Mr. Burlingame to Mr. Seward,
Sir: Please find enclosed a letter to me from Sir Rutherford Alcock, the British minister, in relation to the relative rank of commanders and consuls. In the British navy a commander ranks with a vice-consul, and must therefore pay the first visit of courtesy to a consul. In our United States Navy Regulations (Article 107, p. 17) the commander of a vessel of the navy on arriving at a foreign port is directed to call in person and pay the first visit to the diplomatic functionaries of the United States thereat, whose rank is of and above that of consul general; if the officer is of lower rank than consul general, he is to offer [Page 456] him a passage to the ship. It may be said in reply to the British minister that these grades are made for one’s own service, and that naval officers are not under official obligations to call upon the consuls of any but their respective countries.
In the east, however, the question of rank may arise in many ways, and it is desirable that there should be an understanding. It would seem by our rule that when a commander is in command of a vessel, he has the rank of captain. or ranks a consul of his own country. Such is now Shufeldt’s position. He commands the Wachusett, and I can well understand why he does not feel it his duty to pay greater courtesy to a foreign consul than to his own.
I am well acquainted with Commodore Shufeldt, and know him to be a gentlemen who would not for himself raise questions of etiquette, but like most of the gallant officers who fought in the late war, he has a pardonable sensitiveness for his country.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.