Prologue Magazine

Strategies for Reconstructing Careers of Foreign Service Officers, 1869-1887

Spring 1999, Vol. 31, No. 1 | Genealogy Notes

By Kenneth W. Heger

Most civilian agencies of the federal government did not begin compiling official personnel records until 1911. As a result, reconstructing federal service prior to that time is extremely difficult. The task is made particularly daunting by the complexity of nineteenth-century filing schemes. This is especially true when seeking information pertaining to employees of the Department of State. In order to locate information about foreign service officers, researchers are required to look in a host of places, including letters sent and received, official despatches, and application files. Interestingly, a power struggle between Congress and the President in 1867 resulted in the creation of a set of records, Orders of Suspension, that makes this task slightly easier for the years 1869-1887. By documenting the suspension and nomination of foreign service officers, the Orders of Suspension provide useful dates as starting points to examine crucial points in the careers of State Department employees. This article will discuss the history of the Orders of Suspension and provide examples of how researchers can use them to focus their research in other State Department records.1

The Reconstruction Era opened with a power struggle between President Andrew Johnson and radicals of the Republican Party intent on severely punishing the states of the former Confederacy. Although the most famous of the battles between the President and the Congress was the impeachment process that the President barely survived, the radicals' attacks on Johnson took many other forms. One of these attacks was an assault on the President's authority to suspend political appointees. Flush from their resounding victory in the 1866 congressional elections, Johnson's Republican foes set about to restrict his ability to remove federal officeholders. In debate throughout the spring of 1867, congressmen and senators accused Johnson of excessive use of his authority to suspend federal employees, arguing that this put far too much political patronage in the President's hands.2 The result of this campaign was an act of Congress dated March 2, 1867, regulating the tenure of certain civilian officers of the federal government (29th Cong., 2d sess., chap. 154, sections 1 & 2). In this act, Congress restricted the President's authority to remove officeholders to those who were guilty of misconduct in office or who became incapable or legally disqualified to perform their duties. Perhaps more significant, however, Congress added the stipulation that the Senate needed to approve all suspensions. Although the President retained the right to name a successor to the dismissed employee, both the suspension from office and the nomination to office required the approval of the Senate. If the Senate refused to confirm the suspension, the suspension became void, and the former employee could return to his office. In April 1869 Congress softened the law and amended the act by deleting the requirement that the officeholder be guilty of misconduct or unable to perform his or her duty as the prerequisite for suspension (16 Stat. L. 6). The Senate still needed to uphold the suspension, however.

In 1886 a more moderate Congress reexamined this limitation on the President's authority to suspend federal employees. Congressional leaders saw the act of 1869 as an aberration. They properly interpreted it as a result of the power struggle between Congress and the President and during the winter of 1886 debated whether to repeal it. The law's opponents were swift to point out that each President since Johnson had requested that Congress repeal the law and argued that it was not the intent of the framers of the Constitution to limit the President's authority in this fashion by requiring that Congress approve presidential suspensions. Proponents of repeal eventually won the day, and the requirement was repealed by an act of March 3, 1887 (49th Cong., 2d sess., chap. 353).3

It should come as no surprise that the limitation of the President's power to suspend federal employees did not eliminate political patronage. During the time the law was in effect, succeeding Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, suspended hundreds of foreign service officers and appointed new people in their places. This period is unique because the Department of State created standardized forms to comply with the law, documents that do not exist for any other time period. Although the orders themselves are not particularly interesting, the information they contain can be of great use in helping researchers focus their examination of the records. As the events surrounding the suspensions of John F. Winter, Charles Einstein, and Thomas Adamson, Jr., illustrate, one can often recreate an interesting story of political patronage in action and gain insight into the foreign service officer's personality.

John F. Winter owed his office in great part to his connections in the Illinois Republican Party. The state party championed Winter's desire to gain federal employment, and his application file is filed with letters of support from members of both houses of the Illinois state legislature. Winter's efforts were successful, and he became U.S. consul at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in August 1877, a post that he held until President Grover Cleveland suspended him from office in August 1885.4

With Winter's strong ties to the Republican Party, it is not surprising that the new Democratic President looked for someone of his own party to replace him. Cleveland finally settled on Richard Stockton. Stockton's father, John P. Stockton, was Democratic attorney general of New Jersey and a former U.S. senator from that state. Stockton had additional support from Democratic U.S. Representative Robert S. Green of New Jersey's third congressional district.5

Winter took his suspension in stride and in his despatch 102 dated May 8, 1885, to the Department of State acknowledged the receipt of the suspension order and the nomination of his successor in a businesslike fashion. When Stockton arrived in Rotterdam, Winter worked closely with him to ensure a smooth transition for his successor, and in his last official act at the post, Winter cowrote and cosigned a list of the consulate's inventory with the new consul.6 Perhaps due to his graceful acceptance of his suspension, or perhaps to his strong affiliation with the Republican Party, Winter later returned to federal employment, serving as U.S. consul at Mannheim, Germany, between 1890 and 1898 and finally as U.S. consul at Annaberg, Germany, from 1898 until his death of heart failure at that post in December 1905.7

The circumstances surrounding Charles Einstein's suspension indicate that not everyone left his post quietly. Einstein began his career in 1884 when President Harrison appointed him to be consul at Zurich, Switzerland. His brief career was peculiar from the start. Before he could take his post in Zurich, the American consul at Stuttgart, Germany, asked Einstein to exchange posts with him. Einstein was amenable to the switch, and after securing the President's approval, he arrived at Stuttgart and began acting as consul in August 1885.8 Barely nine months later, President Cleveland suspended him from his post. Unlike Winter, Einstein did not accept the news gracefully. When the secretary of state asked him to resign, Einstein replied in a tersely worded despatch dated April 28, 1885:

In reply hereto I would like to state, that as it had previously come to my knowledge from an unofficial source that my successor had been appointed ten days before the Department's request for my resignation would have reached me by due course of mail, the tender of my resignation under the circumstances would seem to be entirely superfluous.9

Einstein may have had good cause to view his suspension as politically motivated. His successor, Charles B. Kimball, was a staunch Democrat who had been Democratic candidate for the governor's office in Maine on three occasions and was a potential Democratic candidate for mayor of Chicago.10

Einstein's protest did not end with the despatch. Rather than wait for his successor to arrive in Stuttgart, he resigned his post and turned over his consular duties to his vice consul, Theodore Abeinheim. Einstein's behavior may have adversely affected later attempts to resume his foreign service career. Despite future requests to be appointed to consular posts in Dresden and Florence, Einstein never received another position with the Department of State.11

Occasionally, an order of suspension was issued merely as a means to transfer an employee from one post to another. Thomas Adamson, Jr., was American consul at Pernambuco, Brazil, when U. S. Grant was elected President. Although he received praise from American officials for having served American interests well at that post, Adamson wearied of Brazil and in 1869 requested a transfer to Honolulu, Hawaii. Adamson was politically well connected and garnered support for his request from numerous Republican officeholders, including Representative Noah Davis of New York's twenty-eighth congressional district, Representative Washington Townsend of Pennsylvania's seventh congressional district, and New Jersey's Senator Alexander G. Cattell.12

The American consul in Honolulu at the time was Zephaniah S. Spaulding, an Andrew Johnson appointee. At the time of his appointment, Spaulding had had much to recommend him for federal service. He hailed from Johnson's home state of Tennessee and had served with distinction in the Union army during the Civil War. At the start of the war, Spaulding enlisted in the Seventh New York City Regiment. Within forty days, he had received a commission as a major in the Twenty-seventh Ohio Regiment and held the rank of lieutenant colonel in that regiment at the war's end. Spaulding's wartime service won him the support of Governor Tod of Ohio. Moreover, his father, R. P. Spaulding, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and wrote to the President asking for a position for his son.13

Spaulding's political connections were meager in comparison to Adamson's, however, and soon after his inauguration, Grant took steps to accommodate Adamson's request to transfer him to Hawaii. On June 1, 1869, President Grant suspended Thomas Adamson, Jr., from his post as U.S. consul to Pernambuco. On the same day, the President suspended Zephaniah S. Spaulding as U.S. consul to Honolulu and nominated Adamson to replace him. While Adamson continued in the foreign service for many years, Spaulding's career overseas was finished.14


As the discussion above indicates, the records of the Department of State are rich in information documenting the careers of foreign service officers but require that researchers look in numerous places to discover the entire story. For the years 1869-1887, the Orders of Suspensions are a good place to begin research. The personal information is limited but is useful. It includes the employee's name, the position he held, and the name of the person replacing him. The order also includes the place of residence of the successor at the time he was nominated to the post. All orders include the date of the suspension.

This body of records consists of four series. The first two, Orders of Suspension of Miscellaneous Federal Employees, May 1869-December 1886 (Record Group [RG] 59, Preliminary Inventory [PI] 15, entry 821), and Orders of Suspension of Foreign Service Officers, May 1867-March 1887 (RG 59, PI 15, entry 822), contain the record copy of the Orders of Suspension. Although the first series primarily contains orders for employees throughout the Federal government, including postmasters, federal marshals, and coiners, it also includes some orders of suspension for foreign service officers. The second series contains only suspensions for foreign service officers and is by far the more useful volume. Each series consists of a single volume. The orders are printed forms measuring 11.5 by 18 inches containing the legal language permitting the suspension; a clerk wrote the name of the suspended person and of his or her replacement into the appropriate blank space on the form. Both volumes contain alphabetical indexes.

The other two series, Letters of Miscellaneous Federal Officers, May 1869-May 1877 (PI 15, entry 823), and Letters of Suspension of Consular Officers, May 1869-July 1885 (PI 15, entry 824), contain letters sent to individual employees informing them of their suspension. The first entry consists of two volumes, one of which contains printed forms and the other handwritten copies of the letters of suspensions. Both formats measure 8" x 10". Each volume has an alphabetical index. The final entry, consists of unbound letters of suspension arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the employee. There are not letters of suspension for each dismissed office holder.

The Orders of Suspension are only the beginning of the story, and researchers should plan to examine other series. The Department of State's Application and Recommendation Files (RG 59, PI 15, entry 760) are one of the most fruitful places to look. These files cover the years 1797-1901 and are divided into fifteen chronological periods approximating presidential administrations. Within each period, the files are arranged alphabetically by name of the office seeker. Containing letters from people seeking federal employment and letters from people and organizations recommending them for such employment, the application and recommendation files vary greatly in size and content. Some files are quite small. Zephaniah Spaulding's file, for example, contains only 8 pages of material, Richard Stockton's file only 10, and Charles Einstein's only 14. Thomas Adamson, Jr.'s and John F. Winter's files, on the other hand, are very large, containing 80 pages and 176 pages, respectively. The Application and Recommendation files through the end of the Grant administration are available on several National Archives microfilm publications.15

Diplomatic and consular despatches (RG 59, PI 15, entries 13 and 85, respectively) also contain useful information. The despatches are arranged by diplomatic or consular post and thereunder chronologically. Although most of the material in the despatches is of an official nature, there is often personal information dispersed throughout the records. Adamson's first despatch from Honolulu dated June 8, 1869, for example, contains information concerning his trip to Hawaii, his arrival in the islands, and his first meeting with the acting Hawaiian foreign minister. Although Adamson's final despatches from Pernambuco do not contain personal information, there is a great deal of such information concerning his successor, Samuel G. Moffett. Moffett's despatch of August 18, 1869, includes his place of birth, the dates of his sailing to Brazil, and when he got his passport. There is a caveat to using these records; there are few indexes and registers to help researchers locate personal information among the despatches. As a result, the despatches are considerably more difficult to use than the other records discussed in this article. All of these despatches are available on microfilm.16

Finally, researchers may wish to consult the Card Record of Appointments, 1776-1968 (RG 59, PI 15, entry 798). The records consist of four-by-six-inch cards containing the person's name, the post to which he was appointed, and the appointment date. When a foreign service officer died at his post, the card records often include the date of death. They are arranged into four chronological periods, 1776-1933, 1934-1953, 1954-1960, and 1961-1968, and thereunder alphabetically by the person's name. For those researching careers of nineteenth-century foreign service officers, this is by far the best source for providing an overview of the employee's career. Again, the card record for two of the men discussed above provide excellent examples of the value of these cards. From them we learn that in addition to serving as consul at Pernambuco and Honolulu, Thomas Adamson, Jr., served as consul at La Guayra, Venezuela, and as consul general at Melbourne, Australia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Panama City, Colombia. John F. Winter's card record of appointment provides the dates he was appointed to serve as consul at Rotterdam, Dundee, Mannheim, and Annaberg. Because Winter died at his post at Annaberg, his card includes the date of his death.

Although information is dispersed throughout numerous series of records, the records of the Department of State contain a great deal of interest to family historians as well as to those attempting to record a foreign service officer's career. For more information concerning National Archives microfilm publications, researchers should consult Diplomatic Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications. That catalog may be consulted in the Microfilm Research Room at Archives II and on NARA's home page at It may be purchased from the Product Development and Distribution Staff (NWCP), Room G7, National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001 (1-866-272-6272 weekdays; 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. eastern time).

The National Archives does not have standard forms to request information concerning foreign service officers; instead, researchers should direct inquiries to Civilian Records (NWCTC), National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. Be certain to include the person's full name and approximate dates of service in your request.


1. Although they are outside the purview of this article, researchers should also consider examining the Nomination Files of the U.S. Senate. Those documents are part of National Archives Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, and are in the custody of the Center for Legislative Archives, which is located in the National Archives and Records Building in Washington, DC.

2. For an example of this debate in the House of Representative, see Congressional Globe, 39th Cong., 2d sess., Feb. 1, 1867, pp. 935-944.

3. For an example of this debate in the Senate, see Congressional Record, 49th Cong., 2d sess., Dec. 13, 1886, pp. 113, 136-142.

4. Winter's Application and Recommendation File (hereinafter cited as ARF), Hayes-Garfield-Arthur, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives at College Park (hereinafter cited as RG 59, NACP).

5. Stockton's ARF, Cleveland-Harrison, RG 59, NACP.

6. June 10, 1885, Stockton's Despatch No. 4, Despatches from U.S. Consuls at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, RG 59, NACP.

7. Card Record of Appointment for John F. Winter, Card Records of Appointment, 1776-1933, RG 59, NACP.

8. Einstein's ARF, Cleveland-Harrison, RG 59, NACP.

9. Apr. 28, 1885, Einstein's Despatch No. 15, Despatches from U.S. Consuls at Stuttgart, Germany, RG 59, NACP.

10. Kimball's ARF, Cleveland-Harrison, RG 59, NACP.

11. Einstein's ARF, Cleveland-Harrison, RG 59, NACP.

12. Adamson's ARF, Grant, RG 59, NACP.

13. Spaulding's ARF, Lincoln-Johnson, RG 59, NACP.

14. Orders of Suspension for Foreign Service Officers, pp. 6 & 10, entry 823, RG 59, NACP.

15. Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-1877 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M968, 69 rolls), RG 59, NACP. Microfilm publications of similar materials from other presidential administrations through 1869 are M406, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of John Adams, 1797-1801 (3 rolls); M418, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809 (12 rolls); M438, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of James Madison, 1809-1817 (8 rolls); M439, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of James Monroe, 1817-1825 (19 rolls); M531, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829 (8 rolls); M639, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of Andrew Jackson, 1929-1837 (27 rolls); M687, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administrations of Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler, 1837-1845 (35 rolls); M873, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administrations of James Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore, 1845-1853 (98 rolls); M967, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administrations of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, 1853-1861 (50 rolls); and M650, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, 1861-1869 (52 rolls).

16. Each microfilm publication reproduces despatches from a particular city. See the Diplomatic Records microfilm catalog for a complete list.

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.