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The American Consul

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The American Consul: A History of the United States Consular Service, 1776–1924

“Kennedy has produced a well-researched, comprehensively documented, and highly readable history of U.S. consuls and the consular service. The scholar, the practitioner, or even the young American bent on public service will find The American Consul a riveting read.”

––MAURA ANN HARTY, former Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs

As a British colony Americans relied on the far-flung British consular system to take care of their sailors and merchants. But after the Revolution they had to scramble to create an American service. While the U.S. diplomatic establishment was confined by protocol to the major capitals of the world, U.S. consular posts proliferated to most of the major ports where the expanding American merchant marine called. Mostly untrained political appointees, each consul was a lonely individual relying on his native wits to provide adequate help to distressed Americans, mainly seamen.

As consular appointments were often used as a reward for authors and other talented people, the U.S. Consular Service boasted such worthies as Nathanial Hawthorne, James Fennimore Cooper, Bret Harte, William Dean Howells, the cartoonist Thomas Nast, the grandfather of Winston Churchill, and Fiorello LaGuardia, later mayor of New York. Consuls have played an important role in relations between countries since ancient times.

In their country of assignment, consuls look after their own citizens and act as quasi-diplomatic representatives. Kennedy briefly traces the history of consuls from their creation in the Pharaohs’ Egypt to their spread across the sailing routes of the Mediterranean to the rest of the world. American consuls played significant roles in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I and its aftermath. The book ends in 1924 when the Consular Service was joined with the Diplomatic Service to become the Foreign Service of the United States.

“Both a historical record and an introduction to the world of American consuls, Kennedy’s book includes the early years of the Republic, with its raffish, sometimes corrupt consular personalities and its first glimmerings of the political spoils system.”
–– DIEGO ASENCIO, former Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs

CHARLES STUART KENNEDY was a consular officer for many years and brings an insider’s appreciation of the work of these unsung American officials. He is a graduate of Williams College (BA with honors in history) and Boston University (MA). A veteran of the Korean War, he served as a consular officer in seven countries –– Germany, Saudi Arabia, Yugoslavia, South Vietnam, Greece, South Korea, and Italy.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1985, he founded and continues to direct the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program, which has placed over 1900 oral history transcripts of retired American diplomats on the website of ADST and 1750 on the Library of Congress website. He has received the 1997 Director General’s Foreign Service Cup, the 2006 Forrest C. Pogue award of OHMAR (Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region), and the American Foreign Service Association Award for Lifetime Contributions to Diplomacy.

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