/kon"seuhl/, n.1. an official appointed by the government of one country to look after its commercial interests and the welfare of its citizens in another country.2. either of the two chief magistrates of the ancient Roman republic.3. Fr. Hist. one of the three supreme magistrates of the First Republic during the period 1799-1804.[1350-1400; ME < L; traditionally taken to be a deriv. of consulere to CONSULT, but orig. and interrelationship of both words is unclear]
* * *In the Roman republic, either of two annually elected chief magistrates.The consuls had sacred rights and near-absolute authority. They were nominated by the Senate and elected by the popular assembly; each could veto the other's decisions. As heads of state, they commanded the army, presided over the Senate and assemblies and acted on their decrees, and handled foreign affairs. At the end of his one-year term, a consul was generally appointed to serve as governor of a province. The office continued in weaker form under the empire.
* * *▪ ancient Roman officialin ancient Rome, either of the two highest of the ordinary magistracies in the ancient Roman Republic. After the fall of the kings (c. 509 BC) the consulship preserved regal power in a qualified form. Absolute authority was expressed in the consul's imperium (q.v.), but its arbitrary exercise was limited: the consuls, nominated by the Senate and elected by the people in the Comitia Centuriata (a popular assembly), held office for only a year, and each consul had power of veto over the other's decisions. After the establishment of other magistracies, especially the censorship and tribuneship, consular authority was further limited. Consuls, however, were in a very real sense the heads of state. They commanded the army, convened and presided over the Senate and the popular assemblies and executed their decrees, and represented the state in foreign affairs. They retained important prerogatives in administration and in criminal law, and their office was invested with the sella curulis (curule chair) (a special chair of office) and an escort of 12 lictors. After 367 BC at least one of the consuls had to be a plebeian, though in practice the consulship was usually limited to wealthy and noble families with distinguished records of public service. When their terms expired, consuls generally were appointed to serve as governors of provinces. These could be and often were profitable sinecures; in the late years of the republic, provincial governors used their unlimited powers to enrich themselves at every turn. Although the office of consulship remained after the collapse of the republic (27 BC), it had lost most of its former power. The appointment of consuls passed from the hands of the people to the state; later yet it fell to the emperor to name consuls. See also censor; tribune.▪ government officialin foreign service, a public officer who is commissioned by a state to reside in a foreign country for the purpose of fostering the commercial affairs of its citizens in that foreign country and performing such routine functions as issuing visas and renewing passports. A consul, as such, does not enjoy the status of a diplomat and cannot enter on his official duties until permission has been granted to him by the authorities of the state to which his nomination has been communicated. This permission, or exequatur, may be revoked at any time at the discretion of the government of the country in which he resides.The modern office of consul is derived from that of certain magistrates in the cities of medieval Italy, Provence, and Languedoc charged with the settlement of trade disputes. With the growth of trade, it early became convenient to appoint agents with similar powers in foreign parts, and these often, though not invariably, were styled consuls.It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the system developed universally. The French system, under which the consular service had been long established as part of the general civil service, was gradually adopted by other nations.Consular officials are generally ranked, in descending order of importance, as consul general, consul, vice consul, or honorary consul. Few countries can afford the cost of career officers at every consular post, and the corps of career officials is therefore supplemented by honorary officers, usually residents engaged in trade, who are citizens either of the country that nominates them or of that in which they reside.Consuls do not enjoy diplomatic immunity but are to some extent exempt from the jurisdiction of the receiving state. The archives, for example, all other official documents and papers kept in a consulate, and all correspondence between the consul and his government are inviolable. Consuls are also often exempt from all kinds of rates and taxes and from personal taxes. The precise extent of such consular privileges is usually established in bilateral and multilateral agreements known as consular conventions. Many of these have been superseded by the Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna, 1963).
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