chapter  4
26 Pages

Consuls, Trade, and the Emergence of Modem Diplomacy

When it occurred to him that the American Minister Resident in Spain had been silent for some time, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a note to his friend and Secretary of State James Madison: “We have heard nothing from our ambassador in Spain for two years. If we do not hear from him this year, let us write him a letter.”1 One cannot help but smile, in an age of overnight shuttle diplomacy, at the thought that international relations could ever have moved at so leisurely a pace. Even for its practitioners at the time, eighteenth-century diplomacy could proceed with maddening languor. “I suffer from ennui,” the young John Quincy Adams, on his first diplomatic assignment in England, complained to his brother Thomas. In the time wasted on all the parties he was expected to attend, Adams claimed, he could have translated dozens of books; he had already used the long stretches of inactivity since his arrival in Europe to teach himself “respectable French.”2