The Consular Service of the United States
THE SERVICE OF OTHER COUNTRIES.
INFORMATION in plenty is available about the methods of other countries in filling vacancies in their commercial service, and about promotion, tenure of office, work, and pensions. By implication, these are commended to us as examples, with slight recognition of the difference in ideas, institutions, needs, fiscal and economic conditions, and of the peoples themselves. The essentially aristocratic system of England, a country with almost a monopoly of shipping interests, dependent on outside supplies for most of the necessaries of life as well as for its markets for manufactured goods, is brought forward as an example. The bureaucratic methods current in Germany, which has only recently assumed a place of importance in the commercial world, and has naturally organized its service upon existing models modified by its own peculiar conditions, are held up for admiration. We are commended to those of France, whose frequent changes of government have but little effect upon the stability of mechanical methods. Each of these countries can no doubt teach much in those elements which must enter into all human conduct; but it would certainly be a sign of weakness for a people with a different form of government, without foreign shipping, and with only the beginnings, either in reality or necessity, of a foreign trade in manufactured products, to build upon any such rigid models.
It does not fall within the province of this article to examine all these systems. Modeled in general upon that of Great Britain, they are a curious mixture of the political and the commercial. The following table, compiled from our own Official Register and the British Foreign List, showing the number of paid consulates maintained by the United States and Great Britain, reveals some of the actual conditions : —
|Consulates solely for Commercial Purposes.|
|United States.||United Kingdom|
|United States.||United Kingdom.|
|Sweden and Norway||4||0|
|Consulates mainly political as to the United Kingdom.|
In like manner, British representatives in Algeria, Morocco, the smaller Balkan States, as well as in the Dutch, French, and Portuguese colonies, have less to do in the conservation of trade than in watching over political interests. In China, there are 11 assistants of the first class at salaries of £400 each, 10 of the second class at £350, and 27 student interpreters ; in Japan, 10 assistants of the two grades, and 4 student interpreters. These are attached to the legations and consulates, being transferable from one branch to the other. In Siam, Persia, and Turkey are found the same order of minor officials, all sent from the home country. The number deemed necessary for commercial purposes is shown by the fact that only 16 are sent from home to the United States, three of these being in the possessions taken from Spain. On the other hand, we send to England, 25 ; to Canada, 49; to other British colonies and dependencies, 27: a total of 101. The two countries thus diverge in principle and policy at the very outset. Although the average salaries do not greatly differ, our officials are dependent upon theirs for living and position, while, except in a few prize places, the pay of those sent from England is a helpful auxiliary to private resources.
The United States service, organized primarily to supervise our import trade, maintains elaborate machinery, both at the place of origin and of destination, for determining prices. Under this unique fiscal policy, exports are purely an incident of commercial service. As Great Britain does not require official certificates to import invoices, her officials are supposed to promote the sale of British goods in the countries to which they are accredited. One system gives official help or encouragement to the purchase of foreign products for home consumption ; the other promotes the sale in foreign countries of domestic manufactures.
Social conditions differ even more radically. In England, examinations fix a standard about equivalent to that demanded of a correspondence clerk in a great mercantile house, wherever situated, for which the fee is thirty dollars, by no means the sign of a field open to all comers. After the candidate has passed, he must have influence or money, generally both, to climb the consular ladder. Appointment in the first place, and promotion afterwards, are the rewards of social position and of political though not necessarily partisan activity on the part of somebody. If the brightest men from the universities, without money or influence, should seek places in the service, their chances would not be flattering. They would soon discover that the consular service, in only smaller measure than the diplomatic, is practically the monopoly of a class. However democratic it may be in theory, in practice it is exclusive. Nearly every man admitted to the foreign service, whether in one branch or the other, has means in himself or at his command, and, like wellconnected young Englishmen, he supplements this by an improving marriage. Whatever fitness he may have for promoting commercial or political interests, he must have a fair equipment on the social side. Any one familiar with English life, social or political, has only to glance over the names in the Foreign List to see how completely the ruling families maintain their hold upon these services. This is a feature not likely to commend itself to our people, as those familiar with the character and abilities of our rich young men may attest. For us, the civil pension at the end of a career is as far from a possibility as it is that a petty knighthood or order should confer added dignity.
Those writers who advocate the adoption of every feature tried elsewhere might well remember that, even in these days of gush, there are essential differences between our ideas and institutions and those of England. It might also temper their enthusiasm if they would consult the great British merchants and manufacturers, who trade into every part of the world. From these come complaints of neglect, of impoliteness, of coldness and harshness, even of inefficiency. It is declared that the social position of consuls makes them stiff and unapproachable ; that they do not keep in touch with trade interests ; that they repel travelers and tradesmen ; and that the system is too rigid to be useful. It is easy to understand how color may be given to such opinions when the method of selection is considered, and also when semi-diplomatic duties must often modify commercial zeal. While the examiner has taken the place of the patron, these places have not been thrown open to competition. The mode of selection has been changed, but under both systems the appointees are drawn from the same class. The excluded accept their fate without protest, even with grace. They know that in some branches of the public service merit, without money or influence, sometimes commands recognition, but that the foreign branches, with the army and the navy, are preserves for that merit which has other helpful resources. The new method is an improvement over the old, but nothing is gained by holding it up as a faultless example for another people in a different situation.
Even in the British service, consulates in places as important as Buda-Pesth, Berlin, Munich, Frankfort-on-the-Main, Dresden, Vienna, Zurich, Berne, Geneva, Rome, Venice, Brindisi, and Rotterdam are not filled from home nor with paid incumbents. They are generally filled by native bankers or merchants, interested in English trade or life, — subjects of the countries in which they live. In like manner, Germany, France, and Spain give commissions either to natives who have gone to England early in life and thoroughly identified themselves with the country of adoption, or to local merchants who need know nothing about the countries they represent. Their duties are few, and they perform them, whatever they are, without salaries, fees, or allowances, — these being turned over to consuls general sent from home to London or Liverpool for the purpose of supervising the system.
They are known as trading consuls, and are a feature worth description. With the growing demand for social recognition this system has grown, until exequaturs are now held by nearly eleven hundred such officials in the United Kingdom. Official duties are the last thing in mind ; perhaps nine out of ten have none more serious than the choice of a tailor to make a uniform, or the finding of their countries on the map. Invitations to annual balls or other functions given by the mayor, or the head of the municipality, — whatever his title and however small the place may be, — are keenly sought and much prized. In general, they are limited to the officials of the town and neighborhood, local notables, leading workers and subscribers to local charities, and the personal or business friends of the mayor, in office for the time. To these, by courtesy, foreign consuls are added. As a result, the supply of these officials comes from the local demand for a petty social place, not from the commercial needs of a foreign nation. Countries not yet represented are eagerly sought out, while the contests that succeed an incumbent’s death or resignation are not always more modest or longer delayed than those which follow vacancies in real offices. Petitions signed by those already within the magic or sacred circle are sent to the authorities of countries without a representative, or bereft of one; nor is it unusual for these officials organized into associations humbly to pray that the Sultan, or some king or queen, may decorate one of their number. In case of success, the baubles are noticed in the local press, and worn with becoming gravity at social and official gatherings.
Nor is such a body, resident in any town, wholly averse to the display of its marvelous uniforms. Trimmed most lavishly with gold lace, glowing with all the tints of the rainbow, cut and finished in every terrestrial fashion, often supplemented with the most curious headgear, and the whole exhibited at a mayor’s annual ball in all its gorgeousness, it is impossible for any ordinary description, by an average pen, to do justice to the effect. It reminds one of some scene in a latter-day pantomime. The modest court dress of a member of Parliament is cast into the shade, and no gold-chained lord mayor or mayor would think of entering into competition. The representative of the United States, — often the only real consul in a large city, — rendered conspicuous by plain evening dress, may view with awe and admire without envy this real triumph of the sartorial art. The annual dinners of these bodies contribute a picturesqueness seldom seen in our prosaic times.
Such commissions are often distributed in inverse ratio to the size or trade of the country. In England, Belgium has 47 ; the Argentine Republic, 18 ; Brazil, 29 ; Chile, 26 ; Denmark, 89 ; Greece, 35 ; Italy, 47 ; the Netherlands, 51; Peru, 19; Portugal, 50; Sweden and Norway, 96 ; Turkey, 30 ; Uruguay, 32 ; and Venezuela, 15. The little black republic of Liberia has 27, while the somewhat less sable republics of San Domingo and Hayti have to get along as best they can with 9 and 10 respectively. Of the Great Powers, Austria has 33 ; France, 57 ; Germany, 82 ; Russia, 46 ; and Spain, 58. In the lastnamed group, there are probably 6 or 8 sent from home under the conditions already described. In England alone, there are approximately 40 real consular officers of various titles from all the countries of the world, other than the United States; that is, men sent from them as official business representatives. It no doubt serves some purpose to issue commissions thus lavishly; and the worthy men who hold them must find some profit in their acceptance.
When, however, systems with such features are constantly held up as examples for American imitation, it is easy to see how little use they really are. They will strike the average American as impossible. Seeing that he does not show an undue amount of respect even for the holders of real dignities, from the President downwards, he is likely to smile when told how seriously officials merely nominal take themselves, and how successful they are in inducing other people to accept them at the same valuation. It shows that other countries have weak places in their consular armor, and that, with all our faults, we may well go on and try to work out an intelligent, rational plan of our own.
I have sought throughout these papers to discuss all questions with fairness, though not without some wholesome plainness of speech. I am sincerely and deeply interested in it, not from any desire to magnify an office once held, but to see the system which includes it relieved of its abuses and made worthy of a great country, the importance of whose relations to the remainder of the world few men really appreciate. As what I have written has in it some element of destruction or tearing down, — always represented as a very easy process, — I now purpose to give some attention to the constructive side, and to suggest certain changes. It is my desire to invite criticism and discussion, elements absolutely essential to the correction of faults in existing methods or to the substitution of better ones.
REORGANIZATION OF THE SYSTEM.
In a previous article I have dealt with our consular service as it is. It remains to make some suggestions of a constructive character. These must be merely a series of rough hints, with no attempt to cover details, though upon lines different from any existing system, because, so far as I know, they propose a novel method for dealing with the problem. I can only express the hope that they avoid cocksureness or those counsels of perfection which mar the symmetry and ruin the usefulness of much writing on public questions.
This service belongs logically to the Treasury Department, and much has been written about its transfer. It has long held relations with the State Department, while other countries put a like branch under the control of their Foreign Office. Besides, the Treasury Department is overwhelmed, — an accusation from which the older department is entirely free. For the present, therefore, this divorce may perhaps be delayed without causing much added unhappiness. It will always be well, however, in considering any scheme, related to it, to remember that a consular service is concerned almost wholly with commerce, and that diplomatic powers, even as incidents, should either be eliminated or restricted to narrow limits. If a Department of Colonies or Commerce should be organized, at any future time, the service might be transferred, to become the chief corner stone of a new executive department rather than remain the neglected or rejected of the diplomatic builders.
1. A scheme of reorganization, to proceed upon right and practical lines, ought to be simple. If it shall provide (a) for consuls general; (b) for consuls, of two classes ; (c) for vice consuls, of two classes ; (d) for a clerical force, as the staff, and for student interpreters in Eastern countries, it will be elaborate enough so far as those in the field are concerned.
There must be some recognized method or principle upon which these offices are to be created. This must include knowledge of their number and rank, make provision for a tenure, and prescribe a plan for filling the places. It will be necessary to know what the service now does as a whole, no less than in each country or group of countries; and to do this it is essential to take carefully into account our commercial relations with them, and to find out whether these are increasing and stable, or declining and unsettled ; also whether the countries themselves are progressive or decadent. As the service is not to be of an ornamental character, the whole work should be done upon lines of absolute utility. There is no call to make a place here or there, for the nominee of a President of the United States, Senators or Representatives, or the managers or members of a victorious committee, or for all combined. Having learned everything involved in such an inquiry, it will be possible to fix a standard and to work to it.
The existing scheme is ineffective, badly organized, top - heavy ; a system created and maintained, in general, for furnishing the largest possible number of places, with the least regard to practical results. These must be reduced on some definite plan. For example, there are more than a hundred commercial representatives sent from home to the United Kingdom and its colonies. More than half of these are useless. They are officials who do not promote commerce, while they may injure it. To begin, then, with the twenty-five in England, Ireland, and Scotland, now all consuls, it will be possible to eliminate all but seven. This number will provide a consul general in London, and consuls of one grade or another in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Glasgow, and Belfast. Ten other places, sufficiently important or remote to warrant it, would be attached to these with vice consuls, sent from home, while eight would be abolished, because under the new scheme there would be nothing to do.
The south would be made tributary to London, with vice consulates at Southampton, Bristol, and Plymouth ; the midlands to Birmingham, with vice consulates at Tunstall and Sheffield ; the cotton centres to Liverpool and to Manchester, the latter with a vice consulate at Nottingham ; the wool and woolen districts and all the north to Bradford ; Scotland to Glasgow, with vice consulates at Leith and Dundee ; and Ireland to Belfast, with vice consulates at Dublin and Queenstown. Consular agencies, of which there are thirty, all held by foreigners, would be abolished as useless. The whole number of places, including agencies, is now fifty-five; under this plan it would be reduced to seventeen, and it is not so certain that two more might not be spared without injury.
In Canada, besides agencies, there are forty-nine consulates of various grades, most of which are wasted. The need for a consul at Three Rivers, St. John’s, or Victoria, B. C., is not greater than for one in Tucson or Cripple Creek. Courtesy to a sensitive neighbor, nominally foreign, and some other vague duties may make it necessary to have consuls at Ottawa, at each of the provincial capitals, and in the Klondike, but even they will have little to do. This will provide for nine, of whom three might be of second-class consular rank, and the remainder vice consuls, leaving forty free to return home. The service in Canada and Mexico has been swelled because, although the places are small and insignificant, they are situated in towns fairly pleasant to live in and easy of access for vacation, business, or politics. Considerable economy of men and places may be effected in the West Indies, and some additions might be needed in Africa and Australia.
All consuls with relation to the United Kingdom (that is, those requiring recognition by its Foreign Office) would be treated as one body. Appointments would be made to vice consulates of the lower grade and promotions to the higher grade, or to consulates the incumbents of which would, in each case, move up into higher responsibility and pay. This process would go on strictly within the group of English-speaking countries. Under it a useful consul might begin his official life in Australia, or Canada, or Africa, or in the United Kingdom itself, to be transferred according to qualification and need. As the terms of those with consular rank expired, or as they died or resigned, the President would fill the vacancies automatically, without the necessity of sending the names to the Senate for confirmation. As a consequence, no inexperienced man could be appointed directly to the higher grades.
I have used the English-speaking countries merely to illustrate the proposed group system. It would apply to Germany, with which Austria, the Netherlands, and the countries of northern Europe might be grouped, under a consul general at Berlin; France and Belgium with their colonies, and Switzerland, would constitute another group, with direction from Paris; the remaining Latin countries and their colonies would form another, with direction from Rome or Madrid; Hungary, Greece, Turkey, and the countries around the eastern Mediterranean another, with a consul general at Buda-Pesth or Constantinople ; and so on the world over, the arrangement being a matter of detail and geography. In each group the number of independent consulates would be reduced, and the same methods of appointment and promotion would be applied. It would probably be discovered that an increase in the number and rank of consuls would be necessary in the Far East; but the proposed system is elastic enough to permit this.
For simplicity of management, for geographical propinquity, and for likeness or kinship in languages, this method would run through the whole scheme. Appointments to the lower grade of vice consuls would be accepted with the knowledge that service would be limited to the group, chosen or assigned. If the incumbents had or developed ambitions, they would realize that they must gratify them, say, within the English, the German, or the Chinese group. As the salaries and rank would be the same in all, there would be no good reason for seeking a transfer from one to another. All would serve in each grade, for a longer or shorter time ; and none would miss this for any reason other than the exceptional one which now carries the West Point or the Annapolis graduate from one rank to another over intervening stops. When the vice consul had passed through both his own grades he would become a consul of the second class; if entitled to promotion before the expiration of his term, he would enter one of the first class, or become a consul general in due course.
The weak feature in the English system, universally recognized, is that, when an official has become really useful, say, somewhere in South America because of his proficiency in Spanish, he may be moved off to Germany or China, where his linguistic labor is practically lost to himself and his government.
All positions, except those of porter and office boy, ought to be filled by Americans sent from home. Without experience or a careful study of existing methods, it is impossible to understand how a conscientious consul, intent only upon doing the duty he is sent out to perform, is hampered. He is surrounded by subordinates who are strangers to him as well as to everything that his country means. As individual English, German, or Russian citizens, they may be worthy of the highest praise, and may occupy, as they often do, positions of trust in professional or public life ; but as official representatives of the United States, as sharers with the consul, even in the smallest degree, of his peculiar work, or as aids in carrying it on with intelligence, they must be pronounced failures. Here, again, the fault is not in the men, but in the system. The niggardly policy that either makes their employment necessary or leaves Congress, or anybody interested, patient under its existence, is not creditable either to the liberality or good sense of a great people. For reasons obvious to every thinking man, the unfairness and absolute inefficiency of the system will increase rather than diminish as the American people enter upon direct competition with other countries. The conclusion is clear that a hundred consulates, properly distributed and manned throughout by Americans, are worth ten times their number filled, in our haphazard way, with foreigners in subordinate places.
If consular courts are to be maintained in the remote East, they ought to be administered by trained lawyers, so that judicial power may not be put into the hands of men without the proper training. Recent developments render this system less and less necessary, and it is gradually passing away ; but while it remains the work ought to be worthily done by men having relations with embassies and legations, not with consulates.
It is a necessity that American student interpreters, who might be attached to consulates as well as legations, should be sent out to learn the languages and everything relating to all Eastern countries. A practical way would be to choose these upon the recommendation of the presidents of leading colleges, preference being given to those which furnish the best facilities for pursuing the studies preparatory to the work. If found competent, such appointees might in due time be appointed to consulates in their own group.
Without entering into details, I estimate that this plan, followed out to its logical results, would provide for a service of about 150 officials of the various grades, of whom probably 15 would be consuls general, 45 consuls, and the remainder vice consuls. In addition, it would necessitate the appointment of probably 300 to 350 clerks and assistants, and 40 to 50 student interpreters for Russia, Turkey, and the countries of the remote East. As all these, without exception, would be sent from home, the number of Americans employed in the foreign commercial service would be greater than at present by 100 or 150. But each one would have a definite work cut out for him, and would be so directed by supervising officials that there would be no room for laggards or incapables.
2. Having provided and arranged the offices, their grades and order of succession, it is necessary to provide incumbents. Two classes of men in the United States, widely sundered in idea and motive, could furnish a ready-made plan for doing this. The spoils politician would not long hesitate to put his scheme into working order, and appoint out of hand, in the good old way. At the other extreme, the reformer would prescribe an examination, and fill the offices about as promptly, probably with a class of men somewhat less effective. The practical man, being neither spoilsman nor theorist, would be at a loss to know which plan would be the worse. In the one case, the country would get at least one man out of every three, of excellent ability, high character, mature age and development, quick, watchful and ambitious, worthy of recognition by any government, far superior to the average chosen by other countries under their examination scheme. The same man would insist that he did not know what the result would be if the alternative plan were adopted and the service were thrown open to examinations, because it had not been tried ; but he would incline to the belief that, if rigidly applied at a time of general change or removal, it would send over the world an undue proportion of immature men: of recent graduates from high schools and small colleges, and useless and idle rich young men, willing to take places deemed easy, most of whom would know next to nothing about the ideas or institutions of their own country; as well as some who would have no real interest in anything of a serious character.
The practical man, if it fell to his lot to inaugurate the proposed system, would choose seventy-five or one hundred really useful and honest officials — being a fourth or a third of the whole number sent from home — from those in office when the new law should go into operation. (At the close of each administration since Hayes left office this proportion could have been found.) From these he could fill the principal places in each group, thus getting at once officials of experience, whose qualifications no examination could increase or diminish. These would provide about half, including all consuls general and consuls, and some vice consuls. As any method would give the practical man the remainder, he would not much care how they were chosen. The places at his disposal would be the lowest in salary and dignity, and their incumbents, as the subordinates of those already in office, would be subject to a supervision impossible at present. He would appoint on probation for not more than a year, and would send no man under thirty years of age, and few under forty, which would be still better.
All quarrels between the two methods of appointment being avoided, the experiment would not be placed at the mercy of either spoilsmen or theorists. One must confess that it is difficult to understand why every critic of the consular service should insist that its places be filled exclusively by examination. It has nowhere been proposed that assistant secretaries, collectors of customs or internal revenue, postmasters of large cities, comptrollers, auditors, or commissioners under the federal or state governments, shall be brought under the civil service commission. Why, then, should responsible officials, of equal dignity and pay, accredited to foreign countries, with duties requiring tact and independence, be brought down to the level of clerks paid a thousand dollars a year ?
3. Having provided for appointment upon practical lines, we must decide, on some principle, the matter of tenure. Nothing is clearer to the student of our conditions than that a system of life tenure, or assurance of it, has not been accepted by the people of the United States, and is not likely to be until there has been a revolution in institutions as well as in ideas. It is even resented in the military and naval services and in the federal courts ; so far as the general political system is concerned, it is further away than at the organization of the government. As it is not a matter of might be or ought to be, but merely of what is, there is no necessity either to lament or to argue about it. “ It is a condition which confronts us, not a theory.” Whatever the reason for this opinion as to home offices, it is well founded so far as it relates to the foreign service. The man who remains away from his country, in any office, during a long period of years is prone to forget much and to learn little as to the real meaning of events and institutions at home. This does not mean that cheap, truculent patriotism, so often the first and the last refuge of the demagogue and the adventurer; it refers to knowledge of what his country has become, and real interest in it from every large point of view. The ability to maintain an interest in two countries at the same time and with equal intelligence is not given to many persons.
Before vice consuls are accepted or become eligible for promotion they should go into actual service for one year. After that, limit their terms to six additional years in the various grades through which they may pass, leaving neither the President nor the department any power to reappoint. During this term the official should return home for two visits, of at least three months each, not for his own pleasure, but in the performance of his official duties. Under the direction both of the department and of his immediate superior, the consul general, he would go into all the domestic districts having industries akin to those with which he was called upon to deal in his group. His usefulness at his post would be greatly increased, while he would maintain the closest touch with his own country. The present personal allowance of sixty days’ leave of absence each year is excessive, and should be reduced by one half.
In like manner, he should be required to visit the principal places of his group or district every year, for the purpose of studying with care its manufacturing, commercial, and agricultural interests, so that he might report upon them, when necessary, in no chance or haphazard way. Relieved from the useless office drudgery now inseparable from his place, with an efficient staff of assistants, all drawn from home, the consul would be able, under the direction of the department and his consul general, to do his work with system and intelligence, and also to command the coöperation of his own subordinates.
Acquiring, in this way, a knowledge of the industries of two countries, the consul, at the end of his term, would return home in order to retire, to engage in business or public life, fitted to teach others, by speech and writing, what he had learned for their advantage and for his own. He might be preferred again for consular service, — after a retirement of some years, — or for the diplomatic service, or for home offices. The ability for doing really good and high work which such a training would develop cannot be exaggerated, nor its results measured by any standard known to our present happy-go-lucky methods. Selected according to a rational system, always working under intelligent direction, with sufficient independence to afford scope for originality, and with fixity of tenure, the whole staff would pass back gradually, every seven years, into the currents of home life. As all intelligent men must, when working amid such surroundings and opportunities, they would return with increased patriotism and good sense, more truly American than ever before ; so that five men, with knowledge and experience valuable to them as individuals and useful to their countrymen, would graduate out of the foreign service where one can now be expected. From such a source alone ought to come many valuable additions to economic literature, otherwise impossible.
4. In the case of an official so chosen, with tenure fixed and duties defined, the question of pay is important. A consul general of the first class — basing the classification mainly upon that of the diplomatic service — ought to be paid not less than $10,000 a year. He is to live in London, Paris, Berlin, or St. Petersburg, the most expensive cities in the world. He should be enabled to do so without trenching upon his savings, or being forced to look upon his office as a source of fortune or profit. The second grade of consuls general should be paid $7500 a year; consuls of the first class $6000, and of the second class $5000 and $4000 in their respective grades ; vice consuls of the first class $3500, and of the second class $3000, the latter to be the smallest pay in the consular service proper. Assistants and clerks should have salaries somewhat larger than those paid to the clerks in the department, graded according to length of service. All should have proper allowances for travel to their posts, as the present meagre sea pay is a disgrace to the country.
Fees, whatever their amount or character, should be reduced to the lowest possible limit consistent with dignity and fairness to local officials in other countries, and should belong to the government. The fee system is dangerous and unjust. It is full of temptations at all times, and even more than usually so when applied by officials too remote for proper supervision or risk of public exposure. Even the fees for court commissions should be turned into the treasury. All advice, whether to citizens at home or to strangers, to merchants or to emigrants, whether by letter or in person, should be made part of the consul’s official duty, to be rendered gratuitously at all times. Inquiries about estates should be freely and fully answered under strict regulations. If there is business involved, it should be referred to lawyers, indorsed by the department on one side, and by the consul or the mayor of the town on the other, all officials being prohibited from sharing in fees under any circumstances. These are matters of growing importance and interest. They cover duties in which the utmost care should be enforced in the regulations and in practice. Complaints of extortion or want of courtesy should be listened to with patience, and severely punished when proven.
It is easy to attach an exaggerated importance to notarial work. When our trade relations with other countries were few and restricted, it was natural to require consular verification before giving suitors a standing in court or legalizing wills and transfers of title. In new countries this business is insignificant; in those with a stable government, there is a recognized and elaborate legal machinery in the form of notaries, commissioners, and justices of the peace,— officials who, under whatever name, are authorized to administer oaths. These are everywhere selected with great care, hold dignified places in social life, and have a tenure either permanent or for long periods. Identification by mayors or the chairmen of local governing bodies, under seal, is easy and inexpensive. Even if the consul must intervene, in exceptional cases, his act ought to be merely clerical, without requiring the appearance in person of the signatories who, in addition to paying a heavy fee, must often travel a hundred miles or more to acknowledge a deed or release a mortgage. This is due to no fault or extortion on the part of the consul, but is the result of ill-considered state laws made before this branch of business had become settled on business lines.
It is often easy to break agreements because of the absence of official certificates, now made difficult by remoteness from consuls or lack of knowledge of the requirements in a given state. In the main, the change is a matter for individual states, although the treaty-making power might be invoked to bring simplicity and system out of the present conditions. If we are to develop a great foreign trade, the enforcement of contracts by foreigners against our own people, and the reverse, should be made as simple as the same process is at home.
All the elements entering into remuneration should be considered. It is unjust to incumbents to send them abroad only to have fees cut off without notice, when they have fairly adjusted themselves to their income and surroundings. Generally speaking, when attention is directed to an abuse, the first inclination of both Congress and the department is to reduce or abolish the fees, without thinking of the effect or of the equities. Nearly every fault in the system has developed from the failure of Congress to provide proper salaries, and the fees now existing should be abolished only after compensating advantages have been provided by an increase of salaries.
5. This would necessitate a change of management, or rather would create a central authority for the consular service. The existing system would break down utterly even under changes far less drastic than those proposed. It would need an assistant secretary who should devote his time and talents to the consular service. The second assistant secretary, except for formal work, does this for the diplomatic service; without the intervention of law, he has become in reality a permanent official. Another assistant, given power over a centralized, responsible system, would soon reach the same position. Carefully hedged about by law, as he would be, there would not be enough vacant offices at the disposal of the President, at any given time, to induce him to interfere with the machinery of the department in order to get places for supporters. The President and the Secretary of State — however often a new one might be appointed — would soon become so dependent upon this official that nothing could induce them to remove him, while the consular service would no longer be without a serious and responsible head.
This is not the place or the time to devote attention to the clerical force of this department, which, like that in all others, needs reorganization. It is now impossible to command a fair proportion of men with intelligence united to a wholesome ambition, founded upon ability to do something really well. And yet, without a staff so constituted, it is unreasonable to expect that any head, whether of department or bureau, with intricate and responsible duties, shall be able to do good work. It is the equality of the commonplace that rules in such a body. The pay and recognition of the purely mechanical are practically the same as the pay and recognition given to those who might rise out of the ranks and show themselves capable of responsibility. A reward, common to both the inefficient and the useful, the contented and the ambitious, tends, here as everywhere, to produce a common minimum of work, and aspirations after a uniform pettiness. A mere clerk, however useful he may be in his own narrow groove, is probably worth no more than the $1000 to $1800 paid him each year, because, for the same pay, it would be possible to get a quarter of a million like him, by a thirty days’ search ; but the rare clerk, the one in a thousand fit to become head of a bureau, cannot be found and kept for the preposterous mercantile bookkeeper’s pay of $2100 a year. Generally such a place is taken, either as a temporary expedient by worthy men, or by those content to be dependents, without proper pride or possible efficiency. This applies not to the State Department alone, but to that vast overloaded, ill-digested public service concentrated all along the line in Washington. Without adequate supervision, with nothing to lift it out of the ruts, every executive department bids fair to remain, what it has become, a refuge for mediocrity, through which dry rot spreads like a contagion.
The best way to reform reports is to cut off nineteen twentieths of the number now prepared, and to improve the quality of the remainder. The secretary in charge of the service would naturally be chosen with reference to a knowledge of this work. It is most desirable that he should know how to deal intelligently with figures ; so that, if he were a statistician of recognized position, he would never consent to manipulate them to suit the theories of a class or a party. The reduction in volume would make possible a selection of subjects and intelligence of treatment. The instructions would be transmitted through consuls general, with whom consuls and vice consuls, within any given group, would coöperate so far as fitness or environment made this possible. The report, when printed, would not be the contribution of one man, but of several working together upon branches most familiar to them.
Those original and searching investigations of great economic problems and the principles that underlie them may safely be left to the enthusiasm and industry of private students, as few public officials can do the work. Reports on current commercial developments, even after eliminating the great mass of flimsy matter, have no large permanent interest, and are always far removed from literature; but under proper direction the country could get the best, latest, and most effective news about the things it most needs to know.
A confusing element in the present system is the lack of stability in regulations. All important matters ought to be settled by legislation, not left to the whim of a department. An effective, careful codification, made by competent men and ratified by Congress, would be the natural sequel to a proper reorganization of the service. The regulations ought to be subjected to the same process, made as intelligent as possible, and much reduced in number and bulk.
6. The system of official fees should be revised. The boast is often made that the consular service nearly pays the expenses of both the commercial and diplomatic branches. As this revenue is derived almost wholly from the fees for consular invoices, such a declaration is something for reproach, not for pride. These documents are issued in triplicate or quadruplicate, as the merchandise covered by them is to be landed direct at the seashore or shipped in bond inland. For this a uniform charge is made of $2.50, when the value is $100 or more. Before the goods can pass the custom house and enter into consumption an official invoice must be produced. If it does not precede or accompany their arrival, they are sent to the public stores at the importer’s cost and risk until it is produced. Nor is the simple fee, paid by the shipper for these certificates, the whole cost to him. He incurs certain expenses for railway fares, and naturally charges for the time consumed in going to the consulate to make the necessary declarations, which, under the law, he must either do himself or go to the expense of authorizing an agent to act for him under a power of attorney. These swell the prices of the merchandise, and so add something to the total. The result is that, except for duties, all these items must bear their proportion of charges and profits, and the consumer, who finally settles everything, pays about $4.00 for the $2.50 received by his government. Secretaries of state and the treasury point with pride each year to the total of the fees, and would fain lead a confiding people to believe that their foreign services cost them nothing. The prudent American, who has not forgotten how to count the cost, may well conclude that 160 cents for a dollar is rather dear pay for the whistle. He would be justified in the conclusion that a more direct method of taxation, which would be rather cheaper in the end, might be devised by the lawmaking powers.
The abolition of the consular invoice will naturally carry the fee with it. As a method for determining values at the place of origin or manufacture, the invoice is both inquisitorial and ineffective. It is not made under oath; and if it were, the United States could not enforce abroad the penalties it inflicts at home. It can only reach the seller by penalizing the buyer, who, as all experience shows, is in most cases the author of the fraud. When merchandise arrives at its destined port, an elaborate and expensive system of appraisement is maintained for determining values; on the whole, it is a fairly efficient and honest application of our methods. If no question is raised, the consular invoice becomes a simple bill of lading, and is unnecessary. In a dispute it counts for nothing ; the fact that the value has been raised shows that it has been set aside by the appraising officer as fraudulent or incorrect, — something that a special agent of the treasury working abroad, or an appraiser at the landing port, has, in some way, discovered. The consul does not give evidence or investigate values, although he may collect price lists and turn them over to the proper officers of the treasury to which he is merely a clerical officer with an indirect official relation to it, and that by the courtesy of another department of the government.
Under an excellent regulation, made within the last few years, the consul may receive invoices sent by post, thus taking away even the nominal control formerly exercised, when oaths were exacted in some countries. If this privilege were so extended as to make it voluntary with the shipper, and not with the consul, a great deal of useless expense and annoyance would be avoided.
7. It is safe to assume that no effective reform will be adopted by Congress until public sentiment shall have prepared the way. The first thing is to bring home the fact that, for the good name of the country and the promotion of trade interests, something must be done. Congress will not do this for itself, working either as a body or in committee. It has no time and little knowledge, while many interests press for recognition. Perhaps the only way to get attention is by the appointment of a commission to report upon existing conditions. with suggestions for their amendment. Such a body, — made up of a Senator, a Representative, two men with experience in the service, and one nominated by commercial bodies, — fairly divided in party opinion, sitting at Washington during the whole of a long session of Congress, could gather all the information possible to be obtained in this way. Supplemented by six months in the field, the examination of a hundred consulates, and a careful study of the methods employed by other countries, it would lay the whole question open, so that there would no longer be excuse for misunderstanding in the public mind, or inaction in either the executive or the legislative branch of the government; while, if the latter continued, a foundation would exist upon which to build an effective public sentiment.
With all due respect to the commercial bodies that pass resolutions, their methods are open to question. Their conclusions are not based upon facts or any realizing sense of the work necessary, and are wanting in originality or suggestion. Oftener than otherwise, some ambitious young man thinks he can gain local recognition by taking up this burning issue. He introduces a resolution in Cleveland or Richmond or Buffalo, and makes a speech. His associates, knowing little about its merits, accept it as a truism, — something akin to a declaration that the decalogue is a good thing, or to a reaffirmation of the Constitution of the United States. It is passed, as a matter of form, and the young man goes to Washington to meet congenial associates from other cities, on the same errand. The whole thing ends in newspaper interviews and smoke, both real and metaphorical. If these organizations would only conclude that something must be done, appoint their own commission on the lines suggested, and make the proper study, it would be more effective than for the President and Congress to do it ; but to carry through such a plan would require the coöperation of the best business men in the whole country ; if it should fall into the hands of self-seekers it were better left alone.
Even without agitation, commission, of new law, the same bodies might do something effective. If, three months before a new President enters upon his office, they would lay before him a careful statement of the service, ability, efficiency, training, and honesty of a hundred of the best consuls, and insist upon their retention for at least three years, they would render good government an invaluable service, even if every recommendation were thrown aside. If, in like manner, they would prepare a list of a hundred useless consuls, and demand their immediate removal, giving reasons and assuming responsibility in each case, they would do still more for the same cause and the improvement of trade relations. While they keep themselves aloof from such practical politics, they will be impotent.
A movement of this kind would give the President, Congress, and the country a fair idea of what the consular system is, and what is needed in order to increase its efficiency. Such a plan, too, would divide responsibility between the legislative and executive branches of the government. In spite of the general well-meaning of Presidents, the pressure is so strong that, entering upon power, they are forced to maintain this important service as they find it, — a partisan machine. Two successive Presidents, of different party opinions, could effect an entire change in the system without the intervention of new laws: so long, however, as each only begins to think of reforms after he has newly welded abuses, it is idle to expect the support of one, still less of two in succession.
8. With a scheme like that outlined, a single presidential term — even if the incumbent were not wholly friendly — would give the service a stability and character which even an unfriendly successor could not wholly destroy. The power of appointment cannot be taken away, but it can be so regulated by law as to remove or relieve the partisan pressure. Its main attraction now is on the speculative side, an exaggerated idea of the opportunities which consulates give.
Once reduce to liberal, though far from extravagant salaries, and the average place seeker will be inclined rather to bear the offices about him than to fly to a remote foreign place which he knows not of. This tendency will be increased when he finds that he must take a position with modest pay, subordinate power, slow promotion, and limited tenure, in a country remote from home, friends, and ambition.
It is important to recognize that the defects of our present system are not limited to the mere abuse of the appointing power, but run through the whole. This is a favorable time for entering upon an agitation. Our people are just beginning to look for a larger share of the trade of the world. They are ready to discuss the whole subject with interest, and, as they want to do this with honesty and intelligence, will gladly learn how they can do so. While both writers and business men are prone to overestimate the influence of consuls and the commercial value of the system, it is probably true that as other countries employ such agents, so America must for a time. This being the case, there is no reason why it should not be adapted to present needs rather than to run in well-worn ruts.
Personally, I have no ambition to pose as the author of any plan ; still, I venture to hope that observation and experience have given an insight into the question in some of its bearings, Every line of these articles has been written with reference to the needs of the service and to the qualities required in the men who are to carry out a task not without its difficulties. I have endeavored to give fair consideration to the demands upon those who hold such places, to consider the drawbacks incident to official residence abroad as well as its attractions. It is not a patent scheme for reorganizing the system ; it is merely a series of hints rather roughly thrown together. If it shall draw attention to an important though little understood question, my object will have been attained, even if I incur the charge of temerity for putting forth such suggestions. I trust that it may not be deemed either conventional or dogmatic.
George F. Parker.