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Documenting Consular History

On Aug. 19, the American

Foreign Service Association

hosted a

Book Notes event

at its headquarters featuring

retired Foreign Service officer

and author Charles Stuart

“Stu” Kennedy.

Speaking to a packed

house, Kennedy discussed

the latest edition of his book

The American Consul: A

History of the United States

Consular Service




which was first published in


AFSA President Ambas-

sador Barbara Stephenson

welcomed the audience and

introduced Kennedy, whose

30-year career took him to

Frankfurt, Naples, Seoul, Ath-

ens and Saigon. After retiring

in 1985, he became the oral

history director at the Asso-

ciation for Diplomatic Studies

and Training.

Kennedy received the

2014 AFSA Lifetime Contribu-

tions to American Diplomacy

Award for his pioneering work

in creating and guiding the

Foreign Affairs Oral History

collection, now known as the

ADST Oral History Program.

He has personally inter-

viewed more than 1,000 of

the several thousand Ameri-

can diplomats whose stories

are now available online

through ADST and the Library

of Congress.

Taking the stage, Ken-

nedy—a former consular

officer—began by explaining

his motivations for writing the

book: to record the frequently

overlooked narrative of the

Consular Service. By doing

so, he sought to provide a

consequential prologue to

traditional accounts of For-

eign Service history.

According to Kennedy,

U.S. embassies are relative

newcomers to the diplo-

matic scene. Until the 1930s,

embassies were less con-

nected and influential than

consular establishments, the

origins of which date back to

at least the 6th century B.C.

The Consular Service’s

role was to represent a

nation’s trade interests.

For American consuls, this

entailed taking care of sea-

men and shipping—at that

time the primary vehicle for

U.S. engagement with the

rest of the world.

Drawing primarily from the

archives of the State Depart-

ment’s Ralph J. Bunche

Library, Kennedy’s historical

tome covers the period from

1776 to 1924, the year when

the Consular and Diplomatic

Services were merged to

form today’s U.S. Foreign


Highlighting the impor-

tance of the Consular Service,

Kennedy gave the audience a

rundown of seminal events in

consular history, demonstrat-

ing that these are often syn-

onymous with major events

in world history. For instance,

he dubbed the War of 1812

a “consular war” because of

the significant

roles that

American con-

suls played.


kept the audi-

ence laughing

with humorous

anecdotes and

pointed to a

decided lack of

professionalism on the part

of some early American con-

suls. He described incidents

involving heated duels and

outright fraud and suggested

that consular missteps in

Havana hastened the onset of

the Spanish-American War.

And while many consuls

were brilliant, dedicated

employees, the Consular

Service also allowed some

bad apples to taint its ranks

in its early days. Kennedy

explained how wealthy fami-

lies often directed indolent

sons to the Service in hope

that they would gain

life experience. It

was “this sort of

dandy” that often

featured as the

stock character

“remittance man”

in the stories of

late 19th century

author O. Henry.


wrapped up by explaining

how the passage of the Rog-

ers Act of 1924 changed the

Consular Service, bringing it

in line with the broader shift

away from the political spoils

system toward a professional

Foreign Service.

A lively Q&A followed, with

audience questions on topics

ranging from the role of lega-

tions and consular involve-

ment in the Barbary War to

specific cases of consular

fraud and misbehavior.


—Shannon Mizzi,

Editorial Intern

Stu Kennedy signs copies of his book

The American Consul

for attendees at

the Aug. 19 Book Notes event.