Help Wanted: The Appointment Process

Once Barclay was formalized as consul general and as America’s trade with France grew, other consular positions became needed and were slowly established. In these early days, appointment to these positions was largely a matter of whether the potential appointee had connections in high places. When Barclay was elected to his position, a Virginia delegate had to inform one of his constituents, who had not gotten the job, that “You were put in nomination by Mr. M. Smith for vice consul to France…but a Mr. Barclay of Philadelphia had too many Friends to admit of your introduction to that office.”[1]

Later appointments would follow in a similar vein. George Mason IV wrote to both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to request that his son John’s business partner, Joseph Fenwick, receive the position of consul at Bordeaux.[2] Fenwick eventually received that appointment in 1790 and, thanks to Barclay’s negotiating during the drafting of the consular convention years earlier, was able to execute his consular duties while in business for himself with the firm Fenwick and Mason.

During the 1790s, America’s diplomatic operation abroad began to professionalize, with thought being put into the most suitable locations for consular posts and how many posts would be necessary. In fact, in 1793, Thomas Jefferson had to inform a friend that his requested appointment of a Mr. Gregorie to the consulship at Dunkirk was not possible because it had been decided to have only three consulships on the Atlantic coast: Bordeaux, Nantes, and Havre. As Dunkirk fell inside the organizational territory of the consul at Havre and the consul in that posting at the time was doing an excellent job, Jefferson had no desire to remove him and could not grant the appointment request.[3] This sort of organizational thinking about consulships, in any context, had been largely absent a decade earlier.

[1] Roberts, Priscilla H. and Roberts, Robert S. Thomas Barclay: Consul in France, Diplomat in Barbary. Rosemont Publishing and Printing Corp, 2008.

[2] The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008.

[3] The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, ed. James P. McClure and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008–2019.