James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Sylvanus Bourne, 1 November 1801

From Sylvanus Bourne, 1 November 1801

Consular Office of the United States, Amsterdam Novr. 1s. 1801.


I am just favored with the receipt of your Circular of August 1s. and shall pay due respect to the Contents.

Whatever may have been the practice in that regard in other Consular offices of the U.S. it is a Source to Satisfaction to me that no register or Sea letter has been issued from my office during the Eight Years I have Occupied it, nor any document whatever giving tittle to a Vessell except my Certificate that A. B. an American Citizen had duly made oath before me that the Property of such a Vessell was vested in him & in those Certifics. (of which I never gave more than 5 or 6) was incorporated the Bill of Sale description of the Vessell &c. conformably in a great measure to the idea held forth by your late instructions.

I have ever duly appretiated the Value to our Citizens of the Neutrality of our flag & Carefully avoided in the Course of my official duty every thing which could give the Semblance of American property to what was not really so; in the wrong of Amn Citizens & to the advantage of others: nor have ever passports or Certifics. of Citizenship been issued by me but on the most substantial & clear proofs of the fact deduced from some documents given under the Authority of the US or such other Evidence as was Completely Satisfactory.

In regard to many cases occurring in the course of our commercial affaires here I have long had rea⟨son⟩ to believe it would have been usefull to our Citizens h⟨ad⟩ the powers of our Consuls been more Specific & Extens⟨ive⟩ but as my Govt. has not been of the like opinion, ⟨I⟩ have not from a plea of necessity arrogated any powers or Rights beyond the Correct construction ⟨of⟩ the laws—sensible that the Evils arising from th⟨e⟩ defect could not be imputable to me while those resulting from an undue assumption would cl⟨ear⟩ly be so; from the responsibility attached to every public Station.

A Reference to my accounts adjusted on the file⟨s⟩ of the department of State will Shew that I hav⟨e⟩ not expended any monies on public acct. but for the relief of the distressed Seamen, & that these fo⟨r⟩ importance & magnitude of the post where I resid⟨ed⟩ have been very moderate; for excepting some Ca⟨ses⟩ of wrecks where I have been called to supply wh⟨ole⟩ crews at one my advances have rarely exceeded One hundred dollars Pr. annum. I have never r⟨e⟩fused to succour real distress but being well acq⟨uain⟩ted with the Character of Sailors have always t⟨ried⟩ to impress on their minds a conviction that wh⟨en⟩ able to procure work & in health to do it, they were not to expect any aid from me on public ⟨account⟩ and by this means I have succeeded to preserv⟨e⟩ a due medium between my duty to the publ⟨ic⟩ and the individual. I have not heretofore m⟨ade⟩ the reports of our trade here created by the Consular instructions, as I have not been able to come at the necessary documents from which I could form them with any due degree of Accuracy or Precision. The law has not made it the duty of Masters & Supercargoes to render such at the Consular office nor has their inclination in this case supplied the want of legal obligation. I could not obtain these documents from the public records here as a long established Custom founded upon the View of Keeping foreigners ignorant of all their Commercial transactions makes any access to the Custom house books of great delicacy to require & very difficult to procure. But as peace has now taken place a Law can be made to oblige Masters or Supercargoes to give in the necessary returns to the Consular office without subjecting property to that inconvenience which was said to arrise from such a declination in time of War. I therefore am led to hope that in this as many other points the laws of the US will make the powers of Consul Commensurate with the duties expected of them.

You may be persuaded Sir, that nothing shall be wanting that’s in my power, to give efficacy to the plan you have presented for relieving our Vessells from the effect of indiscriminate & vexatious Quarantines & I have with pleasure to note on this head that altho a too rigid Construction of duty or ignorance of the Relative position of the US on the part of the Subordinate officers of the ports may have caused some temporary inconven⟨ien⟩cies to our Navigation—Yet on Application to Govt. a prompt remedy has been found, and which has shewn on most occasions a friendly and Conciliatory disposition towards the trading Inte⟨rests⟩ of our Country; and this I have endeavored to cu⟨l⟩tivate by a proper acknowledgement thereof.

In my Communications to the depart of State in June last I noticed fully the Subject to w⟨hich⟩ you refer as to the improper discharge of Sailor⟨s in⟩ foreign ports & I doubt not from the tenor of ⟨the⟩ Circular & the Necessity of the Case, that this an⟨d⟩ many other matters in amelioration of our Cons⟨ular⟩ Establishment will be submitted to Legislativ⟨e⟩ discussion in the ensuing session of Congress, & ⟨it⟩ will remain for Govt. to decide on that future provision for the Support thereof which may ⟨in⟩ its wisdom be esteemed just & proper seeing ⟨that⟩ a State of peace by removing in a great deg⟨ree⟩ the necessity of Certificates from the Consular Of⟨fice⟩ brings the income down to a mere trifle.

Whatever may be the arrangements in reg⟨ard⟩ to this department I shall hope to preser⟨ve⟩ the Confidence of Govt. as Should be in many ⟨points⟩ of View distressed by loosing it. I have the honour to be with great Respect Your obed. Servt.

Sylvs. Bourne

NB The only source now of Consular fees here left—viz that of Drawback Certfts will be soon done away—when Am Citizens can longer be the carriers to Europe of West India Goods.

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