Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Clinton, 10 August 1793

From Robert Clinton

St. Eustatius, 10 Aug. 1793. Clarkson having deputed him to act as consul during the President’s pleasure, and his absence, and several American citizens having applied to him for consular acts, he has thought it prudent, because of the interim governor’s refusal to recognize Clarkson as consul or to look at Clarkson’s deputation, to evince a respect for the laws of Holland and guard against suits by disappointed applicants by obtaining the enclosed opinion of an eminent Dutch lawyer and former fiscal affirming the propriety of his exercising his consular office as far as it relates to facilitating the business of American citizens with the United States and with each other. He also encloses a copy of the certificate that in a few instances he has issued at the request of masters of American vessels who have taken on freight here for Europe and have not had an opportunity to apply for sea passes in the United States since the maritime war began, and of another that, in order to ensure their safe navigation, he has issued to American vessels with proper sea passes that have discharged their cargoes and loaded West Indian produce for Europe not mentioned in those passes. 14 Aug. Since writing the above he granted the application of Captain Frederick William Callahan of the brigantine Julius Pringle of Charleston for the second kind of certificate, affixing it with his seal to Callahan’s pass. Interim governor Joannes Runnels removed the certificate from the pass, summoned and then rebuked him “in Language of Gross abuse and invective” for acting as consul, ordered him in the presence of his second in command, Jacobus DeWindt, not to do so in any way, declared that he would prosecute him for having received the oaths of American citizens relating to their affairs and granted them certificates, and detained as evidence against him his certificate to Callahan. The brigantine left without the certificate, and on the 12th he refused to comply with a subaltern militia officer’s summons to do duty as a private.

RC (DNA: RG 59, CD); 3 p.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Clinton; at foot of text: “The Honourable Secretary of State for the United States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Dec. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Certificate for masters of American ships lacking passports from the United States (printed form in same; in English and French). (2) Certificate for masters of ships with passports (Tr in same). (3) Clinton to J. L. Ter Hoeven, 19 July 1793, stating that Governor Runnels had not recognized David M. Clarkson’s consular commission from the President or Clinton’s deputy consular commission from Clarkson, that Runnels had not expressly prohibited the exercise of consular functions with respect to Americans, and that several Americans had applied for the performance of consular acts to fulfill American laws and treaties and safeguard their navigation and fortunes, offering to depose under oath as to the facts relating to these acts; and asking whether therefore it would be a violation of Dutch laws for him to perform those parts of his consular office required by American law and to administer oaths to Americans in St. Eustatius (Tr in same; signed by Clinton). (4) Opinion of Ter Hoeven, 22 July 1793, stating that without violating Dutch laws Clinton could perform such parts of his office as passing acts and administering oaths, but only for American citizens voluntarily requesting them; that these acts and oaths could not be used as evidence in St. Eustatius or any other Dutch country as long as the consul was not acknowledged by the rulers of this place and his functions were regulated by Article 21 of the 1782 commercial treaty between the Netherlands and the United States; and that upon request by the United States, the States General could from the plenitude of its power declare all acts and oaths before the consul to be good from the beginning of his appointment (Tr in same; at head of text: “Translation of the Opinion as approved by Mr. Terhoeven”).

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