Consular Services Expands; Many Hardships

Similar growth occurred in the Consular Service. The number of consulates exactly doubled from 141 in 1830 to 282 in 1860, and the number of consular agencies increased even more dramatically from 14 to 198 in the same period. Consular Service increases reflected the growing importance and volume of foreign trade.

While most diplomats were stationed in urban areas, consuls followed trade to some of the roughest and most remote spots on earth. Their lives—however short—were characterized by numerous hardships. The American consul at Genoa during the 1840s, C. Edwards Lester, summarized the situation: “An American consul is often a foreigner, almost always a merchant, can’t live on his fees, nor even pay the necessary expenses of his office; [he] is scolded or cursed by everybody that has anything to do with him, and is expected to entertain his countrymen, not only with hospitality but with a considerable degree of luxury.”

Despite its difficulties, Genoa was clearly a more desirable post than the Brazilian port of Pernambuco (now called Recife). In 1858, Consul Walter Stapp reported from Pernambuco that one of his predecessors had resigned before taking up his office because he had received “such mournful accounts of this place as to disgust him in advance of his arrival.” Moreover, he continued, “four others have left their bones to bake in these fearfully hot sands, without a slab of stone or a stick of wood to point the stranger to their graves.”

Beset by difficult climates and low salaries, consuls rarely received much assistance from the Government of the United States. In 1833, Secretary of State Edward Livingston noted that officials in the domestic service of the nation were “surrounded with the means of obtaining information and advice” but that “abroad, an officer is entrusted with the most important function, out of the reach of control or advice, and is left with, comparatively speaking, no written rules for his guidance.”