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Consular service, the

It is beyond a doubt that the movement in favor of reform in the consular service has of late made noticeable strides in this country. People are beginning to realize that the present system of appointments and removals for political reasons is very prejudical to our commercial interests, especially when those of other countries are in the hands of consuls whose careful training and long experience give them every advantage over ours, and at a time when competition is so keen for trade in all parts of the world.

In Great Britain, Germany, France, and Austria, in particular, systematic efforts have been in progress for several years for the making of competent consular and commercial agents. A feature of this movement is the establishment of commercial schools usually supported (1) by the national government, (2) by municipal authorities, and (3) by large commercial organizations, such as chambers of commerce and boards of trade. Graduates are given the preference of employment over other applicants by the firms represented in the commercial bodies, and also constitute a body of young and specially trained men from which the national government makes selections for the minor commercial offices. Admitted to the consular and commercial bureaus, the future of the graduate becomes a matter of personal assiduity and business development. The student in these schools is reasonably sure on graduation of receiving an appointment to a first-class business house or to the consular or commercial service of the country.

In the United States a beginning has been made on similar lines. In several universities, notably Columbia, Chicago, and Michigan, there have been established either schools of commerce or lectureships on commercial practice, in several instances, as in Columbia and Chicago, under the direct inspiration and support of local commercial bodies. There is no guarantee, however, that the national government will seek among the graduate bodies candidates for even its minor consular and commercial offices.

Two views of the condition of the American consular service and of the great business need for reform therein are here presented, both by officials of large experience and of reputation commanding serious attention.


Henry White, Secretary of embassy at London.

We send out consuls, many of whom are not only ignorant of foreign languages, but often of everything which such officials should know; and in order to do this we remove others just as they are beginning to acquire the knowledge and experience indispensable to the position. The result is that the consular service of the United States is a very costly training-school, from which the country derives little or no benefit.

I refer to the system and not to individuals—certainly not to the efficient consuls whom r have known, especially in Great Britain. We usually send, however, men of ability and good standing to that country, where in any case their efficiency cannot be impaired by ignorance of the language.

The urgency for consular reform has of late been frequently brought to the attention of the public by a series of interesting magazine articles, each of which was extensively, and with very few exceptions [351] favorably, commented upon by newspapers of both parties throughout the country. A forcible address was also delivered on the subject to the National Board of Trade by Hon. Theodore Roosevelt; and more recently Admiral Erben, whose opportunities nave been frequent of observing the sorry figure often cut by our consuls in comparison with those of other countries, has expressed himself as strongly in favor of this reform, which is advocated by the National Board of Trade and other commercial bodies.

Between March 4 and Dec. 31, 1893, thirty out of thirty-five consuls-general and 133 out of 183 first-class consuls and commercial agents were changed, the numbers in the British Empire alone being seven consuls-general (the entire number), and sixty-two out of eighty-eight consuls and commercial agents. In Great Britain and Ireland the consul-general and eighteen consuls and commercial agents out of a total of twenty-four were changed, Manchester being the only first-class consulate omitted from this clean sweep.

It is impossible to suppose that such an upheaval was intended to benefit the consular service, or that it could have been otherwise than exceedingly detrimental to its efficiency. Nor is it a matter for surprise, when the numerous removals which have taken place afterwards are added to the above figures, that most people should agree with Mr. Theodore Roosevelt in the opinion that the present system is “undoubtedly directly responsible for immense damages to our trade and commercial relations, and costs our mercantile classes hundreds of thousands —in all probability, many millions—of dollars every year.”

It is not my intention, however, to make out a “case” against the administration.

My object is (1) to show that the system under which it is possible for the President to dismiss consuls by the hundred, and to appoint in their stead men of whom no proof of fitness is required, is not only prejudicial to our commercial interests, but derogatory to our dignity as a nation; (2) to give a brief account of the manner in which the efficient consular services of Great Britain and France are recruited; and (3) to make a few suggestions as to the system, which should be adopted in the United States.

The numerous duties of a consul have been so fully set forth of late by others that it would be superfluous for me to repeat them. Suffice it to say that the most important of them all are: (1) the increase of our national revenue by detecting frauds in invoices on which articles to be imported to the United States are entered at less than their value; and (2) the promotion of our foreign trade by obtaining and sending home such information as is likely to be of assistance to our merchants in its maintenance and development.

There is, unfortunately, no means of estimating accurately the immense annual loss incurred through failure on the part of consuls to keep our merchants promptly and accurately informed as to the condition of trade. Such information is obtainable by a consul not only from printed statistics, but more particularly by mixing freely with the leading mer chants and inhabitants of his district, and becoming thereby imbued with the local current of commercial thought. But the following quotation from Mr. Washburn will give an idea of the extent to which the national revenue may suffer:

The aggregate amount lost to the government in this way is almost incalculable; but some idea of it may be gathered when it is remembered that an increase of only 2 1/2 per cent, in invoice valuations at the little industrial centre of Crefeld alone would result in an annual accession to the customs receipts of $150,000. It is beyond mere conjecture that an addition of at least 5 per cent, could be brought about and maintained at many posts by competent and trained officers.

A consul cannot attain a thorough familiarity with the value of every article exported from his district, nor be able to detect frauds in invoice valuations, nor acquire a thorough knowledge of the people among whom he lives and of their methods of business, unless he be able to speak the language of the country and live there a number of years. Nevertheless, in Mexico, Central and South America, where we are supposed, and certainly [352] ought, to exercise a greater influnece than any other power, we require of our consuls neither a prolonged residence nor a knowledge of the Spanish language.

The following incidents will help to show what is possible and has occurred under the present system.

Shortly before President Harrison went out of office a communication was made by a leading European power to the United States legation at its capital, requesting that the new administration be asked not to appoint as consul in an important dependency of that power an American citizen who had made himself objectionable to the local authorities by alleged attempts to cheat the customs, boasts of “getting a rise out of the government,” and otherwise, and who had announced that upon the assumption of the Presidency by Mr. Cleveland he would receive the appointment in question. This communication was promptly transmitted to the Department of State, and under any other system but ours the matter would have ended there.

Shortly afterwards, however, the name of the individual in question appeared in a list of new appointments as consul at the very place at which we had been given to understand that he could not be received. Telegraphic inquiries were at once made, and elicited the fact that owing to the pressure of applications for office with which the State Department was just then overwhelmed, this important request of a friendly power had been overlooked. The appointment had, of course, to be withdrawn; but I need scarcely point out the difference from an international point of view between not making it and being compelled to withdraw one actually made.

The other incident to which I refer occurred in Spain. In 1890, the consular agent at Seville—sent there, be it remembered, not as a missionary, but to represent the civilization of the United States and to further our commerce— thought it his duty to bombard with Protestant tracts the procession of the Corpus Christi as it passed through the streets. The excitement caused by this singular proceeding was great, and the official in question was arrested, being thereby protected from personal violence on the part of those who witnessed and were outraged by his conduct, which was promptly brought by the Spanish government to the attention of our minister at Madrid, who had him removed. This was bad enough, but it is not all. The same individual has actually been sent back to Seville in a consular capacity.

The efficiency of a consul cannot be otherwise than seriously impaired when there exists a strong local animosity or prejudice against him. For this reason it is a great mistake, as has been pointed out by others, to send, as we often do, naturalized citizens as consuls to countries from which they originally emanated, our native citizens being much less likely to excite such local feeling. It is even more objectionable, however, to appoint members of the Jewish religion to consular posts in countries in which public opinion is strongly anti-Semitic, as the latter involves social, and to a considerable extent political, ostracism. The same man sent elsewhere might prove a very useful consul; but under the above conditions it is impossible.

Great Britain, France, Germany, and other European countries take a very different view of the importance of their consular services, which are organized with the utmost care.

The British service was established in its present form by act of Parliament in 1825 (6 Geo. IV., cap. 87). Up to that time its members had been appointed, on no regular system, by the King, and were paid from his civil list. This act placed the service under the Foreign Office, and provided for its payment out of funds to be voted by Parliament. Since then it has been the subject of periodical investigation by royal commissions and parliamentary committees, with a view to the improvement of its efficiency. The evidence taken on these occasions is published in voluminous blue hooks, the perusal of which I recommend to those interested in the reform in our service.

Appointments are made by the secretary of state for foreign affairs. Candidates must be recommended by some one known to him, and their names and qualifications are thereupon entered on a list, from which he selects a name [353] when a vacancy occurs. The candidate selected, whose age must be between twenty-five and fifty, is then required to pass an examination before the civilservice commissioners in the following subjects: (1) English language. (2) French language, which the candidate must be able to write and speak “correctly and fluently.” (3) Language of the place at which the consular official is to reside. It must be known sufficiently to enable him to communicate directly with the authorities and natives of the place. (4) British mercantile law. (5) Arithmetic to a sufficient extent to enable the consul to draw up commercial tables and reports.

Men usually enter the service as viceconsuls, and are promoted or not according to their merits, but there is no regularity or certainty about promotion, owing to the fact that a man may be very suitable for one place and not at all for another. There is a strong feeling against removing a consul from a post in which he is doing well. To such an extent is this the case that a man is sometimes promoted to be consul-general without a change of post. The majority of British consuls will, consequently, be found to have occupied very few posts. The entire career of the late consulgeneral at New York, which covered a period of over forty years, was spent at San Francisco (1851-1883) and New York (1883-1894); and the late British consul at Paris held that post from 1865 until his death recently.

There are two important branches of the service for which candidates are specially trained, and admission to which is by means of a competitive examination open to the public, and whereof due notice is given beforehand in the newspapers —namely, The Levant (Turkey, Egypt, Persia), and the China, Japan, and Siam services.

Those who are successful in these examinations are appointed “student interpreters.” They must be unmarried and between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. These student interpreters must study Oriental languages either at Oxford or at a British legation or consulate in the country to which they are to be accredited. They are called on to pass further examinations at intervals, and, if successful, they become eligible for employment, first as assistants and afterwards as interpreters, vice-consuls and consuls, as vacancies occur.

The salaries of British consular officers are fixed, under the act of Parliament of July 21, 1891 (54 and 55 Vict., cap. 36), by the secretary of state, with the approval of the treasury, and no increase can be made in any salary without the approval of the latter. They average about £ 600 ($3,000) a year, but, of course, some of the important posts are much more highly paid; the salary of the consulgeneral at New York being £ 2,000 (nearly $10,000), with an office allowance besides of £ 1,660, and a staff consisting of a consul at £ 600, and two vice-consuls at £ 400 and £ 250, respectively; that of the consul at San Francisco, £ 1,200 (nearly $6,000), with an office allowance of £ 600 besides.

British consular officials are retired at the age of seventy with a pension.

There is also an unpaid branch of the service, consisting chiefly of vice-consuls, appointed at places which are not of sufficient importance to merit a paid official. They are usually British merchants, but may be foreigners. They are not subjected to an examination, and are rarely promoted to a paid appointment.

Consular clerks are required to pass an examination in handwriting and orthography, arithmetic, and one foreign language (speaking, translating, and copying).

In France, the consular service has for years past been an object of the most careful solicitude to successive governments, and the subject of frequent decrees tending to improve its efficiency on the part of the chief of state.

Many of these decrees, and of the recommendations by ministers of foreign affairs on which they were based, are interesting, and they show how the French have realized, under all recent forms of government, and particularly under the present republic, the absolute necessity of keeping “politics” out of their consular service, and devoting its energies exclusively to the interests of French trade.

The French service consists of consuls generals, first and second class consuls. [354] vice-consuls, and pupil consuls (éleve consuls). From the latter, vacancies are chiefly filled. A competitive examination takes place once a year for vacancies in the list of attache of embassy and pupil consul. In order to compete therein, a man must have previously obtained admission to the “stage” —a probationary period of not less than one nor more than three years—during which his fitness for the career contemplated (foreign office, diplomatic, or consular) is tested. The foreign minister nominates these probationers (stagiaires), who must be under twenty-seven years of age, and possessors of a collegiate degree in law, science, or letters, or who must have passed certain other examinations or be holders of a commission in the army or navy.

This examination for pupil consuls is in international law, and English or German, political economy, or political and commercial geography. Those whose papers are sufficiently creditable in the opinion of the examiners to warrant their going any further are then subjected to a public oral examination in geography, maritime and customs law, in addition to the subjects already mentioned. The successful competitors become eligible for appointment as pupil consuls, and before being assigned to a consulate they are obliged to spend at least one year at one of the principal chambers of commerce, whence they must send the minister periodical reports on the trade of the district. After three years service as pupil consuls they are eligible for promotion to a vice-consulship. No official in the French consular service can be promoted until he has served at least three years in a grade.

There are, furthermore, chancellors also whose chief functions are to keep the accounts; interpreters and dragomen for the Levant and Asiatic services, who attain those posts by means of special examinations, and may eventually become vice-consuls, with hope of subsequent promotion.

In addition to the foregoing safeguards, a committee of consultation on consulates (Comite Consultative de Consulats) was created by Presidential decree in 1891. It consists of twenty-five members, of whom three are senators, five members of the Chamber of Deputies, and nine presidents of leading chambers of commerce.

Its functions are to advise the minister on matters pertaining to the consular service, particularly in connection with the development of trade.

Many more details might be given of the elaborate precautions taken by the French, but this sketch will suffice to give a general idea on the subject.

Want of space prevents me from giving similar details as to the German and other services, whose efficiency is well known.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that if consular services recruited in the manner I have described are productive of satisfactory results, we should, under a system somewhat similar, have one quite as good.

There is but one way, however, to obtain such a service—namely, a determination on the part of the American people to eliminate from it politics and “the spoils system,” and to establish it on the same permanent footing as our naval and military services.

I would suggest that our service should consist of consuls-general, consuls (of two or three classes), and vice-consuls, the number of officials in each grade to be determined by Congress, and the unmeaning designation of vice or deputy consul-general abolished; consular agents and consuls permitted to engage in business to be only retained (not as a portion of the regular service) where absolutely necessary, and with a view to their abolition at as early a date as may be practicable.

Those seeking admission to the service after a certain date (to be fixed by Congress) should be compelled to pass an examination in (1) the English language, (2) arithmetic, (3) commercial law, and (4) one or two foreign languages, either French, German, or Spanish (with a view to our interests in South America), to be compulsory, and the examination therein rigid. Successful candidates should be appointed vice-consuls.

Each original appointment as viceconsul and each subsequent promotion must be made by the President and confirmed by the Senate, as provided by the [355] Constitution; but the assignment to posts of those appointed should, so long as no increase of rank takes place, be left to the Secretary of State. I can see nothing in the Constitution to compel the President to assign consuls to particular posts at the moment of their appointment, and there is no more sense in his doing so than there would be in his giving a captain in the navy the command of a ship or an admiral that of a squadron at the moment of his promotion.

The only foundation upon which a reorganization such as I have suggested can be based with any hope of success, is the consular service as existing at the time the same goes into effect; all vacancies after a certain date to be filled under the new system, and no removals to take place after the same date, save for causes to be determined by a board of officials, and which should, in each case, be communicated to Congress.

“Equalizing” the appointments between both political parties as a preliminary to consular reform is, to my mind, impossible, as it would admit of the continuation of the present system of removals.

Nor would the proposal to raise the consular salaries be of any avail, under the present system, in improving the service. Many of our consuls are insufficiently paid, and under a reformed system many salaries should undoubtedly be increased and a number of unnecessary posts should at the same time be abolished; but to increase the salaries before the organization of a permanent service would merely augment the competition for, and consequent acquisition of, places on the part of those unfitted to fill them.

It has been said that it will be difficult for us thus to reorganize our service owing to the fact that no congressional legislation can modify the power given to the President by the Constitution to appoint whomsoever he pleases as consul, provided the Senate assent. But surely, if Congress was able to prescribe, as it did by the act of 1855, and has often done since, where consular representatives should be appointed and what should be their rank and salary, the people can insist, through their Senators and Representatives, upon the appointment to posts thus created of such persons only as are duly qualified to fill them, and to prescribe the manner in which such qualifications shall be proved.

Even if this cannot be done by an act of Congress, a resolution can be passed by that body requesting the President in future only to appoint those who have demonstrated their fitness by means of an examination; and, if popular feeling were sufficiently strong on the subject, it is not to be supposed that any President would venture to disregard it in his consular appointments, or, if he did, that the Senate would confirm the appointees, or that the House of Representatives would vote their salaries.

It is presumable, moreover, that the President would welcome relief from any portion of the importunity on the part of office-seekers, with which he is overwhelmed.

The whole matter is, therefore, absolutely in the hands of the people of the United States, who have only to bring pressure to bear upon Congress, without which no great reform was ever accomplished.

The chief obstacle to the creation of a service such as I have suggested appears to me to lie in the sacrifice likely to be entailed upon the political party which, being in possession of the executive branch of the government when the proposed reform goes into effect, is compelled to leave a considerable number of the opposite party's appointees in office. It is scarcely to be doubted, however, that such party will gain far more in the way of popular approval than it will lose through inability to give away a certain number of offices to its retainers; and there need be no fear that those retaining the consular offices would become “offensive partisans.” They will, on the contrary, become what most of our diplomatic and consular officials long to be-servants of their country and not of a political party.


William F. Wharton, ex-assistant Secretary of State.

Ordinarily the constitution and condition of the consular service of the United States are subjects of entire indifference [356] to the citizens of the United States. In times marked by less energy of executive action in regard to it no particular notice is taken of the peculiar characteristics of the service, and nobody turns his attention to it unless he is desirous of occupying some post within its circle himself, of procuring such a position for some one of his friends, or of obtaining some assistance from a member of it when in need or alone in a foreign country. The consular reports are little known and little read except by those who are interested in certain business enterprises in the countries whence they proceed, or by those at whose instigation the consuls have been instructed by the Department of State to render them. The consular despatches to the Department of State are mostly of a confidential and private nature, and the public has ordinarily little knowledge of their existence, much less any idea of the value of their contents. It seems to be the common opinion that anybody can fill a consular office, and it is curious to note how the character of the applicants for these offices has reflected the popular sentiment. With some exceptions, of course, they have been largely made up of politicians in the narrowest meaning of the term, of brokendown and unsuccessful professional or business men, of invalids, of men of moderate means who desired to stay abroad to educate their children and at the same time wanted some occupation for themselves as a pastime, and sometimes of men whose sole claim to an appointment was that they had worn out the patience and endurance of their friends in this country by their worthlessness, and were to be sent away to free their friends from the burden of caring for them. It very rarely happens that a man offers himself for appointment to the service because he is attracted by its character or hopes to make it his profession. As a rule the service is entered into as a makeshift to tide over a difficult season, or as furnishing an opportunity to study for a time in a foreign country, or to recuperate from the hard work and cares of a professional or business career. The reason for this is of course very apparent. No rightminded young man, with his life before him and with all the hopes and ambitions that that implies, will voluntarily take up with a service which offers no stability of tenure in office, and in a large majority of its posts presents no reasonable expectation of furnishing more than a bare subsistence at the best for his old age, nor will a man of riper age, if he has any prospects whatever in the world, sacrifice what he has and enter, as a profession, a service which presents to him so poor an outlook.

It is not intended by the foregoing to convey the impression that the consular service of the United States is wholly bad. There are good men in the service, and their work is valuable, and their influence and example are admirable. But this is not enough to those who have the welfare and the improvement of the service at heart. They desire to place the consular service on a securer and broader foundation, either because they have had experience in it and desire to see remedied the evils which that experience has taught them to recognize as existing, or because they are interested in it as a branch of that government to which they are wholly devoted. They realize that with the growth in power and wealth of this country its position in the great family of nations is growing daily of greater importance, and that its commercial interests are of more vital interest. They know that its influence commercially depends in a marked degree upon the character and bearing of its commercial representatives abroad, which its consuls are; and as the commerce of the country increases so the necessity arises of insuring a more perfect representation of its commercial interests in foreign countries, and a fuller and more competent assistance in the development of its commercial relations. They are always looking earnestly for an improvement of the service. Now there are at least three directions by which the consular service can be approached with a view to improvement—namely, the manner of appointment, the tenure of office, and the compensation. The limits of this paper will allow only a cursory glance at a few suggestions which are believed to be pertinent to these subjects.

The Constitution provides, in Article II.. Section 2, that the President shall [357] appoint consuls by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and one of the first duties of the incoming President, under the present practice, is to see to the filling of these offices. The persons to be appointed are generally agreed upon by the President and his Secretary of State, the latter being the officer under whose instructions the future consul is to do his work. The President naturally has little time in the first months of his administration to attend, himself, to these appointments, and the Secretary of State has largely within his sole control the selection of the persons to be recommended for favorable action by the President. The Secretary of State is, in the ordinary course of events, entirely new to the duties of his office. It very seldom occurs in present times that he has had any diplomatic or consular experience whatever, and he can know but little, if anything, about the duties of a consular officer, and his is ignorant of the kind of men who should be sent respectively to the different posts. In the exercise of the best judgment he can form, he cannot know, except from a vague confidence in a man's ability, that he is in any way suited for the position for which he is named; and yet he is expected, under the present practice, to select the persons to be appointed to the greater number of consular offices within the first six months of his incumbency. The applicants, moreover, themselves, for the most part, are strangers to the service. They have no knowledge of its requirements, nor can they judge of their own fitness for the positions to which they lay claim. Naturalized citizens seek to be accredited to the country whence they originally came, and persons living in the United States on the borders of Canada petition to be appointed to a post just over the boundary-line from their home; the former because they desire to revisit their native land, and the latter in order that they may live and carry on their business at home, slipping across the border when it is convenient to attend to consular matters, thus evading the spirit, at least, of the rule which forbids consular officers receiving salaries in excess of $1,000 from transacting business within their districts. No examination is made into their qualifications. Some few may have been in the consular service before, but usually it is their political or social influence, and not their experience, which eventually secures a new place for them. Political backing brings better results than the claims of previous experience and of good service. The most the appointing power can do is to make the sponsors vouch for the character and the ability of the applicant, and hold them responsible if their representations eventually are proved to have been false.

There can be no question that the present method of selection as applied to the existing consular system is bad. If there is to be no change in that system, some different method from that which now exists should be devised whereby the wheat could be separated from the chaff, and only men who have been proved to be fit in character and ability and attainments presented to the President for his selection, free as far as possible from political pressure. But how to determine the fitness is the stumbling-block. This might be done by examination conducted under the direction of the civil service commission, only persons who are certified by them to be eligible for appointment; but among other objections to this method it is not at all clear that it would be a satisfactory manner of selecting the fittest person, because, as can be easily understood, there are elements which go to make up a good consular officer which could hardly be ascertained or determined by such an examination. There is no advantage in making a change for change's sake only, and it seems that the method of selection might with safety be left as it is at present, if only the system of the service were so changed that the tenure of office in the service itself were securely fixed to last during good behavior. By this is meant that the service should be so organized that if a man were once appointed to any consular office he should thereby become a member of the consular service during good behavior and be removable only for cause, not necessarily to remain always at the port to which he was originally appointed, but subject from time to time to be transferred by the President from one port to another, as it might be deemed [358] best for the interests of the service. If the elements of permanency of tenure and of adequate compensation were assured, there would, in the nature of things, be few vacancies at any one time, and at the time of a change of administration there would be no more than at any other. The pressure upon an incoming administration would be avoided, there would be time in which to make a proper selection, and the knowledge that the appointment was to be made for good behavior would place a greater responsibility upon the appointing power and upon the persons recommending the applicant, while correspondingly greater care would be exercised both in the selection and in the recommendation. Moreover, it seems inevitable that with fixity of tenure joined to proper compensation would come a better class of persons seeking appointment.

The tenure of office of consular officers now is dependent solely upon the will of the appointing power, and has long been governed by the exigencies of political expediency. It would not be worth the while for Congress to change this and fix a period of time by statute unless at the same time they increased the pay for the different offices. The fixity or certainty of tenure must go pari passu with an increase in pay. What is wanting is to tempt able and stirring men to enter the service for what it can offer them as a life career, and it cannot be expected that such men would find any inducement in the assurance of a permanency of service at an inadequate compensation. With the exception of a comparatively few posts the compensation at present allowed is totally inadequate to the proper or, in many instances, decent maintenance of the dignity of the officer or of the office. A man of humble means must be satisfied with a humble position in the community in which he lives, and many persons are perfectly content to occupy such a position so far as they individually are concerned, and their being so is a subject of reproach to them. But if the representative of a great nation, in a foreign country, is unable, for lack of means, to maintain himself in a manner similar to the like representative of other nations, it is a reproach to all men of the nation which he is sent to represent. Of course it is always possible to send somebody of private means to the places where the compensation is too small for a man to live properly without such means, but assuredly nothing could be more undemocratic and contrary to the true spirit of all of the institutions of this country than to have a branch of the public service in which the compensation of most of the offices is so small that for the sake of the dignity of the country abroad they can only be filled by persons of independent fortune.

There are in all about 777 consular offices, of which about 330 are principal offices, so called, the remaining 447 being designated as consular agencies. A consular agency is subordinate to the principal office within whose jurisdiction it comes. It is created ordinarily at the suggestion of the principal consular officer, or of the people of the place itself, with the consent of the Department of State, and in almost every instance the agent is nominated by the principal officer and approved by the Department of State. The agent is paid solely from the fees received, and is almost invariably a citizen of a foreign country engaged in business in the place where he is agent, often hardly able to speak a word of English, who accepts the place simply for the honor and position which come to him from being the representative of the United States in the locality to which he belongs. As has been intimated, he is paid no salary, but obtains what emoluments he can from that amount of the fees or receipts coming to his office which he is allowed to retain by his superior officer, which amount is usually fixed by agreement between himself and such officer. It should be remembered in this connection that the superior officer has named him for the agency, and is entitled, under the regulations, to pocket his share of the fees coming from his agencies as unofficial fees up to $1,000 in amount. Ordinarily the purpose of creating these agencies is to accommodate merchants who desire near them a consular office for the authentication of invoices of goods exported to the United States, and seek very naturally to avoid the delay and expense which may be caused if they are obliged to apply to [359] the principal office, which may be at some distance from them. The business of the shipper of goods to the United States has been the governing reason for the creation of the consular office, and the impossibility of finding a citizen of the United States to take the office for the compensation has obliged the government to resort to the device of a consular agency.

Besides the manifest impropriety of having a foreigner to represent in his native place the commercial interests of the citizens of this country, it can readily be seen that, inasmuch as the principal officer shares in the fees collected by his agent, the temptation to the former to lend his influence in favor of the creation of agencies within his district, and thus help out his meagre and inadequate salary, is often great. Fees which naturally, in the absence of an agency, would be collected for services rendered at the principal office, and which would be turned in that case into the treasury of the United States, are in this manner diverted, and, being collected for services rendered at the agency, are divided between the principal officer and his agent. It would be most advantageous that all consular agencies should be abolished, and that the official fees which now go to their support should go to the principal office, which ought, in every case, to be a salaried one, and be turned into the treasury, with the other official fees which come to that office. If these agencies were abolished there would then remain 330 principal offices, of which 237 are now salaried, and ninety-three receive no salaries. These last are compensated entirely by the official and unofficial fees which they may from time to time collect.

The highest salary paid is $7,500, and that amount is paid only at Seoul, Korea, where the consul-general is also minister resident, and consequently occupies a diplomatic position with all the expenses incident thereto. The consul-general at Athens, Bucharest, and Belgrade is paid $6,500. He is also envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Greece, Rumania, and Servia, and serves in all the above offices for one and the same salary. The consul-general at Havana receives $6,000, and the consul-general at Melbourne $4,500. There are twelve offices where $5,000 are paid, viz.: Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Paris, Calcutta, Hong-Kong, Liverpool, London, Port au Prince, Rome, Teheran, Cairo, and Bangkok (where the consul is also minister resident); seven offices where $4,000 are paid, viz.: Panama, Berlin, Montreal, Honolulu, Kanagawa, Monrovia, and Mexico; seven where $3,500 are paid, viz.: Vienna, Amoy, Canton, Tientsin, Havre, Halifax, and Callao; thirty-one where $3,000 are paid; thirty where $2,500 are paid; and fifty-one where $2,000 are paid. The remaining ninety-five of the salaried officers receive salaries of only $1,500 or $1,000 per annum.

Consular officers are not allowed their travelling expenses to and from their posts, no matter how distant the latter may be. They are simply entitled to their salaries during the transit, provided they do not consume more than a certain number of days In transitu, which number is fixed by the Secretary of State, nor are they allowed to transact any business in the place to which they are accredited where their salary exceeds $1,000. They are allowed a certain sum of money for rent of consular offices, which has been fixed at 20 per cent, of the salary, but this sum is spent under the direction of the Department of State, and can be used only for the renting of offices, strictly so speaking, and cannot be applied to the rental of their own house or lodgings. A clerk is allowed in some cases, and sometimes also a messenger where there seems to be an absolute need of such; but the appropriations made by Congress for clerk hire and for contingent expenses of consuls for many years past have been so grossly inadequate to the needs of the service that in most posts the offices are miserably equipped both as to clerks and messengers.

There are certain emoluments coming to consuls at certain posts of an unofficial nature, such as fees for taking depositions, oaths, etc., which are not considered official in their nature, and which a consular officer is therefore allowed to retain as his private property. All official fees—and these are prescribed by the President—every consular officer receiving a salary is bound to account for and to [360] turn over to the treasury of the United States. The unofficial fees in some places amount to large sums, and in London, Liverpool, Paris, and a few others of the important business centres, render the office of unusual value. In London, for instance, the unofficial fees amount to five or six times the prescribed salary. But the places where such large fees are to be secured are very few indeed, and might almost be said to be covered by the three places above named. By an odd perversion of justice, the receipts from unofficial fees are largest in the places where the largest salaries are paid.

It is not difficult to picture the plight of the man who finds himself, for example, in Ceylon, Auckland, or Cape Town, or, not quite so bad, but bad enough, in Malta, or Santos, or Para, all of which are places where the salaries are fixed at $1,500, with no financial resources except his salary. What must be the desperate financial embarrassment of the consul to either of these places who starts off for his post with the month's pay allowed him for what is called his instruction period and with no opportunity even to draw in advance that portion of his pay allowed him for his transit period, which can only be paid after he has rendered his accounts upon his arrival at the post, and with the remainder of his $1,500 to keep him for the rest of the year? It is not to be wondered at that some of our consular officers get into financial difficulties and leave their offices at the expiration of their terms, with debts unpaid. It is rather a matter of surprise that they manage as well as they appear to do. It may not, to be sure, cost a great deal for a man to live at Ceylon or Cape Town, when once he manages to reach those places; but even if that be a fact, he must live away from his family and in a most meagre manner to eke out existence upon the present allowance. So, too, in Europe, in such places as Liege, and Copenhagen, and Nice, and many others where the salary is $1,500 and the unofficial work yields hardly any return.

These are only a few of the most glaring cases, but the position of a man without property of his own sufficient to make him practically independent of his salary so far as subsistence is concerned, who goes, for instance, to Trieste, Cologne, Dublin, or Leeds, or to Sydney, New South Wales, or to Guatemala, or Managua, or to Tamatave, Madagascar, or to Odessa, or Manila, or Beirut, or Jerusalem, on a salary of $2,000 is relatively little better off. Nor is the position of a consul at Buenos Ayres, or at Brussels, or at Marseilles, Hamburg, Sheffield, Nuevo Laredo, Athens, Ningpo, or Victoria, B. C., with a salary of $2,500 to be envied, with the necessary demands which he is obliged to meet.

It is of course notorious that there are many more applicants for even the worst of these offices than there are offices, and that numberless men will be readily found to sacrifice themselves for the good of their country and go to Tamatave or Sydney on $2,000, or to Tahiti or Sierra Leone on $1,000. But the interest of the citizens of the United States is presumably centred more upon the welfare of the public service than on furnishing places for self-sacrificing individuals. They take no satisfaction in the creation of a consular office unless its existence is for the efficiency of the service as organized for their benefit. If such conditions are annexed to its creation as to militate against its effectiveness to accomplish the purpose for which it is created, the reason for its creation ceases to exist. That reason is primarily that the consular officer may encourage the increase of trade between his country and the country to which he is accredited by giving assistance in the way of information and protection to his fellow-citizens. In order to do this effectively he must be a man whose character inspires respect among the people with whom he associates and who has influence through his character, abilities, and position, not only as an officer, but also as a man among the people with whom he is to transact the business of his office. If the pecuniary allowance given him by his government is such as to render it impossible for him to live on an equality with his colleagues, or to maintain a social position in the community such as they are able to maintain, his government is the loser. It is far better to have no consular office in any given place than to cripple its efficiency by the conditions of its creation. [361]

Unless Congress can see its way to make more generous appropriations for the consular service with a view principally to creating larger salaries, it would be far wiser to reduce the number of salaried offices and to distribute the sum of money now appropriated for the pay of 237 officers among one-half that number with salaries proportionately greater. In any case there should be no unsalaried officers whatever and no salary below $2,500. There are now, as we have seen, besides the subordinate agencies which we have suggested should be abolished, about ninety-three unsalaried principal officers who receive their compensation in fees. These offices should either be abolished or should be made salaried offices and the fees received by them turned into the treasury.

In several countries the United States maintains a far greater number of consular offices than is required by the demands of commerce and one which seems, moreover, disproportionate to the number maintained by these countries respectively in this country. For instance, in Germany we have fifty-one consular offices, while Germany has twenty-two in this country. In France the United States has thirty-seven, and France has twenty-five in this country. In the islands of Great Britain alone the United States has fifty-seven, in British North America about 130, besides others scattered over the world in other possessions of the British Empire. Great Britain has, in all, forty-two consular offices in this country. A great reduction in the number of United States consular offices could most advantageously be made in Canada, especially in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. It is not going too far to state that two-thirds of the offices in these provinces could be discontinued with the best results for the interests of the service.

If the prizes are larger, the competitors will be of superior quality. The best men will not compete for an inferior prize, and in order to induce such men as should be in the consular service to enter it as a life career, there should be assured to them as long as they remain in it at least a livelihood approximate to that which they would have secured if they had remained in the ordinary walks of life. See Civil service, colonial; diplomatic service.

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