Mr. Olney to Mr. Eustis.

No. 442.]

Sir: Since Mr. Uhl’s No. 438,1 of the 5th instant, informing you that the Department had received no communication from the French ambassador here concerning the withdrawal of consular privileges from unsalaried consular officers in the regency of Tunis, Mr. Patenôtre has informally stated to Mr. Rockhill, the Third Assistant Secretary, certain reasons for the discrimination of which Mr. Chapelié, the United States vice-consul at Tunis, complains.

Apparently the main considerations advanced by Mr. Patenôtre were personal in character, but without specific allegation or tangible proof the Department may not properly take cognizance of this aspect of the matter. Moreover, such personal objections, whatever may be their merit so far as concerns the French Government, bear no obvious relation to the ground of complaint presented in Mr. Uhl’s instruction No. 370, of March 12, 1895. * * *

The ambassador’s attention was directed to our treaty with Tunis of August, 1797, article 17 of which reads as follows:

Each of the contracting parties shall he at liberty to establish a consul in the dependencies of the other, and if such consul does not act in conformity with the usages of the country, like others, the Government of the place shall inform his Government of it, to the end that he may be changed and replaced; but he shall enjoy, as well for himself as his family and suite, the protection of the Government, and he may import for his own use all his provisions and furniture without paying any duty; and if he shall import merchandise (which it shall be lawful for him to do) he shall pay duty for it.

It is evident from this that no distinction of salaried or unsalaried consular officers is made, and that the right to import goods and supplies free of duty may be guarded against abuse by suitable regulations whereby the local customs authorities may assure themselves of the true character of the imported articles. These consular privileges being conventional, it is not in the power of the authorities at Tunis to arbitrarily set them aside and substitute a new discrimination founded upon the unusual and inapplicable test of the salary attaching to the consular office.

It is perfectly compatible with a consular officer’s duties as such, that he be permitted to engage in trade, and the practice is generally recognized among nations. Vice-consuls as a rule are resident merchants, and even officers of the regular consular “career,” receiving salaries below a stated amount, are permitted to engage in business apart from their office and subject to the laws governing trade. The Government of the United States sends and receives consular officers of this class.

The ambassador did not question the interpretation placed upon article 17 of our treaty as herein explained, but he referred to article 3 of the general convention between Great Britain and Tunis of July 19, 1875, [Page 420] wherein it is expressly stated that the privilege of importing provisions, furniture, and other articles free of duty “shall only be accorded to consular officers who are not engaged in trade,” and expressed the hope that the Government of the United States would not insist on privileges granted under a very old treaty, and which Great Britain, a country peculiarly tenacious in claiming all its rights, had been willing to relinquish.

The relevancy of this citation to the question now under consideration is not apparent, for, in the first place, neither expansion nor restriction of existing treaty stipulations is inferable from any later treaty of either contracting party with a third power, and in the second place, even were the provisions of our treaty with Tunis admittedly inadequate to meet the apprehended abuse, the Anglo-Tunisian rule is a very different thing from the proposal of the French minister resident (who is also the Bey’s minister for foreign affairs) to suppress all consular privileges, honors, and prerogatives, except to salaried officers.

Mr. Chapelié may be objectionable because persona non grata or because abusing as a merchant the strictly limited privilege of consular importation, but his being salaried or nonsalaried can really have nothing to do with the question. If there be any personal charges against him which the French Government may think it necessary to communicate they will be carefully and impartially inquired into. Otherwise, under accepted international usage, that Government has the remedy within its power, should it deem such course justifiable, by simply withdrawing his exequatur.

If no satisfactory adjustment of the matter shall have been effected before the arrival of this instruction, you will communicate these views to Mr. Hanotaux, expressing the Department’s confident expectation that any needful steps will be immediately taken to insure the vice-consul of the United States at Tunis all rights and privileges guaranteed to him by treaty.

I am, etc.,

Richard Olney
  1. Not printed.