The Consular Service of the United States
As our mechanical industries have developed in importance, new interest has been aroused in commercial representation. The diplomatic service — in spite of a certain inherent mystery — has always been very well known. The instinct of politics, so highly developed, and the practice of sending to foreign capitals a few public men of high character and attainments have contributed to this. The great number of consuls, the systems of appointment and direction, the ignorance of foreign commerce, and the consequent dominance of domestic interests have made the service confusing. At the same time, newspaper editors, politicians, diplomatists, subordinates in the Department of State, business men, and members of commercial bodies have written or spoken about this service with little warrant in knowledge for what they said, and without bringing conspicuous enlightenment to those who attempted to follow them.
A consul may not write about the service while in it, — in spite of a presumption that experience ought to give him some insight. When he retires he is apt to keep his own counsel, although he might contribute something of value or interest. In making myself an exception, I may perhaps say without vanity that early in an active journalistic and public career I was brought into relation with the service as an observer, which aroused interest was maintained until I was assigned, without personal effort, to a post not without importance, — the consulate in Birmingham. Five years’ service rendered with such energy and ability as I had, added to study and observation, during this time, of our own and other systems, may not entirely disqualify me from having and expressing an opinion on some of its phases. Having passed this time without clash with the department, I have neither favors to repay nor grudges to feed, so that my criticism will be wholly public, in motive as well as in purpose. After two years of private life, one may perhaps escape the reproach of speaking evil of dignities, even if every word he says is not couched in the language of compliment.
I. WHAT THE SERVICE IS : THE CONSUL AT HIS POST.
Our consular service is more completely commercial, with fewer diplomatic functions, than that of any other important country. It deals with gain, property, and public revenue, and has only a slight relation to the rights or the protection of persons. It concerns both buying and selling, and the consul who does not recognize that one cannot go on without the other does not know the alphabet of the business intrusted to his care. In promoting the interchange of products, he will find that he must advise a merchant or manufacturer at his post as freely and frankly as one from his own country. An industrious mechanic or farmer seeking to emigrate may be just as important to his country as a home workman who goes out to set up American machinery. A working woman may need consular advice when she enters the port of New York to take up domestic service quite as much as a woman from home who is in search of a truant husband.
The claim is commonly made that a consul should be examined to find out how much he knows of foreign countries. This is of the slightest importance. He needs rather to know the institutions, laws, history, people, geography, politics, and public men of his own country. That given, he will soon absorb the necessary information about the country to which he is accredited, even if the treaty of Westphalia is strange to him, or he does not know how many soldiers fell in some Napoleonic battle. This comprehensive knowledge, it maybe admitted, is not always found in petty ward politicians, professional labor agitators, or rural newspaper editors, who are nothing more; or in reporters, whose lives have been devoted to accounts of fires and murders ; or in petty business men, who do not understand their own callings ; or in those prosperous foreigners, sometimes found, whose loftiest ambition is to air their new-made importance in their birthplaces.
According to the register of the Department of State, the consular service of the United States is made up as follows : consuls general and salaried consuls, 234 ; commercial agents, salaried, 10 ; minor salaried consuls, 10 ; consuls, paid by fees, 48 ; commercial agents, paid by fees, 20: total 322. The last three classes may engage in business, as their fees and allowances amount to less than $1000 a year. Vice consuls, consular agents, and clerks are not included. Although an occasional vice consul is sent from home, as a rule they are residents of the foreign district.
The remuneration of the higher grades in salaries and unofficial fees — as nearly as they may be estimated owing to defects in the returns — is as follows: consuls receiving over $5000 per annum, 16 ; over $4000, 14; over $3000, 54 ; over $2500, 18. This gives a total of 102 among whom there is no great difference in rank, work, responsibility, or qualities demanded, and whose average pay is something like $3500 a year.
As comparison is constantly made with the British service, I have compiled from the Foreign Office list, and insert here, somewhat out of its order, the following : consuls receiving over $10,000 per annum, 10; over $5000, 28 ; over $4000, 56 ; over $3500, 13 ; over $3000, 35 ; over $2000, 25 : total, 167. The $10000 class are mainly diplomatic agencies ; so I exclude these from comparison. This done, the average of the classes fairly correspondent with our own works out at about $3750. It is impossible to attain absolute accuracy, because retired array officers retain certain allowances, the pay being thereby reduced. According to this comparison, the United States government is not so niggardly as is sometimes charged, so far as its principal places are concerned.
Once at his post, the consul soon learns its merely routine duties : how to examine and sign invoices; to verify legal documents ; to read, even though he may not understand, department circulars, — as well as what he must do for himself, and what he may trust to subordinates. He very soon discovers that most of his duties lie beyond the cognizance of a department. He will be wise to recognize that he represents all the commercial interests of his country ; that his politics were shed at Sandy Hook; and that he is not a specialist in metals, chemicals, or textiles. If wise, he will not turn detective at the bidding of the departments or any manufacturing interest.
In social matters his position depends entirely upon himself. He can enter the circle for which he is fitted. He can come into close personal relations with the best public, professional, business, educational, and religious elements in his district. In order to do this, he needs only the same tact, intelligence, and dignity of character demanded or used at home. He must keep clear of sects, whether in politics or religion. If he can make a prudent speech, it will be still easier and pleasanter for him ; if he has literary or musical tastes, his path will be made smoother. If he is inclined to sports or games, from cockfighting to golf, from shooting at a mark to a battue ; if he likes a game of poker, or racing, or has fast tastes of any kind ; if he revels in sectarianism, whatever its form, he can always find congenial company and win a place in it. I have known an important consulate where, for several successive administrations, the incumbent was never seen in good houses or in association with good causes. I have known of another where, during a ten years’ residence, the incumbent preached for a fee of two or three guineas when he could get an engagement, on Sunday or any other day. In the one case as in the other, the office was as much vacant as if no man had been sent to it. I have known other consulates where, for three or four successive administrations, the incumbents made it their business to screw out as much money as they could, to accept no attentions requiring a return of courtesies, — a miserliness characteristic of those who never had a chance before, and expect never to have another. As a rule, the consul who saves money—outside such prize places as London, Liverpool, Paris, Hamburg, and Bremen — is viewed with suspicion by his colleagues. On an average, about two out of the twenty-five consuls whom each administration sends to England take back money with them, by such parsimony as I have described. Consuls general in London, and consuls in other large cities, have lived during all their term in very shabby lodgings, but they are the exceptions; plain, sensible living, without display, being the rule. Out of a hundred and fifty consuls I have known, during or after their service in fifteen or twenty countries, there have probably been ten or fifteen of the miserly type. Of rogues and adventurers, who have gone home leaving debts to tradesmen and acquaintances, or overdrafts at banks, I have perhaps heard of fifteen during more than twenty years’ acquaintance with the service. However, I have not set out to write a history of black sheep.
Now and then a consul resents his office, really quarreling with his bread and butter. Such an one is opposed to any other country than America, and is usually of foreign birth. He has merely sought the office to show the people of his native country how to do things. Such a man looks upon every invoice he signs as the robbery of somebody at home, and goes through his term lecturing the foreign manufacturer upon his effrontery in sending across the water articles that could be made by American labor.
Much useful information is furnished to home manufacturers, and I regret to say that it is not always appreciated ; in many cases, not even acknowledged. No one would think of making a charge for it; but many persons at home have yet to learn that there is such a thing as good manners in business. The secretaries of public bodies and debating clubs, the managers of college publication societies, newspaper editors, college professors, and students of comparative politics, are continually and properly asking for information. It would be impossible to exaggerate their courtesy or their generous appreciation of the small favors thus rendered. Chiefs of police and other officials of cities and towns are most considerate, when the consul, desirous of helping some poor person who is in search of a lost relative, or an inheritance, or a runaway husband, must, in his turn, seek assistance. So, while, as a business representative, he finds bad manners and want of appreciation, his extra-official duties reveal other and better qualities.
The official work is comparatively simple, exacting enough to fill the ordinary office hours, while the indefinite unofficial duties require industry. The man who does all these cheerfully and lives with modesty and dignity, who is neither neglectful nor self-seeking, will become a sort of ambassador to his district, and may even be favorably known outside of it, in literary, religious, or social life.
II. THE PRESIDENT’S RELATION TO THE SERVICE.
When a President is elected he finds more than three hundred consuls already in office. If his party comes newly to power, all, with the exception of perhaps twenty, are opposed to him in politics. If he succeeds a President of his own opinions, they represent, in a large measure, his predecessor’s plans, schemes, and political debts. There are no rules to hamper him, and for each place there are probably a hundred candidates. Owing to the exaggerated idea about its pay and dignity and the cheapness of living abroad, foreign service has a peculiar fascination for the average American and his wife, to which must be added social and business aspirations, mainly delusive.
The manager who succeeded to the control of a concern with branches all over the world, would probably have little more personal knowledge of the men under him than a President has of consuls. His first work, however, this being the business of his life, would be to obtain the most complete information about the length of service and the fitness of each man on his staff ; but no President, however willing or anxious he might be, could do this. The appointment of consuls is only an infinitely small part of his duties ; besides, there is an unbroken tradition that their places are political or personal, and he cannot change this in a single branch of the public service, even if time and inclination both permitted. So he follows the fashion, and treats the consulates as party spoils. The efficiency or inefficiency of one or a hundred incumbents is nothing to him. In some cases, the most important places are promised, provisionally, before his election, and more — probably the majority of those worth having — weeks before his inauguration, before even his Secretary of State has been selected.
A certain proportion of the best places are filled from his own knowledge or upon the advice of his personal or political associates, though never without reference to party services, rendered or expected. When he enters the Executive Mansion removals go on mechanically, and successors are appointed as rapidly as possible. He must carry the work through with little help from any department, because, like the making of broth, there is a certain unity required in the process. However, willing helpers are on hand in plenty. Senators, Representatives, chairmen and members of a succession of party committees, influential and ambitious public men, are there, ready to send a rival into exile or reward a useful friend. Cases have even been known of men who were willing to promote their own ambitions !
The President must see candidates and their patrons, fit in one claim with another, reconcile the demands of political geography, and do the best he can according to his lights. In fact, he does everything, except pretend that he likes the job. He has little time to think. With all his other duties, public and party, he is expected to fill about two hundred consular places within the first four months of his term. As there are no charges against incumbents, and few apply for retention, removals do not concern him. His duty is to consider applications for appointment. The incumbent has no warning or notice. Why should he have, when he may read in a newspaper, perhaps days afterward, that such and such a man has been appointed ? The details are nominally in the hands of a sort of whipping-boy in the department, — generally the assistant secretary, — who issues the commissions, sees that bonds are filed and instructions given, notifies the incumbents, in due time, and requests foreign governments to grant exequaturs. As a reward for this, the public and the disappointed assume that everything has been done by him, and he gets whatever odium there is. He generally stands this for about a year, and then retires in disgust, to shake off as he can the reputation of political executioner. It is a case of having the name without the game.
Sometimes consuls are retained in office ; generally, only those in small places where the pressure is not severe. This sometimes conciliates, rather cheaply, the chairman or members of the foreign committees. In a few cases — enough during three or four administrations to employ the fingers of one hand in counting them— incumbents are retained in important places, for a long period ; but the instance has yet to be found in which this was due wholly to recognized fitness. The useful men thus retained have had supporters, conspicuous in politics, generally in both parties, who have made it part of their business to muster influence for their favorites. Although these cases are often cited as examples of civil service reform, — oases of merit in a desert of spoils, — they are in reality the most flagrant triumphs of the spoilsman’s art. In still more instances, such methods have kept in office men who, not merely useless, were a disgrace to the country and to any President. Those who enter the service are naturally in sympathy with the system of appointments and removals, each man recognizing that as some one was displaced to give him a chance, he must not expect any other treatment when the fortune of war turns. As a result, the hold-over is regarded with distrust by his new colleagues, and with contempt by his old ones, because of the methods necessary to assure retention.
The following example will serve as illustration. Early in the present administration, the Republican members of Congress from a Western state of importance met and preferred claims to a consul for each district; all to be appointed upon the formal recommendation of the United States Senator. They did not pick out individual posts, with a man of special fitness for each; both Congressman and candidates knew their business too well to make it other than a wholesale job. The candidates were chosen at random, according to personal influence, or party importance, or the relative value of the places. At last every district save one had its representative abroad. In this one, every plan short of advertising had been tried, for more than a year, to get a man for a small place in France. Finally, a lawyer in a remote village agreed to accept it. He was nominated, confirmed, and sailed for his post, without any notice whatever to his predecessor, from the President or the department, of the appointment. His arrival, with commission and order for possession, was the first notice to an incumbent whose retention had been promised. The new official had probably not thought of France since he recited his geography lesson thirty years before in somedistrict school, while his manner gave the impression that he had first heard the name of the town to which he had come, when appointed as its consul.
The result is best when the President sends men known to himself and his inner circle — personal appointments socalled. This means that some one has a knowledge of the character and attainments of the candidate as well as some regard for his own reputation. Most of the really useful and able men who get into the foreign service, either in the diplomatic or the consular branch, are so chosen. The recommendations of party Senators, Representatives, or managers have no direct reference to fitness ; perhaps not more than one in seven turns out fairly well, so that nobody concerned can be credited with even the most ordinary business prudence. This kind of appointment is a lottery, with a half dozen blanks to each prize.
It is easy to assume that a service thus filled must be wholly corrupt and inefficient. Perhaps it ought to be so. But, taken as a whole, considering the incongruous elements in the services of other countries, our service, so filled, reaches a good average of efficiency, higher than that of most countries. The adaptability of the American to new, strange work is a quality upon which too much emphasis is sometimes laid ; still, it must be taken into account. It is well to remember that the method of selection herein described runs through every branch of public life ; that practically we know no other method. Besides, ninety-five out of every hundred of the responsible places in business or professions are filled upon somebody’s recommendation. There is a proneness to forget that while such methods are as universal as they are natural, they are also human and illustrative of unselfishness and kindliness, and that it is the abuse of them which brings reprobation.
With all these drawbacks, two thirds of the consulates of dignity and fair pay, and say one tenth of the remainder, — about a hundred all told, — are filled by lawyers, physicians, editors, professors, bankers, and business men of ability and unquestioned standing. Far from home or effective supervision, these pass through their term with dignity and with credit to themselves and the country, without assertiveness or loss of character, and spend a larger proportion of their pay, whatever this may be, for the public benefit than officials at home or their colleagues from other countries. Occasionally, one seeks to attract attention in society, or has himself and his wife presented at court; but fools are not confined to this service, nor do they all live in or come from the United States.
Nevertheless, these methods of appointment and removal are so essentially vicious as to be beyond defense. They send abroad during every four-year period more bad, useless, and inefficient men than ought to find admission into the whole foreign service in half a century of wise, prudent, and centralized selection. That the result is not so bad as it might be is a striking illustration of the American luck which has so long been proverbial.
No description of these methods should leave the impression, even by implication, that any recent President has used the foreign service for personal ends. Such an implication would be unjust and without warrant. In filling consular places there is thrown upon the Executive a responsibility which does not belong to home offices, where the public hold Senators and Representatives to account. In message after message, beginning in 1885, and continuing until the end of his last term, Mr. Cleveland implored Congress to reform the system, and reduce the number of appointments; and with fewer opportunities, Mr. Harrison did the same. It is only fair to assert the belief that both introduced very considerable improvements. When public sentiment has become strong enough to force through Congress an effective revision of the laws, it will be time to hold the President responsible for bad conditions,
III. HOW CONGRESS HAS DEALT WITH THE SERVICE.
Few branches of the public service have been less understood or more neglected by Congress than this. The system has been only slightly modified since 1856, when there was a sort of recasting or codification of the laws relating to it, only minor amendments having since been made from time to time. During the civil war it proved an additional diplomatic resource, while its value as spoils was also demonstrated. It furnished a few lucrative posts which could be bestowed upon the men next below cabinet or diplomatic rank. In the earlier days, its places were conceded to the President, his advisers and friends ; but when it became larger, Senators and Representatives found that they could command a share. Public men thus lost sight of its usefulness as a branch of the service, — as something having defects to be remedied, — and acquired another and a purely private interest in it, as individuals. Its abuses were thus emphasized rather than corrected, so that no reorganization upon large lines has been attempted.
The committees of foreign affairs of the two houses have not been so constituted, during recent years, that anything effective could be hoped from them. Probably no member of them — whether in the majority or in the minority — who has been long enough in Congress to command it—has not a protégé in the foreign service, either diplomatic or consular, or in the Department of State. The abolition of an office however useless, the correction of an abuse however flagrant, is thus made next to impossible.
During the past six years bills providing for some changes in the laws have been introduced by Senators Lodge and Morgan. They have been reported favorably to the Senate and thrown out upon a point of order, — something their authors might have foreseen. They betrayed only a slight comprehension of the real needs of the service. While their authors were zealous reformers when an opposition President was in office, their zeal had slept when this President’s predecessor used the consular service despitefully, and disappeared when another came into office and employed the power of removal more ruthlessly than it had ever been employed before.
The ideas in these bills have now been embodied in a new one introduced by Representative Adams, who for a short time was in the diplomatic service, a place which, like everything in his public career, was creditably filled. In all of them provision is made for different classes, ranging from consuls general to consular agents ; but an anomalous feature is the inclusion of secretaries and attachés of embassies and legations in a bill dealing with the commercial service. They provide for appointment to classes, not to individual posts, and the President is given power to promote from lower to higher grades. The fees known as notarial are to be paid to the government. Consuls general, of two classes, at salaries of $6000 and $5000 respectively ; consuls, of two classes, at salaries of $4000 and $2500 respectively ; and vice consuls, of three classes, at salaries of $1800, $1500, and $1200 respectively, are provided for, as are consular agents, to be paid by fees. No attempt is made to schedule the places or to define the principle upon which the classification shall be made, while the usual vicious plan of leaving all details to the department is adopted. The bills do not reduce the number of consulates, nor recognize the central control in the department. Provision is made for admission by examinations so simple that not even the merest spoilsman could be kept out. The President is thus left free to appoint and promote his own partisans out of those who pass, — just as he does under the sham system now in operation for certain grades of consuls under the order of September 30, 1895. He is free to remove incumbents, no period of tenure being fixed. The minimum age for admission is twenty-one years, — which, under our laws, seems to be a somewhat useless definition.
These bills have been introduced without special knowledge or intelligent department assistance, nor are there any indications that public sentiment was or is behind them, and they have produced no alternative suggestions of value. More attention has been given to imitations of other countries than to a careful and comprehensive study of the needs of our own. The method of appointment, being the obvious abuse, one that anybody can see, is the only feature that has proved equally attractive to all these legislators. Something more than this perfunctory work will be necessary before a law can be passed which would change a bad system into a good one.
IV. TREATMENT IN THE DEPARTMENT.
In theory, the Secretary of State appoints consuls and supervises their work ; in practice, he does neither. Even when the head of the department was chosen wholly for ability and political experience the office was usually a consolation prize, given to the candidate for President who had failed. He had little occasion to know anything about the consular work, assigned to his department. He was seldom an expert in commercial matters, a politician of such qualifications finding his way to the head of the Treasury Department. Of late, many of the traditions about the Department of State have been broken down. Its head, like his Cabinet associates, has become a sort of chief clerk to the President, assigned to the control of a department. A public man of the old, high type sometimes gets into the office, though he seldom stays long. In the last two administrations and the present one, the country has seen there some strange figures, whose description in detail would be superfluous, and might be thought rude. It is not unfair to say that they had no knowledge of a branch of the public service which sends, every four years, more than three hundred officials into all parts of the world.
As the direction of the consular service does not rest with the head of the Department of State, it may be well to try to locate it. For the first twelve or fifteen months of each administration the assistant secretary devotes most of his time to the sharpening of the official guillotine for the President’s use. He has little leisure for learning his business, and even if he had, the consular branch belongs to him only in form.
For many years the second-assistant secretaryship has been in the hands of two thoroughly efficient and useful men, who have coached successive presidents, secretaries, and assistants. Custodians of manners, past masters in that remarkable system of etiquette inseparable from diplomatic functions, they have been permanent officials in all but name. If they were so inclined, and if it were their business to give attention to the consular service, other duties would not permit.
This brings us to the third-assistant secretaryship — a mysterious office, of which it is never possible to know, week by week, who is the incumbent. Three Secretaries of State and as many assistants are generally required to carry an average administration through its term ; about four third assistants are disposed of. These are of three types. Now and then a man of real ability and fitness comes in, only to escape as soon as possible from the unfamiliar atmosphere of red tape. Two such men are now filling, with acceptability, professorial chairs in our oldest universities. Then there is the rich young man who needs this place to give him social position at home. He soon retires, having attained his object, and, except the old-fashioned people who believe in real work, nobody is disappointed. The third type is the glorified department clerk who, by a harmless euphuism, is said to have worked his way up. Having made himself useful to many raw secretaries, he at last finds one who is grateful enough to put him into authority over three hundred officials, many of whom occupy more dignified and better paid places than his, in spite of its high-sounding title.
Here, then, we reach a supervising though not yet the directing authority for the consular service. To find the latter we must seek the chief of the Consular Bureau, who has a $2100 place, and is usually a clerk trained in the department. His period of power often runs parallel with that of a third-assistant secretary of the same type. In such a case they are sure to have queer ideas of the work intrusted to them. They have long had pet schemes for aggrandizing the Consular Bureau and asserting its authority : so they have only to pull from their dusty pigeonholes plans which successive presidents and secretaries, in their desire for peace, have consigned there. When a pliant secretary falls into the hands of such men, the cutting off of allowances without notice; the modification of policies, or even of laws, by circular ; the introduction one month of absurd regulations to be abandoned the next; the making of demands insulting to every honest consul, perhaps because some scapegrace, holding a petty place in China or the West Indies, has been culpable, come thick and fast. As these men deal with officials remote from one another, without understanding or organization, and forbidden to communicate with the press, or even with the department, except in a way purely official, the result is obvious.
As relations with the State Department are unsatisfactory, it follows that there is no well-defined system of dealing with other departments. Although nearly everything that a consul does concerns the Treasury Department, all communications must pass through the Consular Bureau. It is often weeks after the enactment of a tariff law before the consuls receive any schedule of rates, although the law goes at once into effect, and it is impossible to get prompt information from collectors or their coördinate bureaus when invoices have been held up or prices advanced. The Agricultural Department is a very Oliver Twist in asking for “ more ” in the way of trumpery reports which its own statisticians, if competent for their work, could compile without cost or delay. The Pension Bureau and the Patent Office, for both of which a consul does much work, are uniformly prompt, polite, and appreciative.
It follows that there is no well-defined purpose in the management of the consular service, no man of recognized position and ability to spur or to curb it. It is chaos itself. Its organization produces dependence in secretaries and assistants, and generates in bureau officials a deference little short of toadyism. Among men bearing such relations there must be an absence of that confidence and respect which are necessities if a dignified and well-balanced system is to be maintained.
V. THE MAKING AND PUBLISHING OF REPORTS.
This inefficiency of direction is well illustrated in the report system, — something which threatens to become an intolerable nuisance in every branch of official life. Since 1878, a monthly number of Consular Reports, ranging from 160 to 280 pages, has been issued. It has been supplemented, from time to time, by a special issue, sometimes in one large volume, occasionally running to two or three volumes, and there are now daily advance sheets, to supply printers with what is known as “ dummy copy.”
Besides the Consular Reports, there is Commercial Relations, two massive volumes from 750 to 1000 pages each, made up by consuls and consular agents eked out by solemn ambassadors or their secretaries. The department is always nervous lest even the most distant or obscure consul may be tardy or delinquent, and the second or third circulars calling for them would furnish models of “urgent” literature. The consul gathers the material for these annual summaries from the local or trade newspapers, the gossip of local manufacturers, and the garrulity of representatives of American firms. The district may be remote or unimportant, — a fly on the wagon wheel of commerce. It may have no port, no distinct personality, nothing to give it importance except its modest contribution to the totals in the Monthly Summary of Finance and Commerce. Nevertheless, it must yield up its nothingness.
In theory, reports are made under the direction of the department. Circulars are sent out peppered lavishly with interrogation points. Most of them relate to subjects upon which there is no lack of information. Many of them could be worked out by an ordinary statistician, or even by a department clerk, with the aid of a late encyclopædia and a few handbooks. However or by whomever done, the result would interest only a small number of persons engaged in some special trade, and would be useless even to these unless prepared by an expert. Still, the questions give the consul ample opportunity to write and to see his name in print.
It would be unfair to suppose that these marvelous queries are evolved by the bureau officials met together in their high-ceilinged, solemn offices in Washington. Far from it. The following example will illustrate the process: A young lumberman in the state of Washington, amid the stillness of his pines, wants to know the price of logs and boards in the grand duchy of Finland and the interior of Persia. He takes down his office handbooks, only to find that neither Finland nor Persia is mentioned. For the moment his thirst for knowledge is slaked ; but the question comes back to him as one of great human interest. Logs and lumber take hold upon his imagination by day, and haunt his dreams by night. He congratulates himself that he learned in his school days of the existence of Finland and Persia. As he assumes that they have people, he also wonders whether they have trees. At the club his inquiries are not answered to his satisfaction, when, finally, a friend, perhaps weary of persistent interruption, suggests that, if such places really do exist, the United States may have consuls in them.
The local exchange takes the matter up. In its name the eager questioner writes to the department, inquiring timidly about those mysterious officials called consuls, and asks furtively about logs and lumber in Finland and Persia. Thus far, little has been done to satisfy a curiosity commendable in a young man remote from reference libraries; but the Foreign Department of a great government is ready, and his idea finds itself housed in a government palace. The letter is answered, and a request made that interrogatories shall be prepared for submission to the consular representatives of the United States at Helsingfors and Teheran. The talent of many logging camps toils over the task, not without result. No one would have imagined that the Yankee gift for asking questions had been transferred, without impairment, to the shores of the Pacific. Nothing relating to varieties, sizes, and qualities of trees; to the dimensions and shapes of logs; to the breadth, thickness, or polishing qualities of boards; to the kinds of sawmills and the power used ; to makes of axes and saws, and their care ; to the wages, nativity, and hours of work of woodmen ; to the marketing of products and their prices; or to the architecture of houses, the furniture in and the fences about them, is missed from the list. When the reports are received at the Consular Bureau, the most exact writer is assigned to correct any slips they may contain in grammar, while an antiquarian is probably called in to frame questions as to the folk lore of trees, logs, and lumber.
Completed, made into fair copies, distributed over the bureau for general inspection, carried to the third-assistant secretary for approval, the report is another striking illustration of the triumph of mind over matter. On its rounds, some clerk suggests that it seems a pity to limit the information to Finland and Persia. Why not lay the whole world under tribute for all that it can reveal about logs and lumber ? Another wiseacre thinks it next to criminal to limit all this information to a Pacific coast logging camp. Why not publish it, so that even the humblest American woodman may know what a great, benevolent, and intelligent government tries to do for him ? When all this has been done the special report On Logs and Lumber in all the Countries of the World : how they are Made, Sold, Paid for, and Used, in an unwieldy volume, will be pointed out with pride by generations of officials.
This formula shows how the department collects five or six thousand pages, for the most part the essence of nothingness. It may as well be borne in mind that the interest or trade which asks for this information, for its own exclusive benefit, is not required to pay a deposit to cover the actual cost; that the consul has no allowance for expenses, not even to buy a handbook or a newspaper ; and that there are in his district no boards of trade or other bodies which make it their business to compile local information. But this is not all. The consul has but newly come to his post, and may find himself lonesome. He has been impressed at the department with the importance of reports. Nearly everything in his new Old-World surroundings seems strange to him; so, as he writes or dictates with ease, he sets out on his own account, and devises new torments for those who have learned to read.
During the twenty-two years that this process has been going on, it would be difficult to recall one report of really undoubted economic value. Beyond this, it is doubtful whether there has been a notable one of the second or informing order each year; that is, twenty-two really influential in directing the course of trade. The reason for this is clear. There is no room for this flood of commonplace writing on commercial questions, nor for the fortieth part of it. Even if the consular service had half a hundred President Hadleys, Edward Atkinsons, and Richard Mayo Smiths, this would be equally true.
For the past ten years many consuls, in every part of the world, have been writing about American machinery and tools. In spite of this, not even one report furnished real and new information on the outlook, — a result due less to lack of knowledge than to the narrowness and shortness of view incident to the man who writes from the observation and experience of a district with perhaps a single industry. On the other hand, the editor of the American Machinist made a business tour of Europe, and wrote for his paper a series of articles on the use and prospects of American machinery abroad. They were written with a perfect knowledge of the business itself as well as of what needed to be told. As he went from one manufacturing centre to another, he was able to contrast and compare; to show why one place was strong in mechanical development or demand, and why another was weak. He could see how effective the workmen were in one place, and how inefficient in another. When his tour was finished he had told the best that was known, said the last word, so far as he had gone, and given more real information within a few weeks than all the consular corps of the United States could possibly have gathered together in years.
It is one of the curiosities of literature that, although our consuls have not produced reports of either economic or informing value, many of them have done conspicuous literary work, before and during service, and after retirement. W. D. Howells wrote some delightful books on Italy. Besides his Life of Peter the Great, Eugene Schuyler wrote an acceptable short history of American diplomacy, and translated some of Tourgeniev’s novels. Hawthorne, Elihu Burritt, Underwood, Bret Harte, Penfield, Richman, — to mention only a few, — have done notable work in literature, but not an official report of value. In the one case there was something to say, united with freedom of view and opinion ; in the other there was nothing to say, and red tape was too strong for them. The fault is in the system, not in the men.
George F. Parker.