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Draft of Thomas Jefferson Circular, Addressing Duties of Consuls & Vice-Consuls
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In this letter, Thomas Jefferson provides initial and basic instructions to the consuls and vice-consuls of the United States in European and Caribbean ports. It focuses primarily on the logistics of monitoring and reporting the presence of American vessels in the ports under their authority and on other “political and commercial intelligence as you may think interesting to the United States.” It authorizes consuls and vice-consuls to wear the uniform of the U.S. Navy if they choose to do so and provides details on the features of the uniform. Finally, Jefferson offers advice on maintaining good relationships with the governing authorities. He urges the consuls to avoid minor quarrels and to use the utmost respect in communications with governing officials, “never indulging in any case whatever a single expression which may irritate.”

[THOMAS JEFFERSON]. Letter, to Consuls and Vice-Consuls, August 26, 1790, New York. Draft or copy in the hand of a clerk. 2 pp., 7¾ x 9¼ in.

Inventory #25721       Price: $3,500

Complete Transcript

                                                                        New York August 26, 1790.

I expected ere this to have been able to send you an act of Congress prescribing some special duties and regulations for the exercise of the consular offices of the United States, but Congress not having been able to mature the act sufficiently, it lies over to their next Session. In the mean while I beg leave to draw your attention to some matters of information which it is interesting to receive.

I must beg the favor of you to communicate to me every six months, a report of the vessels of the United States which enter at the ports of your district, specifying the name and burthen of each vessel, of what description she is (to wit, Ship, Snow,[1] Brig &c) the names of the master and owners, and number of seamen, the Port of the United States from which she cleared, places touched at, her cargo outward and inward, and the owners thereof, the port to which she is bound, & times of arrival and departure, the whole arranged in a table under different columns, and the reports closing on the last days of June & Decr.

We wish you to use your endeavors that no vessel enter as an American in the Ports of your district which shall not be truly such, and that none be sold under that name which are not really of the United States.

That you give to me from time to time information of all military preparations, and other indications of war which may take place in your ports; and when a war shall appear imminent, that  you notify thereof the merchants and vessels of the United States within your district, that they may be duly on their guard: and in general <2> that you communicate to me such political and commercial intelligence as you may think interesting to the United States.

The Consuls & vice-Consuls of the United States are free to wear the uniform of their Navy, if they chuse to do so. This is a deep blue coat with red facings, lining and cuffs, the cuffs slashed, and a standing collar; a red waistcoat (laced or not at the election of the wearer) and blue breeches; yellow buttons with a foul anchor, and black cockades and small swords.

Be pleased to observe that the vice-Consul of one district is not at all subordinate to the Consul of another. They are equally independent of each other.[2]

It is understood that Consuls and vice-Consuls have authority of course to appoint their own agents in the several ports of their district, and that it is with themselves alone those agents are to correspond.

It will be best not to fatigue the Government in which you reside, or those in authority under it, with applications in unimportant cases. Husband their good dispositions for occasions of some moment, and let all representations to them be couched in the most temperate & friendly terms, never indulging in any case whatever a single expression which may irritate.

                                                                        I have the honor to be &c

Historical Background
As Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for the consular service of the United States. In 1790, the United States had eleven consuls (American citizens at foreign ports) and five vice-consuls (foreign citizens who represented American interests at foreign ports). The consuls were Joseph Fenwick at Bordeaux, France; Burrill Carnes at Nantes, France; Nathaniel Barrett at Rouen, France; Sylvanus Bourne at Island of Hispaniola (Spanish and French colonies); Fulwar Skipwith at Martinique (French colony); James Maury at Liverpool, England; William Knox at Dublin, Ireland; Edward Church at Bilbao, Spain; John Marsden Pintard at Madeira Island, Portugal; Joshua Johnson at London, England; and Ebenezer Brush at Surinam (Dutch colony). Vice-consuls included F. C. A. Delamotte (French) at Havre de Grace, France; Etienne Cathalan the younger (French) at Marseilles, France; Thomas Auldjo (English) at Cowes, Isle of Wight, England (later Poole, England); John Parish (Scottish) at the Free German City of Hamburg; and John Street (French) at Fayal, Azore Islands, Portugal.

Congress did not pass An Act concerning Consuls and Vice-Consuls until April 1792. It provided more detailed instructions for consuls and vice-consuls and authorized the President to appoint additional consuls on the Barbary coast of northern Africa. On May 31, 1792, Jefferson sent a circular letter to the consuls and vice-consuls, enclosing a copy of the laws passed by Congress and drawing attention to this act.

Condition: Folds, very minor marginal wear, else in stunning condition.

[1]In sailing, a “snow” is a square-rigged vessel with two masts, together with a snow- or trysail-mast immediately behind the main mast.

[2]The circular addressed to vice-consuls had an additional paragraph following this one that read: “The ground of distinction between these two officers is this. Our Government thinks that whatever there may be either of honor or profit resulting from the Consular office, native Citizens are first entitled, where such of proper character will undertake the duties; but where none such offer, a Vice-Consul is appointed of any other Nation. Should a proper native come forward at any future time, he will be named Consul, but this nomination will not revoke the Commission of the Vice-Consul: it will only suspend his functions during the continuance of the Consul within the limits of his jurisdiction, and on his departure therefrom, it is meant that the Vice-Consular authority shall revive of course without the necessity of a re-appointment.”

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