Problems in the Consular Service

Because the consular service expanded so rapidly during this period, incoming presidential administrations found ample overseas rewards for their friends and supporters. Even artists and writers, such as James Fennimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and Thomas Nast used their political connections to secure lucrative overseas posts. Some hoped for an improvement in their finances, while others were attracted by free time to pursue their writing or a desire for adventure.

Despite strenuous efforts to correct them, abuses in the Consular Service persisted into the late 19th century. In 1872, DeB. Randolph Keim, a representative of the Department of the Treasury, headed an extensive investigation of the Consular Service. He uncovered many irregularities, among them collection of illegal fees, improper exercise of judicial powers, fraudulent accounting, faulty administration of estates left by Americans who died abroad, and issuance of illegal passports. Keim thought that the most important feature of his investigation was the “ingenuity displayed by consular officers, since the Act of 1856 particularly, in defrauding the Government and grasping gains from various outside sources besides.”