Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 26 November 1791

To John Adams

Philadelphia Nov. 26. 1791.


Supposing that the first Consular convention agreed on with France, and not ratified by Congress, may explain as well as account for some articles in that which was last agreed on and ratified, I take the liberty of inclosing, for the members of the Senate, copies of the two conventions as they were printed side by side, to shew where they differed. These differences are not as great as were to be wished, but they were all which could be obtained. I have the honour to be with the most profound respect and esteem, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “The Vice-president of the U.S. Presidt. of the Senate.” FC (DNA: RG 360, DL).

At this time the Senate was considering passage of two closely related bills. The first, which had already been approved by the House of Representatives in March 1791, concerned the role of various federal officials in enforcing the terms of the consular convention negotiated by TJ with the government of France in 1788 and ratified by the Senate in the following year, and the second, which had been passed by the House as early as July 1790, dealt with the organization of the American consular service. Three days after TJ wrote this letter to the Vice-President, the Senate, having combined the two bills into one, passed the revised legislation and sent it to the House for approval. At length on 14 Apr. 1792 Washington approved a version of this bill which contained a number of amendments that were made by the House and accepted by the Senate, the most notable of which were the designation of Louis xvi as “King of the French” instead of “his Most Christian Majesty” and the deletion of a clause that would have enabled American consular officials to own ships or vessels “and be entitled to all the privileges and advantages in regard to such ships or vessels, as if such consuls or vice consuls, owning said ships or vessels, actually resided within the United States, any law to the contrary notwithstanding” (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, Gales, 1820–1821, 5 vols. description ends , i, 187, 189, 194, 231, 232, 236, 311, 340, 341, 343–5, 424–6; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials by Joseph Gales, Senior, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1834–1856, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The edition cited here has this caption on both recto and verso pages: “History of Congress.” Another printing, with the same titlepage, has “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. Those using the latter printing will need to employ the date or, where it is lacking, to add approximately 52 to the page numbers of Annals as cited in this volume. description ends , iii, 1360–3). TJ’s letter to Adams was almost certainly designed to hasten the passage of the two consular bills then before the Senate, a goal he had been striving to achieve for almost a year (see TJ’s draft of items for the President’s message to Congress, 29 Nov. 1790).

A text of the unratified 1784 consular convention between France and the United States is in JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937, 34 vols. description ends , xxxi, 725–35. The texts of the consular agreement TJ concluded with France are printed as Documents xv and xvi in group of documents on the Consular Convention of 1788, under 14 Nov. 1788.

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