American Maritime Documents, 1776-1860 - Stein, Douglas L.
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The United States Consular Service was established on 14 April 1792, as a branch of the State Department, to promote American commerce and protect American interests abroad. President George Washington, in his address to the first Congress, stated that "the patronage of our Commerce, of our merchants and seamen, called for the appointment of consuls in foreign countries." Consular officers were public officials appointed by the government, residing in foreign lands to perform administrative and judicial functions for the benefit of American citizens residing there. A Consul was usually assigned to every major port. Occasionally some large or exceptionally active ports might also have a Deputy Consul. Consular Agents served smaller ports or islands that might fall within a larger district. Commercial Agents were often equal in rank to a Consul, but were not appointed by the President. Instead they were commissioned by the State Department as "executive agents sent abroad for the promotion and advancement of commercial interests." These Commercial Agents were frequently businessmen with their own interests at the ports where they were assigned. They were often found in places where formal diplomatic relations between that nation and the United States were not established or required. In 1856 there were approximately 200 Consuls, 85 Consular Agents, and 19 Commercial Agents employed by the State Department at ports throughout the world. The selection of certificates included here, in addition to some others found elsewhere in this book, should provide a useful source for understanding the role played by the Consular Service in the conduct of American shipping in foreign lands.