“POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE… IS INTERESTING TO US IN A HIGH DEGREE”: AN EXTRAORDINARY ASSOCIATION COPY OF THE 1790 FOREIGN SERVICE ACT ESTABLISHING A CRUCIAL FRAMEWORK FOR AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
(FOREIGN SERVICE ACT). An Act providing the Means of Intercourse between the United States and foreign Nations. Congress of the United States: at the Second Session, Begun and held at the city of New-York, on Monday the fourth of January, one thousand seven hundred and ninety. New York]: Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine, . Folio, original broadside leaf printed on recto only, disbound from a sammelband volume, uncut. Handsomely framed, entire piece measures 19 by 14 inches. $32,000.
First edition, association copy of the pivotal Foreign Service Act, an exceptional broadside printing of the first law to formally establish diplomatic offices overseas, passed during the Second Session of the First Congress, initiated by Secretary of State Jefferson and signed into law by Washington on July 1, 1790. From the library of Stephen Row Bradley, the influential U.S. senator from Vermont and “a strong supporter of both Jefferson and Madison.”
The Foreign Service Act marks the first legislation to provide a formal system for America's newly forged foreign service. It was through Jefferson and his influence, "in accordance with his advice, that the important act of 1790 passed" (Powell, 628), launching "American foreign policy in a direction that served national purposes" throughout the next century (Ellis, American Sphinx, 124). Yet passage of this law faced great resistance in Congress, where many believed "money spent abroad was wasted… But the importance of diplomacy almost immediately became clear, even to Congress," when tensions between England and Spain raised the prospect of England seizing Louisiana and Florida from Spain, threatening that "the United States would be completely surrounded by the British army and navy" (Randall, 496, 487-8).
Against that tense international climate, this Act providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations set a framework for consular offices and authorized the president to draw funds from the treasury: "a sum not exceeding forty thousand dollars annually, to be paid out of the monies arising from the duties on imports and tonnage, for the support of such persons as he shall commission to serve the United States in foreign parts." Further, responding to a financial crisis that prompted passage of Hamilton's controversial Assumption Act the same month, this bill assigned neither salary nor fees to the office of consul and employed a custom of encouraging diplomats to use their private business to help finance the offices. Almost immediately after its passage, Jefferson appointed consuls to six European countries and by August sent out letters with instructions on protocol, reminding consular officers that "political intelligence… is interesting to us in a high degree" (Jefferson letter, August 7, 1790). This 1790 broadside published by Childs and Swaine, official printers of Acts of Congress, is especially notable in that it is not a copy disbound from their first bound edition of the Acts Passed at the Second Session (which shows this act with another on the same page). Before printing bound Acts at the end of each session, generally in late August or September, Childs and Swaine would occasionally print a small number of "folio slip laws for the Congress," intending "to supply one printed copy of each to each Senator and Representative" (Powell, 99, 88). This first official publication of the Foreign Service Act is likely one of those rare folio slip law printings. NAIP locates three copies; OCLC lists no copies. Shipton & Mooney 46055. Not in Evans. Not in Sabin. This copy is from the library of Stephen Row Bradley, a leader in the struggle for ratification during the Constitutional Convention, who was "one of Vermont's first United States senators" (1791-4, 1801-13). An especially influential supporter of both Jefferson and Madison, Bradley is also renowned for introducing the 1794 "bill that established a national flag of 15 stripes and 15 stars, sometimes known as the Bradley flag that was used from 1795-1814" (DAB). Contemporary notation of "29" beneath publisher imprint.
Light foxing, tiny stabholes along gutter without affecting text. An important document in early American history, with a distinctive association.