Condy Raguet - Biography - Brazil


In 1821 President James Monroe appointed Raguet the United States consul in Rio de Janeiro. During his tenure, between 1822 and 1825, he negotiated a commercial treaty with Brazil. When the United States was preparing to formally recognize a newly independent Brazil through appointment of a chargé d'affaires, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams recommended Raguet for the post. Despite urges to complete formalizing relations between the United States and Brazil, President James Madison did not appoint anyone before the end of his term. Almost immediately after taking office, President Adams appointed Raguet chargé d'affaires to Brazil on March 9, 1825.

Raguet became the first chargé d'affaires from the United States to Brazil on October 29, 1825. One of the first issues he dealt with was the blockade of Argentine ports by the Brazilian navy during the Cisplatine War. Argentina was a growing trade partner of the United States and Raguet and his counterpart in Argentina worked to convince Brazil to restrict its blockade to only certain ports and that ships approaching the blockade should be given warning before being seized by Brazil. After negotiations, Brazil restricted its blockade to only ports in the Río de la Plata, but the blockade still encompassed more ports than the United States was pressing for. Brazil never made it a policy to give ships warning, but many ships were warned and let go.

Relations between Brazil and the United States were strained over the recruiting of United States seamen for Brazilian warships through fraud and coercion. United States citizens were enticed onto Brazilian ships and after the end of their voluntary enlistment period were forced to stay. Raguet became exhausted with how the Brazilian government never followed up its promises to investigate the complaints. The issue only got worse as United States merchant ships were seized by Brazil for attempting or intending to bypass the blockade. The crews of the ships were often manipulated into Brazilian service or imprisoned. Tensions over the issue continued to rise particularly after a US Navy commander, backed by force, procured the release of two detained Americans. Eventually the Brazilian Navy ordered all ships to immediately surrender all improperly detained United States citizens. Despite the order, Raguet was increasingly frustrated with what he felt was Brazil's purposeful delay in processing detained United States ships and citizens. After receiving approval from Secretary of State Henry Clay on his efforts, Raguet was emboldened and his notes to the Brazilian government became more forceful and undiplomatic.

After a letter from a Brazilian foreign minister requested that Raguet use more moderation in his communications, he wrote to Clay that the Brazilian government was offended by his communications, that he had lost his patience with them, and that he hardly considered the Brazilians a civilized people. By the end of 1826 copies of letters of Raguet's communications to the Brazilian government had reached the State Department in Washington, D.C. Henry Clay wrote back indicating it would be best to use "language firm and decisive, but at the same time temperate and respectful. No cause is ever benefited by the manifestation of passion, or by the use of harsh and uncourtious language." Responding to a request Raguet made to threaten to sever diplomatic relations with Brazil if they did not release their ships, Clay said "war or threats of war ought not to be employed as instruments of redress until after the failure of every peaceful experiment."

By early 1827 relations with Brazil improved after a new foreign minister took office, but that quickly changed in March when Brazil seized the USS Spark, a recently decommissioned U.S. warship. After a rebuffed offer to the sell the Spark to Brazil, the ship headed for Montevideo. On the way, the ship was seized by a Brazilian man-of-war and its crew imprisoned. Brazil demanded an explanation for what it said were irregularities in the Spark's activities and suspected the ship was a privateer going to join Argentina. Raguet didn't believe the Brazilians actually believed the Spark was a privateer, and felt that what he called "the most deliberate and high handed insult" against the United States was planned days in advance. The incident with the Spark was the last straw for Raguet. He sent a letter to the Brazilian government saying "that recent occurrences induce him to withdraw from the court of Brazil, and he therefore requests that his excellency will furnish him the necessary passports." He left his position as chargé d'affaires ended on April 16, 1827.

Once Washington found out that Raguet had left Brazil, the State Department quickly worked to appoint someone new to repair any damage caused by Raguet and to continue working on solving the issues with Brazil that had led Raguet to leave. Adams would later write that relations between the United States and Brazil were "aggravated by the rashness and intemperance of Condy Raguet, ... brought this country and Brazil to the very verge of war." On Raguet's return to the United States he held a meeting with Clay and Adams who said "I told him that my opinion of his integrity, patriotism, and zeal was unimpaired; that I was convinced of the purity of his motives to the step he had taken; but that I thought it would have been better if he had, before taking that step, consulted his government." When Raguet was suggested for another ambassadorial position in 1828 Adams felt that while Raguet's motives were good he felt putting someone with "such a temper and want of judgment, who took blustering for bravery and insolence for energy, was too dangerous."

In 1836 he returned to the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society where he worked until his death a few years later. Raguet died in Philadelphia on March 22, 1842 and was interred at Lower Burial Ground (Hood Cemetery) in Philadelphia.

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