Imágenes de páginas

ranean sea.

does not seem to have been clearly defined. As long as the dissensions and disputes were limited to foreigners and in no way affected the public or private interests of a nation, a government might well be satisfied to be relieved from the strict application of its sovereign rights over all persons resident within its dominions; but the proceedings of the officer to whom this almost viceregal power was delegated by a foreign state would be the object of much suspicion, and he would require to be à man of discretion and of courage. The chief part of the business of the consuls naturally lay among the seafaring people, and here they were guided and assisted by an admirable and exact code, which, proceeding from the Spanish merchants, soon became common to all the border-states of the Mediter

A clean and handsome copy of the early editions of the Venetian Consolato del Mare' is prized by coilectors for the same reasons as the "Elzevir Cookery-book,' the abundant use of both works having tended to their destruction. But the first document, as far as we are aware, which embraces the general duties and powers of Consuls is that which emanated from the French · Ministère de Marine’ in 1681, and which is attributed to the great Colbert. These instructions began by requiring that no one should exercise the consular functions over Frenchmen without a direct commission from the Admiralty of France, thereby implying that this jurisdiction had been at some time conferred by some other authority, probably that of election by their fellow-countrymen,—for it was provided that, in case of vacancy, the eldest of the deputies of the nation, as the community was called, should assume the office. The consul was to be assisted by a council of all the merchants, captains, and shipmasters of the port, who were compelled to obey his summons by any fine he chose to impose. From this assembly artisans and sailors were specially excluded. The deputies of the nation were responsible to the consul for the discharge of their monetary and other obligations, a compte rendu of which he, in his turn, was bound to send every three months to the Admiralty and to the Chamber of Commerce at Marseilles. Certain notables of the nation were required to be present to give validity to his judgments, from which in graver cases there lay an appeal to the Parliaments of France. By desire of the deputies he could banish any Frenchman whose life or conduct was reputed scandalous, and all officers of the navy were enjoined to assist in the execution of this and other decrees.

We do not continue these details, for they will suffice to give a picture of the political constitution of a body of Frenchmen established in a foreign country, being in fact, as in name, a

Colony, Colony, of which the Consul was the executive officer. It is interesting to remark with what scrupulous care the government of France, however despotic at home, protected not only the interests but the liberties of its subjects settled abroad. The principle of the isolation of Frenchmen, of all classes, from the action of foreign tribunals, is prominent throughout the whole of this legislation down to later times, the royal edict of 1778 forbidding not only persons engaged in commerce, but travellers by land or by sea, to take advantage of any other legal remedy against their fellow-countrymen than that afforded by the consular jurisdiction, under a fine of 1500 francs, with the additional liability of themselves incurring whatever loss or penalty might at their instance be imposed on the defendant by a foreign magistrate. This prohibition was reinforced in the general Consular Instructions issued by M. de Talleyrand in August, 1814-although in this document the minister ably urged the reasons for the dependence of the consular administration on the Foreign Office, under the political conditions of modern Europe, rather than on the departments of Justice or the Marine, with the latter of which it seems to have been closely connected up to the Revolution. Admitting that the independence of the consular authority had been necessarily modified by the increased influence and more systematic transactions of diplomacy, and that the functions of the office, not being defined by the law of nations, were liable to be limited and regulated by treaties or by the habits and legislation of the country where the consuls might happen to be placed, he nevertheless enjoined on them the duty of maintaining to the utmost their exceptional jurisdiction, and of abandoning no privilege which their predecessors had asserted.

But in November, 1833, an Instruction spéciale sur l'exercice de la juridiction consulaire en pays de Chrétienté, was issued by the Duc de Broglie, in which the whole matter is most wisely reviewed, the difficulties of supporting the principle in its integrity fully exhibited, and the restriction of the juridiction contentieuse regarded as an inevitable necessity. He altogether abandons the claim of extra-territorial intervention in criminal matters, and recognises the impossibility of sustaining a right, which, if its strict exercise had been continued, would have permitted the French Consul in London to have seized Dr. Bernard, and consigned him to a French vessel in the Thames. He equally acknowledges the unreasonableness of continuing the consuľs exclusive authority over his fellow-countrymen in civil disputes, where the apparatus and competence of the tribunal must generally be limited, and where he would be frequently forced into the anomaly of requesting the local magistracy to execute, sentences which a foreign court had imposed. The whole effect of these Instructions is, in fact, to reduce the powers of the consul to those of a mere arbitrator, although we are not aware of any legal repeal of the ordinance of 1681, which would give a Frenchman a remedy against any consul who chose to act upon it. It seeins to be no easy task to lay the old spirit, if we are to judge by the remonstrances of the French Foreign Office as late as 1849, when the minister in strong language reproved certain consuls for breaking off relations with foreign governments without reference to the authorities at home, and for corresponding directly with other departments of the administration without his cognizance or perinission.


The diminution of the importance of the Consular Service in France may be supposed to be compensated by the close connexion with the diplomatic body into which it is brought by its later organisation. We suspect, however, that this vaunted advantage on the part of the more apparent than real. Some of the more enterprising and distinguished among them may aspire to the higher posts of diplomacy; but on the other hand, the consul-generalships are formally declared to be open to the secretaries of embassies and legations, and to the higher employés of the Foreign Office—the first-class consulates to the Chefs de bureau and précis-writers, the secretaries of legations, the second secretaries of embassies, and the first dragomans,--and the second-class consulates to the principal clerks of the Foreign Office and to paid attachés--all after five years' service in their separate capacities. Considering the social rank of the two professions and the ordinary springs of government influence, we may well doubt whether there is a fair reciprocity in the diplomatic appointments to which consuls are transferred; but, be this as it


the more intimate relation of the two services invests the French consulate with a certain dignity, and, if its officers have ceased to look on themselves as governors of colonies, they are equally far from being content with the simple character of commercial agents.

There is much difference between the system which almost all continental powers, according to their influence and capacities, have adopted, and which we have here illustrated by the leading example of France, and anything in the history of the consular establishments of Great Britain. The maintenance of an extra-territorial jurisdiction for the use of our own subjects and the assertion of a principle which, if carried out at the present day, would make Boulogne-sur-Mer an important English colony with our Consul for its governor, have never prevailed among us, except in those cases where the essential discrepancies


[ocr errors]

of law and religion have rendered a special arrangement the best proceeding for all parties. Without ever having claimed any superiority over other Christian nations, such as the French government in its Capitulations extorted from the Ottoman Porte on the somewhat dubious ground of the admitted primacy of the most Christian king' among the sovereigns of Europe, Great Britain appears from early days to have efficiently secured the protection of its merchants and settlers under Mohammedan rule. We have before us the little quarto of Paul Ricaut, * secretary to Heneage, Earle of VVinchilsea, Embassadour Extraordinary,' printed in 1663, at Constantinople, by Abraham Gabai, who requests the courteous reader not to attribute the fault, either to the printer or the corrector, if he finds some fevv letters misplaced, or the letter vv not so neatly formed as vvere to be vvished; for the presse at Constantinople, being but sildome employed, is not furnished vvith the uarietie of those letters which are only propper to northern lanquages’-a volume curious in itself, and not without historical interest. In this, as indeed in later transactions of the same nature, it is apparent that the English government sought after just so much independent action from the native authorities as would sustain the diplomatic dignity unimpaired, guard the lives and properties of its subjects, and guarantee to its commerce the utmost possible freedom and security. The extent of the consular jurisdiction, and the method of its exercise, remain equally undefined. Nothing like a Consular Code seems to have been thought necessary to limit or direct the decisions of the functionary. He had to trust to his common sense and to the public opinion of the community in which he found himself, without whose consent, either given or implied, he would have found it difficult to dispense justice in civil or to inflict due penalties in criminal cases. clearly understood to be, above all things, a commercial officer, whose business was with trade and traders, and whose other duties were secondary and accidental. If he was courteous and useful to the merchants ; if he took care that the commerce of his country had fair play; if he arranged disputes between captains and crews, and stood between his countrymen and any attempt at oppression or fraud on the part of the local authorities, he completely fulfilled all the objects of his mission. He was generally a trader himself, and was thought none the worse of for taking such advantage of his opportunities, as in some instances, especially in the Levant, founded a sort of hereditary consular aristocracy. The longer he remained at his post the more important personage he generally became, and he often acquired Vol. 105.- No. 209.

a personal


He was




a personal influence over the official dignitaries, which was the more efficient because unrecognised, and the more gratifying to its owner, because not transferable to a successor.

The mixed character of the Levant Company, which, without pretension to political action, mediated powerfully between Western and Eastern civilization, encouraged this phase of the consular office, which remained little altered after the substitution of an imperial but subordinate authority: and the recognition by this committee of the peculiar circumstances of these States, with the addition of some other portions of the world which subsist under analogous relations, as requiring consular institutions different from those of Western Europe, appears to us to be both just and expedient. The necessity of conforming our consular system to the customs and character of different nations and ments is illustrated by the sumptuous scale on which that service has been organized on the coast of China. The future British Ambassador at Pekin can hardly expect to hold a more independent and dignified position than our Consuls already occupy at the ports of Shanghai or Amoy; at the former, indeed, the Chinese authorities, in utter despair at the dishonesty of their own officials, at one time gave up to the foreign consuls the collection of import duties for the imperial revenue, and the committee, at the suggestion of that excellent officer, Mr. Alcock, whose duties seem to have ranged from the viceroy to the bailiff, recommend the immediate apparition of letter X' and his truncheon to protect our fellow-countrymen in the Flowery Land. Unity of action at the same time is secured by the communication of the consuls to the Superintendant of Trade at Hong Kong, and we wish that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, or some such competent authority, had been examined as to the feasibility of adopting some such plan with reference to the embassy at Constantinople. The analogy may indeed be more apparent than real in our present limited experience of China, but we are aware that strong objections have been made, and evil results attributed, to the direct communications of the consuls of the Levant with the Foreign Office, however, the inconvenience had been so considerable as has been stated, we suspect that our late ambassador, who was not likely to have been over-tolerant of any independence detrimental to the public interest, would have brought the matter more prominently forward and required an alteration. Complicated as are now the politics of the Eastern and of the Western world, it is conceivable that a Minister of Foreign Affairs might .not be ready to entrust the entire management of consular affairs in the dominions of the Porte to any diplomatic personage,



« AnteriorContinuar »