage of the Concer⟨ned⟩ as every Matter is transacted at a much le⟨sser⟩ expence, to the Parties than thro’ the forms of the Country which in my opinion is the ⟨real⟩ & material object Contemplated by the instit⟨ution⟩ of Consular establishments in different places abroad. Also I observe a material def⟨ect⟩ in the Law Regulating the Merchants servi⟨ce⟩ that no Penalty is annexed for the failure on ⟨the⟩ Part of the Master of a Vessell of the Con⟨tract⟩ made with Sailors as to quantum of wages⟨or⟩ change of destination of the Ship &c wh⟨ich⟩ Justice seems to require. I find on Recurr⟨ing⟩ to the maritime Code of G: B: a Statute, Pas⟨sed⟩ in Reign of Geoe. III which Subjects the Master ⟨of⟩ a Vessell in the Merchants service, to a Penalty ⟨of⟩ 5 £ stg if he deviates from the due Performance of his Engagements with the Sailors, which they are apt to do. I have even known that sham or feigned Sales have been made of Vessells here in order to get rid of the Crews & take others at a cheaper rate. Owing to the ignorance of Sailors in general they are frequently imposed upon in Regard to the terms of the Contract they Sign, both as to the quantum of Wages they are to receive & the destination of the Vessell. I think therefore it would serve ⟨a⟩s a great Correction of this evil if Shipping houses ⟨were⟩ established in the several Ports of the U.S. where all Sailors should be shipped, discharged &c that it shall be the duty of the shipping master to explain to them clearly & explicitly the nature ⟨&⟩ conditions of the Contract they are to enter into which will save them from many Impositions. On the other hand let all advance wages be paid ⟨i⟩nto the hands of the Shipping master as trustee⟨w⟩ho shall for that Reason be responsible to the Captns. for the due forth coming of the Sailor according to Contract & this Regulation will tend ⟨to⟩ Correct the great Inconveniencies which often accrue to Captns. & Owners for the want of their Crews when Vessells are ready, for Sea. When Vessells are sold in a foreign Port the existing Law prescribes that an equivalen⟨t⟩ should be allowed the Sailors for obtaining passage to be regulated by the Consul’s opin⟨ion⟩ It would however be well that the Law should fix the Sum in Such Cases Say to ⟨the⟩ amount ⟨of⟩ One Mth wages in Summer & to the amount of ⟨8⟩ Months wages—from Septbr. to April—(as in winter Season the chance of finding an opport⟨unity⟩ to Return home is much lessened.) The Law ough⟨t⟩ also to decide what is to be done with th⟨e⟩ register when Vessells are sold to Citizens of the U. States in a foreign Port. Sei⟨ng⟩ that Bonds are given at the Custom houses in ⟨order⟩ for their Return, some mode might be Pointed ⟨out⟩ for transfering the Possession of the Register ⟨of⟩ the Purchaser if a Citizen of the U. States ⟨has⟩ a proof of which sent to the Customhouse ⟨it⟩ should serve to Cancell Said Bonds, but ⟨if⟩ Vessells are sold to foreigners it is Proper t⟨hat⟩ the Register should be immediately Returned ⟨to⟩ the Customhouse from whence it issued or [. . .] at the Consular Office under Duplicate rece⟨ipt⟩ there for which receipt Sent to the Customhouse in the U⟨S⟩ Might Serve also to Procure a Cancellment of the bonds.

I would Respectfully recommend the preceeding Remarks to Your Mature Consideration flattering myself that You will esteem them of Sufficient importance to be Presented for Legislative ⟨di⟩scussion during the ensuing Session of Congress. ⟨I⟩ doubt not that being Convinced that true oeconomy ⟨is⟩ Promoted by the due Independance of Publick ⟨o⟩fficers who are vested with an important Share of Judiciary Powers, You will be disposed to Combine ⟨in⟩ yr. Recommendations to Govt. on this Subject ⟨with⟩ some plan for granting our Consuls a more just equivalent for their Services than they now have either by way of fee on Vessells according to Tonnage, or Such other mode as may Comport with the Publick Interest & the Justice due to the officer. In this Confidence & with the highest Respect & Consideration I am Yr. Obedt. Servt.

Sylvanus Bourne

⟨P.⟩S. ⟨M⟩r. Murray, our Minister at the Hague, ⟨ha⟩s already adressed Yr. Predecessor ⟨re⟩commending the attention of Govt. to ⟨ma⟩ny Points Comprised in this letter.

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