George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Edmund Randolph, 3 May 1795

To Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia 3d of May 1795

Sir,

I have given the correspondence between you and Mr Van Berckel respecting the suspension of the Dutch Consul Heineken, and the request to have ⟨his⟩ exequatur withdrawn, my consideration.1

The papers are returned, with a repetition of my desire, expressed to you yesterday⟨, that the au⟩thorities may be consulted ⟨illegible⟩ to ascertain how far usage & pract⟨ice of⟩ the law of nations, give controul to ministers in foreign countries over the consuls of their respective nations, particularly the power of suspending them in the exercise of their functions.

On this ground, or on specific authority from the government of his Country, the Resident must have acted; or, he has acted without any. After examining into the first; and then the second, if the first does not support the proceeding, I shall therefore be better prepared to form my opinion of the measure than I am at present. In the meantime I request that the Attorney General’s opinion may be obtained on the case as stated, having2 this letter also before him.3

Go. Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State.

1For the initial correspondence between Franco Petrus Van Berckel and Randolph, see the secretary’s letters to GW of 22 April, and n.1, and 24 April, and n.5.

Subsequent exchanges included Van Berckel’s reply of 22 April, which referred back to his letter to Randolph the day before, and the secretary’s visit on 20 April (see Randolph to GW, 5 May, n.1). The minister noted that he spoke to the secretary without reserve, but in return received a response similar to an interrogation than a discussion. He also protested Randolph’s failure to provide a written answer, as was customary between them. Van Berckel then brought up the 1793 case of French vice-consul Antoine Charbonnet Duplaine. He reminded Randolph that the U.S. government had already established a precedent to annul a consul’s commission when it complained about his conduct, thus forcing the French minister to displace him. A consul’s commission originated from his sovereign, Van Berckel insisted, but only the exequator received from the government under whose jurisdiction he resided truly activated that commission (DNA: RG 59, Notes from the Netherlands Legation).

On 23 April, Randolph informed the Dutch minister that the United States followed the practice of most governments to hold “informal conversations with foreign ministers,” for concerns “appertaining to them, which seemed to require explanation.” Randolph had conversed with the minister on Monday, 20 April. But, he cautioned, “it gave no ground for the expectation of a definitive answer immediately from me; nor any assurance, that a detailed discussion would, as yet at least, be entered into by me. From the determination to wait the pleasure of the President, I cannot, Sir, recede” (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters). Van Berckel’s reply two days later accused Randolph of intentional delaying tactics (DNA: RG 59, Notes from the Netherlands Legation).

2Here the letter-book copy has “laying.”

3On this date Randolph informed Van Berckel of GW’s decision to solicit the opinion of the U.S. attorney general on the matter (DNA: RG 59, Notes from the Netherlands Legation). William Bradford’s opinion has not been identified.

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