« PreviousContinue »
It is believed that this work will be found useful to persons seeking appointments as consular officers, in furnishing them with information requisite for the discharge of consular duties, as well as to those engaged in foreign com
To shipmasters, especially, much of the information which it contains is indispensable under the provisions of recent statutes. In the exercise of their arduous and responsible vocation, they have frequent occasion for the services and assistance of consular officers, which must be rendered in accordance with the laws of the United States and the instructions of the Department of State, with both of which, so far as they relate to their own duties, they should be fully acquainted.
WASHINGTON, December, 1856.
STATES CONSULAR SYSTEM.
The establishment of a consular system in the United States was nearly coeval with that of the general government. In the second annual address of President Washington to the first Congress, he informed that body that "the patronage of our commerce, of our merchants and seamen, called for the appointment of consuls in foreign countries; that it seemed expedient to regulate, by law, the exercise of that jurisdiction and those functions which are permitted either by express convention or by a friendly indulgence in the places of their residence.” It may be recollected that, prior to this period, consuls were not allowed salaries, nor permitted to demand fees or receive perquisites.
In each branch of Congress this recommendation of the President was referred to the appropriate committee, and consular bills were reported in accordance therewith. They failed, however, to become laws, the House having stricken out the whole of the Senate bill with the exception of the first section.
In the early part of the second Congress, substantially the same bill, probably drawn by Mr. Ellsworth, (afterwards Chief Justice,) was reported to the Senate by a committee to whom the recommendation of the President had been referred ; and, subsequently, after the adoption of several amendments, it passed both branches of Congress unanimously, and became, on the 14th of April, 1792, a law of the land.
This law defined the duties of consular officers under the consular convention which had been recently negotiated with France, and likewise respecting the estates of deceased American citizens, stranded vessels, protests and declarations, consular fees and bonds, destitute seamen, and, in certain cases, masters of vessels. It also fixed the salaries of consuls in the Barbary States. With the exception of those portions of the law relating to the convention with France, which expired July 7, 1798, and to consular fees and salaries, and the duties of masters of American vessels towards discharged seamen in certain cases, the act remains at the present day, more than sixty years subsequent to its enactment, in full force and effect; a striking proof of the wisdom and foresight of its framers, among whom may be mentioned the names of Ellsworth, Morris, King, Monroe, Burt, Schuyler, Langdon, Gerry, Cabot, Boudinot, Huntington, and Wadsworth.
An act, supplementary to that act, concerning consuls and vice consuls, and for the further protection of American seamen, which passed both branches of Congress without a division, received, on the 28th of February, 1803, the approval of the President. It made provision for the delivery of crew lists to the collectors of customs by the masters of American vessels bound on foreign voyages; required bonds to be given by such masters for the return of the seamen named in the crew lists, unless they died or were discharged abroad; the deposit of ships' papers with American consuls; the discharge of seamen; the payment of three months' extra wages in certain cases; the relief and transportation to the United States of destitute seamen ; the payment of consular fees; the authentication by consuls of the transfer of United States stock; and penalties for the issue of false certificates and passports. With the exception of what relates to consular fees, the whole of this law now remains unrepealed on the statute book.
Some of the provisions of this act were suggested by President John Adams, in his second annual address to Congress. He stated that the provisions of the act of 1792 for the support of seamen in foreign countries and for their return to the United States, were found inadequate and ineffectual; he also recommended that consuls be authorized to demand for inspection the registers and sea letters of American vessels, it having been discovered that foreign vessels were sailing under the flag of the United States and with forged papers.
From this period till the year 1855, with the exception of the act of July 20, 1840, regulating the shipment and discharge of seamen and the duties of consuls, scarcely any change was made in the laws affecting the consular system.
President Jackson, in his third annual message, recommended a revision of the consular laws for the purpose of supplying defects and omissions which had been discovered in their operation. Reference was also made therein to an able report on the subject submitted by Mr. Livingston, at that time Secretary of State, in which he referred to the general provisions of the law of 1792, forming then, as at the present time, the ground-work of the consular system of the United States, and to the undefined powers given by the ninth section of the act of 1803, which provides that “the specification of certain powers and duties to be performed by consuls and vice consuls shall not be construed to the exclusion of others resulting from the nature of their appointments, or any treaty or convention under which they may act.” No instructions having been given either by the legislative or executive department to define the powers, or to prescribe the compensation to be given for the exercise of the duties thus indefinitely alluded to, consuls were left to the exercise of their own judgment in regard to their official duties, and to the compensation, except in a few cases, to be given for official acts. It was stated that a more precise designation of the consular duties was of the first necessity, and if the system of compensation by fees should be continued, there was needed a more specific table of the fees which ought to be charged for consular services. So
as the power of the department extended, an attempt had been made to obviate the former difficulty by circular instructions to consuls and commercial agents, which were submitted to the consideration of Congress; but legislative aid was thought to be necessary to extend the consular powers where they were deemed inadequate, or to restrict them where they were supposed to be too unlimited. The abolition of consular fees was strongly recommended, because their exaction was a fruitful source of misunderstanding between American consuls and the masters of vessels, injurious to the reputation of the country, and degrading to the consular officer ; they were stated to be unequal in their operation and oppressive to commerce. The opinion was expressed that consular officers, like all others, should be compensated by adequate salaries, and be prevented from engaging in commerce. These provisions, Mr. Livingston remarked, ought to be accompanied by positive enactments prohibiting consuls from having any interest in commercial matters, defining clearly the limitations of official duties, and imposing heavy penalties for neglecting them ; in which case it was supposed the consular offices might be filled, as they should be, by men of talent, education, and respectability of character, who should be the protectors, not the rivals, of American merchants, and would command the respect of the functionaries of the ports in which they were to reside, do honor to the national character, and devote their whole time to the duties of their respective consulates. The Secretary suggested, that, by a proper distribution of the one hundred and fifty-six consulates or commercial agencies then in existence, thirty consular officers should receive an average salary of $2,000 each, and the remaining one hundred and twenty-six each a salary of $1,000-making the total expense of the consular system $186,000. This amount was estimated as necessary for the support of the consular establishment, at that time, with the expectation that it would be increased as additional consulates should be created to meet the growing demands of commerce. It was not supposed that this expense would be considered extravagant, since not only the respectability of the government and the security of its citizens abroad would be promoted, but the commerce of the United States, from which nearly the whole revenue of the country is derived, would thereby be protected and extended. Notwithstanding the report of Mr. Livingston received the executive sanction, and commended itself to the judgment of all men practically acquainted with the subject, no amendment of the consular system was made prior to the passage of the statute of July 20, 1840, to which reference has been made, regulating the shipment and discharge of seamen.