Mr. Uhl to Mr. Vignaud.

No. 370.]

Sir: I inclose herewith a copy of a communication from Mr. Alfred Chapelié, United States vice-consul at Tunis, Africa, dated February [Page 415] 12, 1895, representing that the minister for foreign affairs of the Bey of Tunis (who is also at the same time the French minister resident) had notified him that the Government of Tunis intended to suppress all privileges, honors, and prerogatives granted to the consuls by treaties, except those who were salaried officers.

Mr. Chapelié gives no decree or other public announcement of the new rule which appears to have been adopted in respect to unsalaried consular representatives at Tunis, and it would seem to be an arbitrary distinction put in practice without notice or any other than oral explanation.

This Government, following the rule generally observed in other countries, makes no discrimination between salaried and unsalaried consular officers of foreign States. They ail stand on the same footing, according to the commission they bear which defines their grade and jurisdiction; they receive like exequaturs and enjoy identical privileges and exemptions.

Under these circumstances this Government can not acquiesce in any differential treatment of its consular officers abroad based upon a mere detail of financial relation between this Government and its agent, which in no manner concerns the agent’s relation to the Government to which he is accredited and from which he receives his exequatur.

It must expect that such officers shall receive in a foreign country equal treatment with other officers of like grade representing any country whatsoever.

If it should appear that the invidious distinction in question has not been imposed by the French Government, but has been adopted by the French resident at Tunis in his accessory capacity as minister for foreign affairs of the Bey, it is not doubted that it will suffice to bring the matter to the attention of the French Government in order to insure its correction in the proper quarter.

I am, etc.,

Edwin F. Uhl,
Acting Secretary
[Inclosure 1 in No. 370.]

Mr. Chapelié to Mr. Uhl.

Sir: I beg to acknowledge receipt of your dispatch No. 7 of the 5th of January last. I have the honor to-day of submitting to the Department’s examination the following fact:

According to the terms of the treaties confirmed by those of the exequaturs, granted by the Beys of Tunis to the consular officers in Tunis, the honors, privileges, and prerogatives they had a right to were the following: Right to put a flagstaff and flag on the consular house; right to have one or more janissaries appointed by the Bey; to be exempted from civil or criminal jurisdiction; to be exempted from custom-house duties upon personal effects for the consul and family; to have the right of refuge or inviolability of the consular house and official documents; right to the clause of the most favored nation; exemption from taxes upon the consular house.

These privileges have lasted for centuries, and I have been admitted to divide [share] them as soon as I received my exequatur, but, to my great surprise, on the 26th of January last, having sent one of my [Page 416] janissaries to draw out of the custom-house a small package I had received from Malta for my private use, the custom-house officer informed him that he had orders to refuse me the exemption of duties, as all privileges had been abolished for unsalaried consular officers in Tunis.

Having had no official information of this fact from the Tunisian government, I supposed it was the result of a mistake, and I called the following day upon the French resident, who is at the same time the minister of foreign affairs of the Bey, to inquire about the matter but, to my great surprise, Mr. Millet made me the following declaration, which, to my regret, it is my duty to transmit to the Department. Mr. Millet told me that as soon as he had arrived from Sweden, about four months ago, he decided that the honors and privileges granted by the Tunisian government indistinctly to all consular officers in Tunis had no reason to be extended to the unsalaried ones; that he had therefore decided that henceforth they should be suppressed for these, while they should be continued for the salaried ones; that consequently he had divided the consular corps of Tunis into two distinct parts, the salaried and the unsalaried consuls and vice-consuls; that we were five of the second class, my colleagues of Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Russia, and myself, and that we should not expect any more to be treated on the same footing as the others, not only about the accustomed prerogatives and honors, but even about the official invitations to the palace and to the residence—in fact, depriving us at his pleasure of all the advantages and prestige of our commissions.

I answered Mr. Millet that I could not understand the reasons which could lead him to take such a serious step against a corps which was independent of him, or authorize him to an arbitrary classification of it, especially as the unpaid officers represented as well as the others, and in all their integrity, the rights and interests of the Governments which had accredited them here; that I was extremely surprised that no official communication should have been made previously to us about this question, and that in his capacity of minister to the Bey he could take upon himself the serious responsibility of modifying at his pleasure the existing treaties without having previously and officially ascertained the intentions of the United States Government on the subject; that I had no authority to treat diplomatic questions and consequently to discuss the measure he wanted to enforce in such a blunt manner, but that the appreciation of this question remained altogether to the American Government alone, and that I was going to refer the matter to Washington and wait for instructions. I suggested at the same time that it would be much more preferable to let things stand until the question should be examined by the Department, but he would not hear of it, saying that his decision was irrevocable.

I called upon my colleagues of Belgium, Holland, and Russia, and consulted them on the matter; they divide [share] entirely my opinion and are transmitting the fact to their respective Governments.

I remained a few days in suspense waiting to see whether Mr. Millet had modified his views on this matter, but, finding they were unchanged, I thought it necessary to prove my opposition by sending him a protestative note. This note, of which I insert herewith a translation, was forwarded to Mr. Millet on the 5th instant and no answer has been made to it yet.

I shall conclude this perhaps too extensive dispatch by saying that my private impression is that the whole of the affair is due to Mr. Millet’s initiative alone. I know by private sayings that he wants to diminish gradually and reduce to nothing the prestige and power of the [Page 417] consular body here, which he considers as dangerous. It will remain to the foreign powers to know what to do in the matter, but I am perfectly convinced that if the Tunisian government was really trying to obtain this modification to the treaties, the affair should have been conducted in the very courteous and very refined manner in which Oriental Governments are in the habit of treating diplomatic questions.

The manner in which I was informed—by a custom-house officer and through my janissary—of Mr. Millet’s decision is more than sufficient to prove that the Tunisian government had nothing to do with the matter.

I am, etc.,

Alfred Chapelié,
United States Vice-Consul
[Inclosure 2 in No. 370.—Translation].

Mr. Chapelié to Mr. Millet.

Sir: In consequence of the conversation I had the honor of having with you a few days ago, and in which you informed me that the Tunisian government had decided upon the suppression of all the honors, privileges, and prerogatives granted until now to the unsalaried consular officers of the foreign powers in Tunis, while it would continue them in favor of the salaried agents, notwithstanding the perfect assimilation which always existed between them from time immemorial in Tunis, I have examined again, with the greatest attention, the texts of the treaties and regulations which fix the relations of the American consular officers with the Tunisian government, and I have arrived at the following conclusions:

I am not authorized by my Government to treat diplomatic questions, and have, consequently, no official quality to discuss with the Bey’s government the reasons which led him to decide upon a measure so unexpected and so completely in opposition to the terms of the treaties which bind him to the United States Government. A measure, in short, of a slighting nature both for the foreign representatives it is aiming at and for the Governments they have the honor of representing in Tunis.

The appreciation of this fact belongs to the Government at Washington alone, and I am transmitting to it immediately the official declaration you have thought proper to communicate to me on the subject, asking for special orders.

Moreover, I am obliged in the meantime by the official position I am occupying here, although an unsalaried officer, and by the mission which is confided to me by the United States Government to oversee and defend its interests in Tunis, to protest formally and in the most absolute way against this arbitrary way of modifying the treaties which the Tunisian government believes it has the right of decreeing and which I consider as illegal and prejudicial to the dignity and to the interests of the American nation; making my most absolute reserves upon the application of this new measure, which is not only in direct contradiction of the treaties as well as with the terms of the exequatur which was granted to me hardly four months ago, but which can not in any way be put into execution before a previous understanding between the interested parties and the formal consent of the United States.

For these reasons I have the honor of informing you that as long as I have no special instructions from the Department at Washington upon [Page 418] this question I shall continue to consider my official position in Tunis as unchanged, and to hold the Tunisian government responsible for the consequences of all the attempts which may take place against it.

I am, etc.,

A. Chapelié,
United States Vice-Consul in Tunis