Thomas Jefferson Papers

Circular to Consuls and Vice-Consuls, 13 May 1791

Circular to Consuls and Vice-Consuls

Philadelphia May 13th. 1791.


You will readily conceive that the union of Domestic with the Foreign affairs under the Department of State, brings on the head of this Department such incessant calls, not admitting delay, as oblige him to postpone whatever will bear postponing; hence, though it is important that I should continue to receive from time to time regular information from you of whatever occurs within your notice interesting to the United States, yet it is not in my power to acknowledge the receipt of your letters regularly as they come. I mention this circumstance that you may ascribe the delay of acknowledgment to the real cause, and that it may not produce any relaxation on your part in making all those communications which it is important should be received, and which govern our proceedings, though it is not in my power to note it to you specially.

I had hoped that Congress at their last Session would have passed a bill for regulating the functions of Consuls. Such an one was before them; but there being a considerable difference of opinion as to some of it’s parts, it was finally lost by the shortness of the Session, which the Constitution had limited to the 3d. of March. It will be taken up again at the ensuing Session of October next; in the mean time you will be pleased to govern yourself by the instructions already given.

In general our affairs are proceeding in a train of unparalleled prosperity. This arises from the real improvements of our Government, from the unbounded confidence reposed in it by the people, their zeal to support it, and their conviction that a solid union is the best rock of their safety, from the favorable seasons which for some years past have co-operated with a fertile soil and genial climate to increase the productions of agriculture, and from the growth of industry, economy and domestic manufactures. So that I believe I may say with truth that there is not a Nation under the sun enjoying more present prosperity, nor with more in prospect.

The Indians on our frontier indeed, still continue to cut off straggling individuals or families falling in their way. An expedition against them the last summer was less successful than there was reason to expect: we lost in it about 100 men. The operations of the present summer will more probably bring them to peace, which is all we desire of them, it having been a leading object of our present Government to guaranty them in their present possessions, and to protect their persons with the same fidelity which is extended to it’s own Citizens: we ask nothing of them but that they will accept our peace, friendship and services; and we hope soon to make them sensible of this, in spite of the incitements against us which they have been so much the dupes of. This is the general state of our affairs at present, as faithfully as I am able to to give it.—I am with great esteem Sir Your most obedient and Most Humble Servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Mrs. Laussat R. Rogers, New Castle, Del., 1962); in Taylor’s hand; at foot of text: “James Yard Esqr.” PrC (DLC); in clerk’s hand, unsigned; at foot of text: “Nathaniel Barrett, Edward Church, Ebenezer Brush, John Street, James Yard” (the five to whom the circular was sent in the form given above). FC (DNA: RG 59, DCI); at head of text: “(Circular) To the Consuls and Vice Consuls of the United States”; at the foot of text are listed the foregoing five persons, together with the names and locations of ten consuls and vice consuls to whom the circular was sent as above with additions as given below (additions described as postscripts in FC but, as indicated by some surviving recipients’ copies, incorporated in the body of the letter immediately following the text of the circular):

(1) To Sylvanus Bourne, consul at Hispaniola: “Having received no letter from you since Novr. 30. I presume you are at the place of your residence. Particular reasons render it improper to press a formal acknowledgement of our Consuls in the French Colonies; for this purpose we must wait till circumstances shall render it less inconvenient to their government: in the mean time as to everything essential the same attention will be paid to yourself, your representations, and applications as if you were formally acknowledged. I am to recommend to you in the strongest terms not to intermeddle in the least by word or deed in the internal disputes of the Colony, or those with the Mother Country. Consider this as a family affair with which we have neither the right nor the wish to intermeddle. We shall expect however narratives of them from time to time” (in addition to FC, from which this and following addenda are taken, these texts of the circular to Bourne exist: RC in CtY, in Remsen’s hand except for signature; Dupl in NjP, in Taylor’s hand except for signature; PrC in Remsen’s hand in DLC).

(2) To Fulwar Skipwith, consul at Martinique: this addendum is the same as that to Bourne, preceding, except for this initial sentence: “Your favors of August 30, September 18. October 10. and February 10. have been duly received” (RC in CtY, in Taylor’s hand except for signature; PrC in DLC, unsigned).

(3) To Joseph Fenwick, consul at Bordeaux: “Your favors of November 4. 6. December 8. and January 15. have been received and their contents duly noted” (PrC in Taylor’s hand in DLC).

(4) To James Maury, consul at Liverpool: “Your favors of November 1. 6. 20. and March 2. are received and their contents duly noted. I shall not be able to communicate to you the ultimate form for your returns, till I receive the observations of the other Consuls. In the mean time, if the owners of the cargo in and out cannot be known readily, we must be contented with the names of the Consignee and exporter, though the former would be preferable” (PrC in Taylor’s hand in DLC).

(5) To William Knox, consul at Dublin: “After acknowledging the receipt of your favor of November 26. I have only to add assurances of the esteem with which I am &c.” (PrC in clerk’s hand in DLC).

(6) To John M. Pintard, consul at Madeira: “Your favors of November 26. January 23. February 10. and 11. are received and their contents duly noted. The matter suggested in the first of these and also in the last will depend on the Consular bill to be past. I am happy to learn the manifestations of the friendship of the Portuguese Government towards us which you mention: they may certainly count on corresponding dispositions on our part” (PrC in Remsen’s hand in DLC).

(7) To Joshua Johnson, consul at London: “Your favors of November 2. 3. 5. 15. 30. February 25. and 26. have been received, and their contents duly noted. The want of coercive powers over American masters and mariners therein truly stated must await the passage of the bill before mentioned, and your jurisdiction over them till then, be considered as merely voluntary. For the same bill also must wait that part of your account which relates to the expenses attending the recognition of your Commission, its publication &c. being £10. 8, no law as yet passed having provided for the reimbursement of these charges; and as the reimbursement in your case would form a precedent for all others, and that too, in countries where their extent is unknown, it must be suspended till determined by the Consular bill. Having found it impracticable to obtain a bill of exchange for so small a sum as £3.6.7 sterling, the amount of the residue of the account, I have given the money to Mr. Russell, the bearer hereof for you” (RC in DNA: RG 59, CD, in Remsen’s hand, except for signature; endorsed as received 29 June and as answered 10 Aug. 1791; PrC in DLC, unsigned).

(8) To Stephen Cathalan, vice-consul at Marseilles: “Your favors of September 1. 25. and January 22. 26. are received and their contents duly noted.—The olive plants by Mr. Guide have arrived at Baltimore. I pray you to send as early as you can the ensuing fall as many more as will make the cost of the whole amount to what I at first desired, observing the directions already given for your reimbursement and their destination and address” (PrC in Remsen’s hand in DLC).

(9) To Delamotte, vice-consul at Le Havre: “Your favors of July 15. August 22. 27. September 13. 22. October 28. November 20. 21. have been received and their contents noted. With respect to your disbursements for Benjamin Huls, an American sailor, be so good as to lay the account before Mr. Short who is authorized to reimburse them” (PrC in Taylor’s hand in DLC).

(10) To Thomas Auldjo, vice-consul for Poole: “Your favors of October 5. 28. November 4. 7. and 23. have been received and their contents duly noted” (PrC in Taylor’s hand in DLC).

In addition to the foregoing, the circular was sent to C.W.F. Dumas, agent at The Hague, with the following addendum: “I am to acknowledge the receipt of your favors of April 2. May 8. 17. 26. July 10. 14. September 7. 30. October 19. November 23. December 6. and 11. I now receive the Leyden gazette with great regularity by the British packet, and thank you for your attention to this with a request that it may be continued.—There is no doubt it would be desireable for us to receive our intelligence from Europe through a channel of our own, but the expence of an establishment of packet-boats would be beyond the value of the object for us, considering that our connection with Europe is less political than commercial, and that information of the latter kind may come safely through any channel. In fact if we attend to the whole amount of our civil list, we shall find that the expence of packetboats would make a very sensible addition to it. The idea therefore, though good, must be suspended yet awhile.—Accept my thanks on the part of Government for the copy of Rymer you have been so good as to send us, and which is duly received, and be assured of the sincere esteem and attachment with which I have the honor to be, Sir Your most obedient & most humble Servant” (RC in DLC, in Remsen’s hand except for signature; FC in Taylor’s hand in DNA: RG 59, DCI).

TJ’s report of the unbounded confidence of the people in the government, like the similar expressions in his letter to Vaughan written two days earlier, concealed his own concerns and the deep sectional and political divisions which posed genuine dangers to national cohesiveness. Here, on a wider scale, he was using the consular establishment to portray conditions which revealed his hopes rather than reality and to spread these optimistic hopes abroad. At least one member of the consular body acted in accord with the unexpressed intent and caused this part of the instructions to be published (see Delamotte to TJ, 25 July 1791).

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