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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Washington and His Colleagues

Henry Jones Ford

in the
Chronicles of America edition,
Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1918

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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please let me know!


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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p115  Chapter VI
French Designs on America​a

A few months before France declared war upon England, February 1, 1793, Edmond Genet was appointed French Minister to the United States. He landed at Charleston, April 8, and at once began activities so authoritative as to amount to an erection of French sovereignty in the United States. The subsequent failure of his efforts and the abrupt ending of his diplomatic career have so reacted upon his reputation that associations of boastful arrogance and reckless incompetency cling to his name. This estimate holds him too lightly and underrates the peril to which the United States was then exposed. Genet was no casual rhetorician raised to important office by caprice of events, but a trained diplomatist of hereditary aptitude and of long experience. His father was chief of the bureau of correspondence in the Department of Foreign Affairs for  p116 the French monarchy, and it was as an interpreter attached to that bureau that the son began his career in 1775. While still a youth, he gained literary distinction by his translations of historical works from Swedish into French. Genet was successively attached to the French Embassies at Berlin and Vienna, and in 1781 he succeeded his father in the Department of Foreign Affairs. In 1788, he was Secretary of the French Embassy at St. Petersburg, where his zeal for French Revolutionary principles so irritated the Empress Catherine that she characterized him as "a furious demagogue," and in 1792 he was forced to leave Russia. In the same year he was named Ambassador to Holland, and thence was soon transferred to the United States.

It is obvious that a man of such experience could not be ignorant of diplomatic forms and of international proprieties of behavior. If he pursued a course that has since seemed to be a marvel of truculence, the explanation should be sought in the circumstances of his mission more than in the nature of his personality. When the matter is considered from this standpoint, not only does one find that Genet's proceedings become consistent and intelligible, but one becomes deeply impressed  p117 with the magnitude of the peril then confronting the United States. Nothing less than American independence was at stake.

It should be borne in mind that France, in aiding America against England, had been pursuing her own ends. In August, 1787, the French government advised its American representative that it had observed with indifference the movements going on in the United States and would view the break-up of the Confederation without regret. "We have never pretended to make of America a useful ally; we have had no other object than to deprive Great Britain of that vast continent." But, now that war with England had broken out again, it was worth while making an effort to convert America into a useful ally. Jefferson, while Minister to Paris, had been sympathetic with the Revolutionary movement. In 1789, the English Ambassador reported to his government that Jefferson was much consulted by the leaders of the Third Estate. On the other hand, Gouverneur Morris, who was then living in Paris, sympathized frankly with the King. Nevertheless he was chosen to succeed Jefferson as the American Minister. In notifying him of the appointment, Washington let him know that there had been  p118 objections. "It was urged that in France you were considered as a favorer of the aristocracy, and unfriendly to its Revolution." Washington's reminder that it was his business to promote the interest of his own country did not have any apparent effect on Morris's behavior. He became the personal agent of Louis XVI, and he not only received and disbursed large sums on the King's account, but he also entered into plans for the King's flight from Paris. During the Reign of Terror which began in 1792, he behaved with an energy and an intrepidity honorable to him as a man; in general, however, his course tended to embroil and not to guard American interests.

In the face of the European coalition against revolutionary France, the principle of action was that announced by Danton, — "to dare, and to dare, and without end to dare." Genet therefore went on his mission to America keyed to measures which were audacious but which can hardly be described as reckless. By plunging heavily he might make a big winning; if he failed, he was hardly worse off than if he had not made the attempt. To draw the United States into the war as the ally of France was only one part of his mission. He was also planning to reestablish the  p119 French colonial empire, the loss of which was still an unhealed wound. Canada, Louisiana, and the Floridas were all in his mind. In Louisiana, France regarded conditions as being so favorable that Genet was instructed to make special efforts in that quarter. Spain, which had entered the coalition against republican France, held the lower Mississippi. Spain was therefore the common enemy of France and of the American settlements west of the mountains. Ought not then those two republican interests to work together to expel Spain and to seize Louisiana? Moreover, there was a belief, not without grounds, that the older States which formed the American union were indifferent to the needs and interests of the country west of the Alleghenies and would be more relieved than afflicted if it should take its destinies into its own hands. Such considerations animated a group of Americans in Paris, among whose prominent members were Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer, Joel Barlow, the poet, and Dr. James O'Fallon, a Revolutionary soldier now interested in Western land speculation. All were then ardent sympathizers with the French Revolution, and they entered heartily into the design of stirring up the Western country against Spain. The project  p120 attracted some frontier leaders, among them George Rogers Clark, famous for his successful campaigns against the hostile Indians and the British during the Revolutionary War. He was to lead a force of Western rifle­men against the Spanish posts in Louisiana, and Genet brought with him blank brevets of officers up to the grade of captain for bestowal on the Indian chiefs who would coöperate. The expenses of the expedition were to be met by collections which Genet expected to make from the treasury of the United States on account of sums due to France.

The project of using the United States as a French base could claim legal rights under the treaties of 1778 between France and the United States. There were two treaties, both concluded on the same day. One, entitled a treaty of amity and commerce, was a mutual conveyance of privileges; it provided that the ships of war of each country should defend the vessels of the other country against all attacks that might occur while they were in company. Besides this right of convoy, each country had the right to use the ports of the other, either for ships of war or for privateers and their prizes, "nor shall such prizes be arrested or seized when they come to and enter the ports of  p121 either party; nor shall the searchers or other officers of those places search the same, or make any examination concerning the lawfulness of such prizes, but they may hoist sail at any time, and depart." All vessels of either country had the right to take refuge in the ports of the other, whether from stress of weather or pursuit of enemies, "and they shall be permitted to refresh and provide themselves at reasonable rates, with victuals and all things needful for the sustenance of their persons or reparation of their ships, and conveniency of their voyage; and they shall no ways be detained or hindered from returning out of the said ports or roads, but may remove and depart when and whither they please, without any let or hindrance." It was expressly provided that such hospitality should not be extended to vessels of an enemy of either country. The accompanying instrument, entitled a treaty of alliance, was a mutual guarantee of territorial possessions, "forever against all other powers." These broad rights and privileges were supplemented by the convention of 1788 on consular functions, which facilitated the organization of a consular jurisdiction competent to deal with cases arising from the treaties. There was still due to France on  p122 loans contracted during the Revolution a remainder of about $2,300,000 payable by instalments, subject to the proviso that "Congress and the United States" had "the liberty of freeing themselves by anticipated payments should the state of their finances admit." It was planned to get the United States to reciprocate the past favors of France by favoring her now, if not by direct payments of money, at least by acceptances which Genet could use in purchasing supplies. The fact that whatever in the way of money or accommodations was obtained in the United States would be used in business in that country was counted upon to facilitate the transaction.

These facts form the background against which Genet's activities should be viewed. He came with deliberate intent to rush the situation, and armed with all needful powers for that purpose, so far as the French government could confer them. According to a dispatch from Morris to the State Department, Genet "took with him three hundred blank commissions which he is to distribute to such as will fit out cruisers in our ports to prey on the British commerce."

At Charleston, Genet received an enthusiastic reception. The Revolutionary commander, General  p123 Moultrie, who was then governor of South Carolina, entered so cordially into Genet's plans that in his first dispatch home, Genet was able to say to his government that Moultrie had permitted him to arm privateers and had assisted the various branches of his mission in every possible way. Such was Genet's energy that within five days after his arrival he had opened a recruiting station at which American seamen were taken into the French service; he had commissioned American vessels as French privateers; and he had turned the French consul's office into an admiralty court for which business was provided by the prizes that were being brought in.

After seeing under way all matters that he could attend to in Charleston, Genet moved on to Philadelphia, and received on his way thither such greetings as to give to his journey the character of a triumphal progress. Meanwhile, L'Ambuscade, the French frigate which had brought Genet to Charleston, was proceeding to Philadelphia, taking prizes on her way and sending them to American ports. In Delaware Bay she captured the Grange, an English merchantman lying there at anchor, and took this vessel with her to Philadelphia as a prize. As Genet neared Philadelphia on  p124 May 16, L'Ambuscade gave notice by firing three guns, at which signal a procession was formed to meet Genet at Gray's Ferry and escort him to his lodgings. He found awaiting him a letter from George Rogers Clark, which gave an account of his plans for the invasion of Louisiana and the capture of New Orleans, and which announced his readiness to start if he were assisted by some frigates and provided with three thousand pounds sterling to meet expenses. Genet received reports from other agents or friendly correspondents in the Spanish territory, and so active was he in forwarding the objects of his mission that on June 19 he was able to write to his government, "I am provisioning the West Indies, I excite the Canadians to break the British yoke, I arm the Kentukois and prepare a naval expedition which will facilitate their descent on New Orleans."

These claims were well founded. Genet did, in fact, make an effective start, and had he been able to command funds he might have opened a great chapter of history. George Rogers Clark was the ablest and most successful commander that the frontier had yet produced, and such was the weakness of the Spanish defenses that had his expedition been actually launched as planned, the  p125 conquest of Louisiana might indeed have been accomplished. It was not any defect in Genet's arrangements that frustrated his plans, but his inability to raise money and the uncertainty of his position as the agent of a government which was undergoing rapid revolutionary change.

News that the French Republic had declared war against Great Britain reached the United States early in April, 1793. Washington, who was then at Mount Vernon, wrote to Jefferson that "it behooves the Government of this country to use every means in its power to prevent the citizens thereof from embroiling us with either of those Powers, by endeavoring to maintain a strict neutrality," and he requested that the Secretary should "give the subject mature consideration, that such measures as shall be deemed most likely to effect this desirable purpose may be adopted without delay." On arriving at Philadelphia a few days later, Washington was met by a distracted Cabinet. The great difficulty was the conflict of obligations. The United States had a treaty of alliance with France; it had a treaty of peace with Great Britain. The situation had become such that it could not sustain both relations at the same time. If the  p126 United States remained neutral, it would have to deny to France privileges conferred by the treaty which had been negotiated when both countries were at war with Great Britain. How far was that treaty now binding? It had been made with "the Most Christian king," whose head had been cut off. Did not his engagements fall with his head? That was the very position taken by the government of the French Republic, which had asserted the right to decide what treaties of the old monarchy should be retained and what rejected. As an incident of the present case, the question was to be decided whether the ambassador of the French Republic should be received.

Such were the issues that Washington's Administration had to face, at a time when the whole country was thrilling with enthusiasm in behalf of the French Republic. Chief Justice Marshall left on record his opinion that this feeling "was almost universal," and that "a great majority of the American people deemed it criminal to remain unconcerned spectators of a conflict between their ancient enemy and republican France."

Washington acted with his customary deliberation. On April 18, 1793, he submitted to the members of his Cabinet thirteen questions. Jefferson,  p127 who held that the French treaty was still operative, noted that the questions reached him in Washington's own handwriting, "yet it was palpable from the style, their ingenious tissue and suite, that they were not the President's, that they were raised upon a prepared chain of argument, in short, that the language was Hamilton's and the doubts his alone." In Jefferson's opinion they were designed to lead "to a declaration of the Executive that our treaty with France is void." Jefferson was right as to Hamilton's author­ship. At a time when Jefferson had no advice to give save that it would be well to consider whether Congress ought not to be summoned, Hamilton had ready a set of interrogatories which subjected the whole situation to close analysis. The critical questions were these:

"Shall a proclamation issue for the purpose of preventing interferences of the citizens of the United States in the war between France and Great Britain, &c.? Shall it contain a declaration of neutrality or not? What shall it contain?

"Are the United States obliged, by good faith, to consider the treaties heretofore made with France as applying to the present situation of the parties? May they either renounce them, or hold  p128 them suspended till the government of France shall be established?"

To the interrogatories framed by Hamilton, Washington added one which presented the point raised by Jefferson — "Is it necessary or advisable to call together the two Houses of Congress, with a view to the present posture of European affairs? If it is, what shall be the particular object of such a call?"

The Cabinet met on April 19. On the question of a proclamation of neutrality Jefferson argued that such a proclamation would be equivalent to a declaration that the United States would not take part in the war, and that this matter did not lie within the power of the Executive, since it was the province of Congress to declare war. Congress ought therefore to be called to consider the question. Hamilton, who held that it was both the right and the duty of the President to proclaim neutrality, was strongly opposed to summoning Congress. In a brief record of the proceedings he remarked that "whether this advice proceeded from a secret wish to involve us in a war, or from a constitutional timidity, certain it is such a step would have been fatal to the peace and tranquillity of America." The matter was finally compromised  p129 by an unanimous agreement that a proclamation should be issued "forbidding our citizens taking any part in any hostilities on the seas with or against any of the belligerent powers; and warning them against carrying to any such powers any of those articles deemed contraband, according to the modern usage of nations; and enjoining them from all acts and proceedings inconsistent with the duties of a friendly nation toward those at war." Jefferson's scruples having been appeased by avoiding the use of the term "neutrality," it was now unanimously decided that Congress should not be called. It was further decided that the French Minister should be received. Jefferson and Randolph, however, were of opinion that he should be received without conditions, while Hamilton, supported by Knox, held that the Minister ought to be apprised of the intention to reserve the question whether the treaties were still operative, "lest silence on that point should occasion misconstruction." The even division of the Cabinet on this point was in practical effect a victory for Jefferson. The Cabinet was unable to reach any decision in the matter of treaty obligations. Jefferson held that they were still operative; Hamilton, that they were "temporarily and  p130 provisionally suspended." Knox sided with Hamilton, and Randolph, although he at first sided with Jefferson, was so shaken in his opinion by Hamilton's argument that he asked further time for consideration. Eventually written opinions were submitted by Hamilton, Jefferson, and Randolph, confirming the views they had previously expressed, and, as Knox concurred with Hamilton, the Cabinet was still evenly divided on that fundamental question.

The proclamation, on the lines upon which all had agreed, was draughted by Randolph who showed it to Jefferson in order to assure him that "there was no such word as neutrality in it." Jefferson, whose own account this is, did not mention that he raised any objection to the wording of the proclamation at the time, though a few months later he referred to it in his private correspondence as a piece of "pusillanimity," because it omitted any expression of the affection of America for France. The proclamation was issued on April 22, two weeks after the arrival of Genet at Charleston. The procedure that had been adopted at Jefferson's instance avoided none of the difficulties that a declaration of neutrality would have encountered but rather increased them by putting the  p131 Government in a false position. The mere omission of the term did not prevent it from being known as a neutrality proclamation. It was at once so designated and has always been so considered. Jefferson himself, in advising the American foreign representatives of the policy of the Government, said that it would be "a fair neutrality"; and, in writing to Madison a few days after the proclamation had been issued, he remarked, "I fear a fair neutrality will prove a disagreeable pill to our friends, though necessary to keep us out of the calamities of war."

By its terms, however, the proclamation was simply an admonition to American citizens to keep out of the war, with notice that, if they got into trouble by engaging in contraband trade, they would not receive the protection of the United States, and would be liable to prosecution for the commission of acts of a nature to "violate the law of nations." It is manifest that the question whether or not the French treaty was still in operation was of great practical importance. If it was still in force, the treaty formed part of the law of the land, and American citizens might plead immunity for acts done in pursuance of its provisions. Hamilton was for suspending the treaty  p132 since a situation had arisen which made its provisions inconsistent with a policy of neutrality. His main contention was that the obligations imposed by the treaty of '78 were no longer binding on the United States, since they contemplated only defensive war. By her declaration of war France had taken the offensive, thereby relieving the United States of her reciprocal obligations. Jefferson held that the treaty was still operative, for even if its provisions apparently required the United States to engage in the war, it did not follow that such action would be an actual consequence. The possibility was "not yet certain enough to authorize us in sound morality to declare, at this moment, the treaties null."

Meanwhile Genet was left in a position in which he had a perfect right to claim all privileges conferred on France by the treaty. The result was a curious chapter of diplomatic correspondence. Genet took an attitude of indignant remonstrance at the duplicity of the American position. Did not the United States have a treaty with France? By what authority then did the Administration interfere with him in the enjoyment of his rights as the representative of France, and interfere with American citizens in their dealings with him?  p133 He shrewdly refrained from any attempt to defend the capture of the Grange by L'Ambuscade in Delaware Bay. "The learned conclusions of the Attorney-General of the United States, and the declarations of the American Government, have been on this subject the rule of my conduct. I have caused the prize to be given up." But he stood firm on rights secured by the treaty. "As long as the States, assembled in Congress, shall not have determined that this solemn engagement should not be performed, no one has the right to shackle our operations, and to annul their effect, by hindering those of our marines who may be in the American ports, to take advantage of the commissions which the French Government has charged me to give to them, authorizing them to defend themselves, and fulfill, if they find an opportunity, all the duties of citizens against the enemies of the State."

This was using an argument borrowed from Jefferson's abundant stock of constitutional limitations. Genet was, of course, advised of the dissensions in the Cabinet. He was on such confidential terms with Jefferson that he talked freely about the projected raid on Louisiana. Jefferson noted in his diary that "he communicated these  p134 things to me, not as Secretary of State, but as Mr. Jefferson." Jefferson told Genet that he "did not care what insurrections should be excited in Louisiana," but that "enticing officers and soldiers from Kentucky to go against Spain was really putting a halter about their necks, for that they would assuredly be hung if they commenced hostilities against a nation at peace with the United States." So great is the force of legal pedantry that Jefferson was unable to agree that the President should proclaim neutrality in clear and positive terms; but that same pedantry was effectively employed in covering the legal flaws of Jefferson's position in his notes to Genet. He attenuated the treaty obligations by strict construction and also by reservations founded on the general principles of international law. "By our treaties with several of the belligerent Powers," he told Genet, "we have established a style of peace with them. But without appealing to treaties, we are at peace with them all by the law of nature: for, by nature's law, man is at peace with man." Hence the propriety of forbidding acts within American jurisdiction that would cause disturbance of this peace, a point on which he quoted copiously from Vattel. Genet manifested some irritation at being referred to  p135 treatises on international law when he was resting his case on a treaty the validity of which Jefferson acknowledged. "Let us not lower ourselves," he wrote, "to the level of ancient politics by diplomatic subtleties. Let us be frank in our overtures, in our declarations, as our two nations are in their affections, and, by this plain and sincere conduct, arrive at the object by the shortest way."

Logically Jefferson's position was that of maintaining the validity of the treaty while opposing the fulfillment of its obligations. At the same time he had to carry on a correspondence with Hammond, the British Minister, who was making complaints of the use of American ports for French depredations on British commerce, and to him Jefferson pleaded entire willingness to discharge in good faith the obligations of a neutral Power. It may seem as if Jefferson was attempting the impossible feat of trying to ride at one time two horses going in opposite directions, but such was his dexterity that in appearance he was largely successful. Meanwhile he contrived to throw on Hamilton and his adherents the blame for the feebleness and inconsistency of national policy. In letters to his Congressional lieutenants, Monroe in the Senate and Madison in the House, he lamented  p136 "the anglophobia, secret antigallomany" that have "decided the complexion of our dispositions." He spoke scornfully of Randolph, whom he regarded as so irresolute that the votes in the Cabinet were "generally two and a half against one and a half," by which he meant that Hamilton and Knox stood together against Jefferson, while Randolph divided his influence between the two actions.

So inflamed was the state of public opinion that a rising against the Government seemed possible. In a letter written twenty years later, John Adams described "the terrorism excited by Genet, in 1793, when ten thousand people in the streets of Philadelphia, day after day, threatened to drag Washington out of his house, and effect a revolution in the Government, or compel it to declare war in favor of the French Revolution and against England." Adams related that he "judged it prudent and necessary to order chests of arms from the War Office" to be brought into his house to defend it from attack, and he had it from "the coolest and firmest minds" that nothing but the outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia that summer "could have saved the United States from a fatal revolution of government." On the other hand,  p137 letters written by Hamilton during the time of all this excitement show that he thought little of it, although he more than anyone else was its target. In May, 1793, he wrote that the number of persons who went to meet Genet "would be stated high at a hundred," and he did not believe that a tenth part of the city participated in the meetings and addresses of Genet's sympathizers. "A crowd will always draw a crowd, whatever be the purpose. Curiosity will supply the place, of attachment to, or interest in, the object." Washington's own letters at this period show no trace of concern about his personal safety though he smarted under the attacks on his motives. An entry of August 2, 1793, in Jefferson's private diary, forming the volume since known as "The Anas," relates that at a cabinet meeting Knox exhibited a print entitled the funeral of George W–––––n, in which the President was placed on a guillotine. "The President was much inflamed; got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself; ran much on the personal abuse which had been bestowed upon him; defied any man on earth to produce one single act of his since he had been in the Government which was not done from the purest motives; that he had never repented but once the having slipped the  p138 moment of resigning his office, and that was every moment since; that by God he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation; that he had rather be on his farm than to be made emperor of the world; and that they were charging him with wanting to be king; that that rascal Freneau sent him three of his papers every day, as if he thought he would become the distributor of his papers; that he could see in this nothing but an impudent design to insult him."

Freneau was one of Jefferson's subordinates in the State Department, combining with his duties there the editor­ship of a newspaper engaged in spreading the calumny that the Administration was leaning toward monarchy through the influence of Hamilton and his friends, who despised republicanism, hated France, and loved England. This journalistic campaign went on under the protection of Jefferson to the disturbance of an administration of which Jefferson himself formed a part. This circumstance has given trouble to Jefferson's biographers, and it is now somewhat difficult to make those allowances to which Jefferson is entitled from the candid historian. Such behavior at the present day would be regarded as treacherous, for it is now a settled doctrine that it is the  p139 duty of a member of the President's Cabinet to give unreserved support to his policy, or to resign. But at that period, neither in England nor in the United States, did this view of cabinet solidarity prevail. It was not considered against the rules of the game for a cabinet official to use any opportunities within reach for promoting his aims or to boast such behavior as patriotic zeal. Jefferson, who wanted to resign and stayed on only at Washington's earnest desire, certainly rendered a service to the Administration, which was then so unpopular that Jefferson's connection with it was a political asset of great value.

Hamilton also made use of the services of journalism. When on June 29, 1793, publication began of a series of eight articles signed "Pacificus," it was well known that Hamilton was the author. The acute analysis and cogent reasoning of these articles have given them classic rank as an exposition of national rights and duties. Upon minds open to reason their effect was marked. Jefferson wrote to Madison, "For God's sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to pieces in the face of the public." Madison did take up his pen, but he laid it down again without attempting to controvert  p140 Hamilton's argument. The five articles which Madison wrote over the signature "Helvidius" do not proceed farther into the subject than a preliminary examination of executive authority, in which he laid down principles of strict construction of the Constitution which have never been adopted in practice and which are now interesting only as specimens of dialectic subtlety.

Although as an electioneering tactician Jefferson had superior ability, neither he nor any of his associates was a match for Hamilton in debate. As the issues were discussed, the Jeffersonians lost ground, and for this they put the blame on Genet. By July 7, Jefferson was writing to Madison that Genet "renders my position immensely difficult," and thereafter in the correspondence of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, Genet figures as a rash man whose indiscretions embarrassed his friends and impeded his own objects. This view has to a large extent passed over into history, but when it is considered that Genet did not come to America for Jefferson's comfort but to accomplish certain things for his own government, it must be owned that he had considerable success. Although his means were small, he managed to engage in the French service an active American fleet including such  p141 vessels as Le Cassius, L'Ami de le Point à Petre,º L'Amour de la Liberté, La Vengeance, La Montagne, Le Vainqueur de la Bastille, La Carmagnole, L'Espérance, Le Citoyen Genet, Sans Pareil, and Le Petit Démocrate. The last-mentioned vessel was originally an English merchantman, the brig Little Sarah, brought into Philadelphia harbor as a French prize. When it was learned that this vessel had been armed and equipped for service as a French man-of-war, Governor Mifflin of Pennsylvania gave orders that the vessel should be detained. Genet threatened forcible resistance, and a clash might have occurred, had Jefferson not intervened. He went to Genet's house on Sunday to persuade him not to move the vessel until the President could decide the case. Genet refused to give any promise, but remarked that the vessel would probably not be ready to depart for several days. Jefferson thereupon exerted himself successfully to prevent the taking of any steps to detain the vessel.

Washington, harassed and confused by the dissensions of his Cabinet, now desired that the advice of the justices of the Supreme Court be taken. Hamilton was opposed to a proceeding which involved prejudgment by the Court on  p142 questions which might come before it in due course of law, and which seemed to him also to be an avoidance of the proper responsibility of the executive. Nevertheless he took part in preparing the case, and of the twenty-nine questions submitted to the Supreme Court, Hamilton framed twenty-one, Jefferson seven, and Washington himself the last. Jefferson notified Genet of this consultation as an additional reason for patience, "the object of it being to obtain the best advice possible on the sense of the laws and treaties respecting the several cases. I am persuaded you will think the delay well compensated." Genet did not think so, and Le Petit Démocrate put to sea in defiance of American authority.

The justices declined to answer the questions, and the Administration had to face its responsibilities on its own judgment of its rights and duties. At least one member of the Administration had clear and positive ideas on that subject. Hamilton, who in his "Pacificus" letters had given a masterly exposition of international obligations, now took up the particular issues raised by Genet's claims, which at that time were receiving ardent champion­ship. Freneau's National Gazette held that Genet had really acted "too tamely," had been  p143 "too accommodating for the peace of the United States." Hamilton now replied by a series of articles in the Daily Advertiser over the signature "No Jacobin," in which Genet's behavior was reviewed. After five articles had appeared in rapid succession, the series was abruptly terminated because Hamilton was taken down by the yellow fever.

The journalistic war was almost in the nature of a duel between the State and the Treasury Departments. Genet must have been amused. Lack of funds hindered his activities more than anything else. Jefferson had advised Washington that, "if the instalments falling due in this year could be advanced without incurring more danger," it would be well to make the payments, as he "thought it very material to keep alive the friendly sentiments of France." But this was a matter which pertained to Hamilton's own department, and in that field his advice controlled Washington. Genet could do nothing in this direction, and before the affair of Le Petit Démocrate he had ceased to expect financial aid.

Jefferson was now so angry and indignant that he no longer opposed the suggestions that had been made in cabinet meetings that Genet should be  p144 dismissed, and the note on that subject which he drafted for transmission to the French Government is an able document. The French Government, with ample reason, conditioned the recall of Genet upon the recall of Morris, who was succeeded by James Monroe. Meanwhile Genet's situation had become perilous through revolution at home. On October 16, 1793, his Government issued an order for his arrest. The United States now became his asylum. He acquired citizen­ship, married a daughter of Governor Clinton of New York, and settled down to a useful and respected career as a country gentleman devoted to the improvement of agriculture. He died at his home, Schodak, New York, in 1834, after having founded an American family.

At the time when Genet, favored by the exasperated state of Western sentiment over the navigation of the lower Mississippi, was promoting an attack upon the Spanish posts, the Administration had already been engaged for a long time in efforts to secure "full enjoyment of that navigation," as well as a settlement of the southwestern boundary. In December, 1791, Washington nominated William Carmichael, chargé d'affaires in Spain, and William Short, then chargé d'affaires  p145 in France, commissioners to make a treaty. Their efforts proved unsuccessful, and in 1794 the Spanish commissioner in the United States gave notice that they were not acceptable personally, and that it "was hoped that some other person would be appointed, with full powers, to settle this treaty, and graced with such a character as became the royalty to which he was accredited." Washington then nominated Thomas Pinckney, at that time minister in London, as minister plenipotentiary in Spain. When Pinckney arrived on the scene he was met with the dilatory methods then characteristic of Spanish diplomacy, and finally he had to bring matters to an issue by demanding his passports. His determination so impressed the Spanish Government that it finally consented to a treaty, October 27, 1795, which fixed the southern boundary of the United States and opened the Mississippi River to navigation. The boundary line was to run east along the thirty-first parallel of latitude from the Mississippi to the Appalachicola, thence along the latter river to its junction with the Flint, thence to the headwaters of the St. Mary's, and along its course to the Atlantic Ocean. The free navigation of the Mississippi was coupled with the  p146 privilege of depositing merchandise at New Orleans "without paying any other duty than a fair price for the hire of the stores." This privilege was to be continued after three years, or "an equivalent establishment" on the banks of the Mississippi was to be assigned to citizens of the United States — a provision which was not free from ambiguities and which furnished fresh material for controversy a few years later.

Thayer's Note:

a The following articles, which Ford cites in his Bibliography, are useful:

"The Origin of Genet's Projected Attack on Louisiana and the Floridas," American Historical Review, vol. III.

"The Policy of France toward the Mississippi Valley," American Historical Review, vol. X.

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