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To Thomas Jefferson from David Humphreys, 3 May 1791

From David Humphreys

Mafra, Portugal, 3 May 1791. Acknowledging receipt by express from Bulkeley of TJ’s of 15 Mch.—As minister, “I can only rely on my own zeal and the candour of those … concerned in administring the Government of my Country: and … it is a peculiar felicity that my communications are to be made through an Office entrusted to a Person from whose Instruction and Indulgence, I know, I have every thing to hope.” He will present letter of credence without lost time. The articles in TJ’s letter “will meet with due attention.” He forwards English papers, brought by messenger who left Lisbon at one o’clock this morning. By him he received Dohrman’s letter, this moment answered: copies of both enclosed, as well as list of arrivals sent by Harrison. He encloses duplicate of his last. “I am extremely obliged by your attention in sending me a complete set of the Laws, together with the entire series of the Gazette of the United States. Scarcely any thing could have been more useful—nothing more acceptable.” P.S. He will write in a few days to TJ and Lear. Moderation of demands of Empress of Russia shown in rescript in one of the papers.

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); at head of text: “(No. 18)”; endorsed by TJ as received 22 June 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (same). Enclosures: (1) Jacob Dohrman to Humphreys, congratulating him on his appointment as minister and recommending vice-consuls who had served the United States, particularly Samuel Harrison (Dohrman to Humphreys, Lisbon, 2 May 1791; Tr in French). (2) Humphreys to Dohrman, acknowledging the foregoing, requesting that consulate business be conducted by same persons until he receives further instructions from the Secretary of State, and adding: “it is incompatible with the System adopted by the Supreme Executive to name any Foreigners as Consuls General. … The Secretary of State has only informed me, ‘we shall name a Consul for the Port of Lisbon as soon as a proper Native shall occur.’—The distinguished services of your brother have been acknowledged by the American Government: those of yourself (since his departure for America) are not, I trust, unknown there.—I am returning to Lisbon; and desire you will do me the favor of dining with me on Sunday next at Williams’s Hotel. I have also to desire you will invite Mr. Harrison and all the Captains of the Vessels from America” (Humphreys to Dohrman, Mafra, 3 May 1791). (3) Harrison’s undated list of American vessels and cargoes in Lisbon: Laurel, James Wharton (wheat); Betsey, James Eagleston (flour for Bilboa); Two Brothers, John Hall (wheat), all from Philadelphia; Venus, Caleb Green, and Good Hope, John Burke, both from Alexandria and both laden with corn. One vessel had arrived the night before for which Harrison had no information (Trs of all three enclosures in Humphreys’ hand in DNA: RG 59, DD; FCs of all in same).

Neither Humphreys’ letter nor its enclosures conveyed his real views on consular appointments. As many another diplomat who enjoyed close personal relations with an incumbent President has done since, Humphreys in this and other instances expressed himself more freely to the Chief Executive than to the Secretary of State. A few days later, in a letter marked secret, he wrote Washington about consular appointments in Spain lest his letters to the Secretary of State “should have been so inexplicit as to leave your mind in doubt respecting the merits or pretensions of those persons.” He professed to be disinterested in the decision and only desirous of removing “embarrassments” from Washington’s mind. The Dohrmans, he thought, might be considered because of their services during and after the war. Though Jacob Dohrman did not seem to expect an appointment, he earnestly wished Harrison to be made vice-consul until a native American could be named, being anxious himself to have a share in the consignment business. Humphreys pointed out that Harrison had done all of the consulate business in Lisbon for some years and, on the basis of personal knowledge, he believed him “active, faithful, and intelligent in business and worthy of a vice-consular appointment until an American could be named consul”—which, he added pointedly, “will now, of course, be the case unless orders may be received to the contrary.” Then he revealed his real preference: “Mr. John Bulkeley is my very good friend. He has taken uncommon pains to shew civilities to me, and continues to do the same. On every occasion evincing his politeness, hospitality and disposition to serve me. He is one of the wealthiest Merchants of the Factory, and a man well versed in business. I understand he has applied for the American Consulship. Indeed, he has intimated the same to me, and produced to my view a letter from Mr. Thomas Russel of Boston in answer to one from himself on the subject. Mr. Bulkeley has made a principal part of his fortune in the American Trade; and from a desire of extending his connections in it, has doubtless been useful to other Americans as well as to me: I conceive him to be a good Englishman and a true Merchant, in heart.—In time of the war, he conducted in general prudently: not, however (as I have understood) without being concerned in an English Privateer.” In conclusion, Humphreys protested his disinterestedness perhaps a bit too much: “Truth, and the interest of the Republic are my only objects. I write at the desire of no Person, nor with the knowledge of any one.—For I can have no possible interest in the matter, nor the remotest byas to an option, distinct from what may comport with the public weal” (Humphreys to Washington, “Secret,” 12 May 1791; RC in DLC: Washington Papers).

John Bulkeley was indeed a good friend of Humphreys and some years later became his father-in-law. He was a member of a prominent New England family who had remained loyal during the Revolution, but Humphreys clearly thought that as a native born American there was no legal bar to his being made consul and that, as with many others, his disaffection to the patriot cause did not disqualify him for office. Bulkeley had in fact applied for the post, and his candidacy had been supported by influential Congressmen and merchants. TJ thought him a man of good character and later placed orders for wine with his firm. But, knowing that he had sided with the British in the Revolution, he had already advised Washington that “his birth and sentiments seem to set him aside.” In acknowledging Humphreys’ letters on the subject, neither TJ nor Washington commented upon his observations and recommendations concerning consular appointments. After all, matters of patronage lay beyond the province of a diplomat. The post at Lisbon was first offered to Stephen Moylan of New Jersey and finally, in 1792, given to Edward Church of Georgia, who in 1790 had been appointed consul at Bilbao but had not been received. Robert Morris and the mercantile communities of Philadelphia and New York had also failed to get their candidate appointed (see Editorial Note on consular problems, Vol. 19: 308–13 and Documents i and iii; TJ’s undated memorandum on consular commissions, DLC: TJ Papers, f. 11903; Church’s Commission, 5 May 1792, DNA: RG 59, CC; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, 1828 description ends , i, 121; TJ to Humphreys, 13 July 1791; Washington to Humphreys, 20 July 1791, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 31721).

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