The Exploits of Edmond Genet in the United States

IT seemed an odd freak of destiny that sent Edmond Genet, a protégé of Marie Antoinette, to represent the Republic of France in the United States. Gouverneur Morris, in his neat, uncompromising manner, sums up this young diplomatist, aged twenty-eight, in 1793. as “a man of good parts and very good education, brother to the queen’s first woman, from whence his fortune originates.” Even so. He was a brother of that worthy and capable Madame Campan, first femme de chambre to Marie Antoinette, and, after the queen’s death, renowned through Europe as the head of a seminary for young ladies in Paris. It was she who wrote a hundred circulars with her own hand because she had not money to get them printed, and received sixty pupils the first year,— Hortense, erelong, from Napoleon’s own hand.

The father of this respectable, energetic family was, nearly all his life, under the influence of English and American ideas and persons. He lived in England many years, where he acquired familiar command of the English language and a fond, wide acquaintance with English literature. Upon returning to his native land he seems — if we may judge from the long catalogue of his publications — to have adopted it as a profession to make England known to France. Beginning with two volumes of Pope’s best letters in 1753, he continued to publish translations from the English, and original works relating to England, until, in 1765, the list embraced twenty-two volumes. A few years later, when he held the post of chief clerk to the department of foreign affairs, he was in frequent intercourse with Dr. Franklin, Silas Deane, Beaumarchais, and all the American circle. His house, too, from 1765 to 1781, when he died, was one of those agreeable haunts of men connected with literature and art which had, at that period, an éclat rivalling that of the great houses, where Power in its cruder forms of wealth and rank was represented. From such a home, it was natural enough that Henrietta Genet, at fifteen, should be invited to fill the place of reader to Mesdames the sisters of Louis XV., to be in due time advanced to a place of real importance in the régime of the period, — that of “ first woman ” to the young queen.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by JAMES R. OSGOOD & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

Nor was her brother’s career quite such a caprice of fortune as it seemed. If, as a boy, he was noted in the palace for the warmth of his republican sentiments, it was only that he was in the mode. Did not the queen smile benignantly upon Franklin and chat familiarly with him while she held the cards waiting her turn to play ? Who more distinguished at court than Lafayette, the stern republican of nineteen ? When the queen desired to give young Genet a start in the diplomatic career, his grand republican sentiments were rather a point in his favor than otherwise; and, at twenty-four, he had reached a position in the diplomatic service to which only court favor of the most irresistible description could have pushed so young a man. He was secretary of legation at St. Petersburg ; whence, according to Morris, he wrote in so republican a style, that his despatches, read after the dethronement, made his fortune with the chiefs of the Gironde, who named him ambassador to Holland; his appointment bearing date November 14, 1792.

Suddenly the programme was changed, for a reason never conjectured till within these few months past. The Holland commission was revoked in December, and M. Genet was appointed to represent France in America. Genet, it appears, was at once a Girondist and a grateful friend to his royal benefactors, whom he was now in the habit of styling “ Louis and Madame Capet.” The Girondists had adopted the scheme proposed by Thomas Paine of sending this hapless pair and their children to the United States, and Genet, as we are now assured, was selected for the purpose of promoting the project. A well-known writer, who lias made a particular study of that period, and who apparently derived his information from the American family of M. Genet, holds this language and emphasizes it by the use of italics : —

M. Genet was selected for the mis-sion to America, by the more moderate republicans in France, because of his friendship with the deposed monarch, and for the express purpose of conducting the imprisoned king and the royal family secretly to America. This arrangement was entered into at a meeting of the leading Girondists, at which our own Thomas Paine assisted; and it was at that meeting that M. Genet was tendered the mission and accepted it, playfully describing, in response, to what occupation such and such of the royal exiles could be appropriated, on their arrival in America.” 1

But it was no longer in the power of the more moderate republicans to control the course of events. If France was mad, England was not sane ; and the man in England whose voice was mightiest, who should have been the great tranquillizing influence of the hour, was the maddest public man in Europe. “ I vote for this (alien) bill,” said Burke in Parliament, about the time of Genet’s appointment, “because I consider it as the means of saving my life and all our lives from the hands of assassins. When they smile, I see blood trickling down their faces ; I see that the object of all their cajoling is blood.” How was the mighty fallen ! Here was genius stooping to clothe in powerful language the imbecile panic of ignorance. The raving of Burke, by infecting the policy of England, was among the influences in the French Convention that decided the king’s fate. Louis was exiled to the other world, instead of going with Genet and Paine to the shores of the peaceful Delaware. A few hours after the news of his execution reached London, the British government, in effect, declared war against France ; and as soon as this intelligence reached Paris, February 1, 1793, France declared war, in form, against England.

Thus began the bloodiest struggle the modern world has known, which only ended after Waterloo. There was no pretext for the war which will bear the light of to-day. All thrones, it is true, were menaced in the fall of the French throne ; and no king felt so sure of his head after January 21, 1793, as he had before that memorable date. Here was motive enough for the king of England, but not for the realm of Britain. The reason why Great Britain struck France in 1793 was, as the world is now informed, because France was weak. Such is the explanation given of the origin of this infernal war by a work that speaks to foreign nations with an authority semiofficial. France was sorely afflicted, distracted, anarchic. “ All Europe was now leagued against her. Within she was divided by faction, and without she was assailed by immense hosts of the best disciplined soldiers of Europe, conducted by the most skilful leaders, to whom she had nothing to oppose but an undisciplined multitude, led on by inexperienced chiefs. In this state of things it seemed a safe measure to make war against her. To do so was only to retaliate the conduct she had herself pursued when she effected the dismemberment of the British Empire by assisting our revolted Colonies.” 2 Such is the nature of dynastic rule. Such was that “ British form,” of which British Hamilton was so enamored.

It was from the frenzy and delirium of all this that Citizen Genet sailed in the frigate L'Embuscade for the United States. He had, indeed, been ranked with the more moderate republicans ; but in February, 1793, moderation was a quality unknown to the heart of civilized man. He was a Frenchman; he was a republican; he was twenty-eight ; he was bearing to America the news that England, too, had sided in arms against his country. Long was this frigate tossed upon the wintry deep. She was driven far to the southward of her course, and the great tidings which she brought reached President Washington before L’Embuscade was heard of at the seat of government.

The genius for rectitude which General Washington possessed was never so manifest as on this occasion. Passion spoke but one voice. Here was our ally struck by the great naval power of the world because she seemed prostrate and helpless ! Here was France threatened with dismemberment because she had helped us in the crisis of our destiny ! Here was the king who warred upon Americans, because they had demanded to govern America, presuming to deny the right of Frenchmen to govern France ! Generosity, justice, gratitude, pride, and even policy appeared to call upon the two republics to make common cause against the common foe. Was not England the common foe ? Did she not hold the United States by the throat ? What was the retention of the seven posts but suspended war ? Such were the thoughts that naturally rose in the minds of a vast majority of American citizens when the news was circulated. The President had but to remain passive, he had but to linger another month at Mount Vernon, and every vessel that could have carried half a dozen guns and forty men would have been afloat in quest of British prizes. And, to this hour, if you will imbue yourself with the spirit of that time, and shut out all those larger and nobler considerations which alone should control the decisions of a government, you will often find yourself ready to exclaim, O that he had !

Then, there were our treaties with France to be considered; treaties that seemed to many all the more sacred now because they were made when France was powerful and we were weak. Knotty questions started up as men in 1793 read those two treaties of 1778, — one of “Amity and Commerce,” and the other of “ Alliance,” both bearing the name of Franklin, both signed by dead Louis. By the first, French men-of-war and French privateers might, and British might not, bring their prizes into American ports. By the second, the United States guaranteed “ to his Christian Majesty the present possessions of the crown of France in America.”

General Washington was at Mount Vernon when Mr. Jefferson’s letter reached him announcing the declaration of war between France and England. All the peril of the crisis flashed upon his mind. Its difficulties, too, occurred to him as he travelled posthaste to Philadelphia; and on his arrival he drew up, for the instant consideration of the Cabinet, a list of questions embracing the situation : Shall we warn our citizens not to interfere in this contest? Shall we formally proclaim ourselves neutral ? Ought we to receive the coming Genet? And, if we ought, how ? Do our treaties with the late king hold ? If we have the right to renounce or suspend the treaties, is it best to do so ? Would it be a breach of neutrality to consider the treaties still in operation ? Supposing the treaties in force, what precisely are the rights of France and what precisely are our duties to France ? If the French royal family should send us a representative, shall we receive him too ? Ought Congress to be convened ? And, if it ought, on what grounds should the call be placed ?

The Cabinet met at the President’s house on the following day, April 19. Upon one of the ques ions there was a substantial unanimity of opinion: it was agreed to notify American citizens that they could only join in the fight at their own peril. Mr. Jefferson, however, prevailed so far as to keep the word “neutrality ” out of the proclamation. He preferred that his country should not needlessly declare itself neutral in a contest concerning which its heart knew no neutrality. But on the other questions there was a difference of opinion in the Cabinet which could not sufficiently argue itself in words spoken across the table of the President’s office. To warm debates there long written papers succeeded, in which Hamilton displayed more of his fatal ingenuity than usual, and Jefferson all the wisdom that comes of a man’s central principle being sound. The President’s questions relating to France resolved themselves, it was found, into one, namely, Does the decapitation of Louis absolve the United States from obligations contracted nominally with him? In other words, Are the treaties still valid ? Was it with France or with Louis that we made them? Here is M. Ternant, the resident French plenipotentiary, whose commission bears the king’s signature ; and somewhere on the ocean is Citizen Genet, coming to supersede him, whose commission has been issued neither by Louis nor by his heir.

Shall we receive Genet ? Of course, said, in substance, the two Republican members, Jefferson and Randolph, We must, reluctantly said the two Federalists, Hamilton and Knox. But how? As plenipotentiaries are usually received, or with reserves and qualifications ? It was in discussing this question that the two fighting-cocks of the Cabinet joined battle, and fought out their difference. Hamilton’s opinion was, that before M. Genet was admitted to an audience with the President, the government should “ qualify ” that reception by declaring that the question of the validity of the treaties was “reserved.” In supporting this opinion he took the ground which George III. had taken in making war upon France : he presumed to sit in judgment upon the acts of the French people. He arraigned the Revolution ! “ No proof,” said he, “ has yet come to light sufficient to establish a belief that the death of Louis is an act of national justice.” He also said : “ It was from Louis XVI. that the United States received those succors which were so important in the establishment of their independence and liberty. It was with him, his heirs and successors, that they contracted their engagements, by which they obtained those precious succors.” Amplify these two statements to a vast extent ; support them by a prodigious number of curiously subtle and remote reasons ; throw in the usual citations from Vattel, Grotius, Wolf, and Puffendorf; add some remarks upon the danger of guaranteeing to France islands that might be taken by the English ; and you have the substance of Hamilton’s paper upon the reception of Genet.

Jefferson replied to it at much length. Besides giving his colleague an ample supply of Vattel, Puffendorf, Grotius, and Wolf, arranged in parallel columns, executed with singular neatness, he favored him with some passages of pure Jefferson, which have become part and parcel of the diplomatic system of the United States.

“ If,” said Mr. Jefferson, “ I do not subscribe to the soundness of the Secretary of the Treasury’s reasoning, I do most fully to its ingenuity. . . . . I consider the people who constitute a society or nation as the source of all authority in that nation ; as free to transact their common concerns by any agents they think proper ; to change those agents individually, or the organization of them in form or function whenever they please; that all the acts done by these agents, under the authority of the nation, are the acts of the nation, are obligatory on them, and inure to their use, and can in no wise be annulled or affected by any change in the form of the government, or of the persons administering it. Consequently, the treaties between the United States and France were not treaties between the United States and Louis Capet, but between the two nations of America and France ; and, the nations remaining in existence, though both of them have since changed their forms of government, the treaties are not annulled by these changes.”

He admitted, however, that, as there are circumstances which sometimes excuse the non-performance of contracts between man and man, so there are between nation and nation. “ When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non-performance is not immoral ; so, if performance becomes self-destructive to the party, the law of self-preservation overrules the law of obligation to others. For the reality of these principles, I appeal to the true fountains of evidence, the head and heart of every rational and honest man. It is there Nature has written her moral laws, and where every man may read them for himself. He will never read there the permission to annul his obligations for a time or forever, whenever they become dangerous, useless, or disagreeable.”

It seems strange to us that principles like these could ever have been subjects of debate in the Cabinet of a President of the United States. The President’s decision was, that Genet should be received without qualification, that is, without insulting the authority that commissioned him. As to the treaties, General Washington told Jefferson that he had never had a doubt of their validity ; but, since the question had been raised, he had thought it best to have it considered.

The proclamation which announced to mankind that the duty and interest of the United States required that they should “pursue a conduct friendly and impartial towards the belligerent powers,” and warning American citizens to avoid all acts inconsistent with that policy, was published on the 22d of April, 1793. On that very day, as it chanced, news reached the government that L’Embuscade, with Genet on board, had put into the port of Charleston, and that the Minister, wearied of his long voyage, would tempt the main no more, but would send the frigate to Philadelphia and perform the journey himself by land.

The people of the United States were troubled with no scruples in regard to Genet’s commission. They gave him a reception like that which, in recent years, astounded and deluded the Hungarian Kossuth. It was on the 8th of April that L’Embuscade, of forty guns and three hundred men, “ Citizen Bompard ” commanding, cast anchor in the harbor of Charleston, forty-five days from Rochefort. M. Genet was so little identified with the extremists in France, that, on his way to join his ship, he had been arrested on a charge of being concerned in a plot to convey the Dauphin to the United States. The ship, on the contrary, made extravagant professions of loyalty to the Revolution. Her figurehead was a liberty-cap. On her stern there was a carved representation of the same. Her foremast was also converted into a liberty-pole by being crowned with that emblematic article of attire. Around her mizzen-top was a sentence to this effect: “ WE ARE ARMED TO DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF MAN.” Her maintop bore the following : “ FREEMEN, WE ARE YOUR BROTHERS AND FRIENDS.” Her foretop was a warning to tyrants: “ ENEMIES OF EQUALITY, RELINQUISH YOUR PRINCIPLES OR TREMBLE ! ” Besides being thus decorated, she came into Charleston Harbor with a British prize in her wake, a pleasing foretaste of the rich pickings to which the ocean invited men of enterprise who were also lovers of liberty.

Charleston was then a city of greater commercial importance than it has been within living memory. Many french merchants resided there. Amid the fêtes, dinners, balls, receptions, which hospitable Charleston exchanged with a frigate enthusiastic for liberty, these French merchants thronged about Citizen Genet, full of zeal for their country, and extremely desirous to display that zeal in the profitable form of privateering. They were willing to fit out vessels at their own expense ; all they asked of Genet was authority. Only give us commissions, said they, and we will do the rest. Citizen Genet consulted Governor Moultrie on the subject. The governor, a better soldier than lawyer, and probably not uninfluenced by the prevalent “ exaltation,” told him he “knew no law against it,” but begged that, whatever he might do in the way of commissioning privateers, he would do without consulting further the governor of South Carolina. What could Genet desire more ? Two vessels, bought and equipped by French merchants, manned in part by Americans, were commissioned by Citizen Genet ; and L’Embuscade used also to leave her anchorage in the morning, cruise off the harbor all day, and return to safety in the evening. Not a British vessel dared stir. Citizen Bompard publicly offered a lieutenancy in the French navy to any competent American who would engage to pilot the frigate along the coast. He obtained a pilot on these terms, and stood out to sea, returning to Charleston no more.

On her short passage to Philadelphia she captured two British prizes,— a brig named the Little Sarah and a valuable ship called the Grange. Seldom has staid Philadelphia known an afternoon of such thrilling excitement as when these vessels cast anchor in the Delaware, opposite one of the principal wharves. The frigate’s thundering salute of fifteen guns — one for each State — could only be returned by two field-pieces on Market Street Wharf, and these worked by volunteers ; but the cannonade sufficed to summon all the movable population of the town to the river-side. The shipping was dressed in flags and streamers. Cheers from the spectators saluted the frigate as she glided past each dock, answered by cheers from the ship ; and when she had dropped her anchor, her crew swarmed up into the rigging, manned the tops and yards, and gave what a reporter of the period styled “three or four concurrent cheers.” The most rapturous moment of all, according to Mr. Jefferson, was when the Grange was descried with the British colors upside-down and the flag of France flying above them. The thousands and thousands of the yeomanry of the city, he tells us, who crowded the wharves, “ burst into peals of exultation.” It was about five in the afternoon when L’Embuscade cast anchor. Every procurable boat put off to her crowded with passengers, until there were as many Philadelphians on board as Frenchmen. Each boat-load, we are assured, was welcomed with effusion. Philadelphia “fraternized ” with L’Embuscade. “I wish,” said Jefferson, in a confidential letter to Monroe, “ we may be able to repress the people within the limits of a fair neutrality.”

Some days after arrived the Citizen Genet, not the plenipotentiary, but one of the privateers which he had commissioned at Charleston, bringing in two more prizes, both British. This was cheering indeed. But now Citizen Genet himself was at hand. Five weeks had elapsed since his landing at Charleston,— so many dinners had he been compelled to eat, and so many ovations to undergo, in the cause of liberty. From Charleston to Philadelphia, wherever there were people to make a demonstration, the people were only too glad to demonstrate. Nay, more, merchants of Alexandria and Baltimore offered to sell to a beleaguered ally provisions below the market price. Six hundred thousand barrels of flour were offered Citizen Genet on terms more favorable than those granted to the most favored customer.

On the 16th of May the rumor was spread abroad in Philadelphia that the representative of the French Republic was approaching the city from the south. The bells of Christ Church rang out a peal of welcome. By every road crowds hurried towards Gray’s Ferry ; but they were too late ; Genet was so fortunate as to get over the river and into the city, even to the City Tavern, before any great number of the people could intercept him. A committee of seven distinguished Republicans, headed by the venerated Rittenhouse, had been appointed to address the plenipotentiary on his arrival. This committee, preceded by their chairman, marched toward the hotel, three abreast, joined as they went by other citizens, who also walked in threes ; until there was a long line of gentlemen trailing after the committee. These entered the hotel and were presented to M. Genet, while a prodigious crowd filled the street and rent the air with cheers. The address was read. It was fortunate the Minister was familiar with the English language, for, being unprepared for such a reception, he was obliged to reply extempore. His youthful appearance, his bearing, at once affable and distinguished, the responsive warmth of his demeanor, and even the French accent with which he spoke, all served to heighten the enthusiasm.

“ I am no orator,” he began with faltering tongue, “and I should not at any time affect the language of eloquence. But even in uttering the genuine and spontaneous sentiments of my heart, on an occasion so interesting and so flattering, I experience some embarrassments, arising from my defective acquaintance with the language in which I am about to speak. But this defect, I am certain, freemen will readily excuse, if they are convinced of the sincerity of the sentiments which I shall deliver. I cannot tell you, gentlemen, how penetrated I am by the language of the address to which I have listened, nor how deeply gratified my fellow-citizens will be in reading so noble an avowal of the principles of the Revolution of France, and on learning that so cordial an esteem for her citizens exists in a country for which they have shed their blood and disbursed their treasures, and to which they are allied by the dearest fraternal sentiments and the most important political interests. France is surrounded with difficulties ; but her cause is meritorious : it is the cause of mankind, and must prevail. With regard to you, citizens of the United States, I will declare openly and freely (for the ministers of republics should have no secrets, no intrigues), that, from the remote situation of America, and other circumstances, France does not expect that you should become a party in the war ; but, remembering that she has already combated for your liberties (and, if it were necessary, and she had the power, would cheerfully again enlist in your cause), we hope (and everything I hear and see assures me our hope will be realized) that her citizens will be treated as brothers in danger and distress. Under this impression, my feelings, at this moment, are inexpressible ; and when I transmit your address to my fellow-citizens in France, they will consider this day as one of the happiest of their infant Republic.”

When M. Genet ceased to speak, the feelings of the auditors, if we may believe the newspapers of the day, were such as could not be adequately expressed by shouts. Some natural tears were shed. In response to the cheers from the street, M. Genet turned to a window and delivered a short but most moving speech to the concourse below. The committee then took “an affectionate leave,” and all the company withdrew “ in peace and order ” ; “every man,” adds a reporter, “departing with this virtuous and patriotic satisfaction, that he had, at once, testified his gratitude to a faithful ally, in the hour of her distress, and demonstrated his attachment to those republican principles which are the basis of the American government.”

The next day Citizen Genet issued a general thanksgiving to the people who had greeted him so cordially on his journey. He sent also a formal reply to the citizens’ address of the day before. “ My conduct,” he said in this reply, “shall be to the height of our national political principles. An unbounded openness shall be the constant rule of my intercourse with those wise and virtuous men into whose hands you have intrusted the management of your public affairs. I will expose candidly to them the great objects on which it will be our business to deliberate ; and the common interest of both nations will, I have no doubt, be the compass of our direction ; for, without such a guide, what would become of both nations, exposed, as we mutually are, to the resentment, the hatred, and the treachery of all the tyrants of the earth, who, you may rest assured, are at this moment armed, not only against France, but against liberty itself ? ”

This was but the beginning of Philadelphia’s entertainment of the plenipotentiary. Deputation succeeded deputation ; dinner followed dinner. First, the officers of the French frigate were invited to a grand banquet, at which one hundred gentlemen assisted. The Marseillaise was sung, of course, all standing, and all joining in the chorus. In the midst of the effusive toast-giving, a delegation of the “mariners of L’Embuscade ” entered the diningroom ; for at this happy epoch, sailors, too, were citizens and even fellow-citizens. Such was the “ effusion ” of the hour, that Philadelphians were seen “ embracing ” the mariners ; and then again the whole company burst into a patriotic song. A few days after, Citizen Bompard entertained the Governor of Pennsylvania and a distinguished company on board the frigate, with the usual “hymns to liberty” and toasts. Again the mariners bore a part, which a reporter thus describes : —

“ As the American citizens were preparing to leave the frigate, Citizen Dupont, the boatswain, addressed them in the name of his messmates, in a short speech replete with feeling, and nearly as follows : ‘ You see before you your friends, the French. Several of us have shed their blood to establish your liberty and independence. We are willing, if necessary, to shed to the last drop of what remains for the maintaining of that freedom which, like you, we have conquered. We are still your good friends and brethren, and if you should again want our assistance we shall always be ready to give you proofs of our attachment.’ The Governor answered this artless and energetic address by expressing his most sincere wishes for the happiness of the French nation, and the success of the frigate L’Embuscade.”

Then came the grandest festival of all,— a banquet to M. Genet, attended by two hundred gentlemen, tickets four dollars ! The toasts, on this occasion, betray the touch of abler hands than those which had penned the sentiments given at the other feasts. If Mr. Jefferson did not indite some of these sentences for an anxious committee, they certainly bear a strong resemblance to some that occur in his writings. The toasts contain the Republican code of the period : —

I. The people and the law. 2. The people of France : may they have but one head, one heart, and one arm in support of the righteous cause of liberty. 3. The people of the United States : may liberty only be their idol, and freemen only be their brethren. 4. The Republics of France and America : may they be forever united in the cause of liberty. 5. May principles, and not men, be the objects of republican attachment. 6. May France give an example to the world, that the balances of a government depend more upon knowledge and vigilance than upon a multifarious combination of its power. 7. In complaining of the temporary evils of revolutions, may we never forget that the greater evils of monarchy and aristocracy are perpetual. 8. The spirit of seventy-six and of ninety-two : may the citizens of America and France, as they are equal in virtue, be equal in success. 9. May true republican simplicity be the only ornament of the magistrate in every elective government. 10. Confusion to the councils of the confederated despots, and dismay to their hosts : may they never be able to form a centre of union or of action, 11. May France prove a political Hercules, and exterminate the Hydræ of despotism from the earth. 12. Peace, liberty, and independence : may the tyrants and traitors of all countries be punished by the establishment of the happiness which they wish to betray or destroy. 13. May the systems of the United States be entirely their own, and no corrupt exotic be ingrafted upon the tree of liberty. 14. May the defects of individuals teach us to place our hopes of the safety and perpetuity of freedom on the whole body of the people. 15. May the clarion of freedom, sounded by France, awaken the people of the world to their own happiness, and the tyrants of the earth be prostrated by its triumphant sounds.

The reader observes that the toasts are fifteen in number ; the recent admission of Tennessee and Kentucky to the Union having broken the spell long attached to the number thirteen. He also remarks that principles are toasted, not men. The birthday of George III. occurring during the same week, there was a banquet on that occasion too, the toasts of which seem to have been designed as a reply to this remarkable series. This feast derived additional éclat from the recent marriage of the English Minister, George Hammond, to a young lady of Philadelphia. Four Georges were toasted, — George III., George, Prince of Wales, George Washington, and George Hammond ; and, to mark the contrast, a neat sentiment was offered, more human and more wise than the republican toast, at which it was aimed: “Men and principles : may neither be forgotten, if deserving remembrance.” The other toasts were less brilliant than characteristic. One of them was as much designed to single out Alexander Hamilton for honor, as though he had been mentioned by name : “ The proclamation of neutrality : may the heart that dictated and the head that proposed it live long to enjoy the blessings of all true friends to humanity.” Other toasts were these : “ All good Americans : may moderation be their principle, neutrality their resolution, and industry their motto.” “ The cap of liberty: but may those who wear it know there is another for licentiousness.”

In the mere matter of toasts, it must be owned, the republicans of 1793 succeeded somewhat better than “ the monocrats.” For the moment it seemed as if all petty distinctions had melted away in the fiery heat of the popular sympathy with France, encompassed, as she was, by the armies of conspiring kings. And interesting it is to note, that the events, which had united the American people in sympathy with France, had rallied the people of England to their king’s support. The declaration of war, following instantly the execution of Louis, appeared to destroy the prestige of the opposition, and to give the Tories the command of a congenial mob. Thomas Paine, notwithstanding his adroit and courageous effort to rescue France and the republican cause from the dishonor of putting the king to death, became odious in England. It was a kind of fashion in country towns to burn him in effigy, — a ceremony in which the county magnates and municipal officers joined with Sunday schools and parish clergy. At Bristol, for example, in February, 1793, there was a performance of this kind that is worthy of remembrance as a curiosity of human folly.

“The cavalcade,” as the Bristol Journal, exulting, relates, “proceeded through our principal streets in the following order : Four constables headed about one hundred of the biggest boys from their Sunday schools, with colors and banners, having different mottoes, as, ‘ God save the King,’ ‘ Church and King,’ ‘ King and Constitution,’ ‘ Sunday Schools,’ etc., decorated with blue and orange-colored ribbons, and white staves in their hands. Then followed on foot many hundreds of colliers, etc., belonging to several friendly societies or clubs, with blue cockades in their hats, large, elegant silk colors, with their respective devices and mottoes in etters of gold. After them followed twelve javelin-men, and the underand high-sheriffs on horseback, the horses richly caparisoned. Next came the prisoner, seated in a chair, drawn in a coalcart guarded by twenty-four constables, and dressed in a black-trimmed coat, white waistcoat, Florentine breeches, white stockings, cocked hat with a French cockade, bag wig, etc. On his right hand stood the d—l, a well-made figure, about six feet high, with his left hand on Paine’s shoulder, and under his right arm a real fox. On Paine’s left hand sat a person in a clergyman’s habit. The hangman followed on horseback with his black axe ; amidst the acclamation of such a concourse of nobility to bring up the rear as, we believe, was never before seen on the like occasion. They made a stand at the Exchange and Custom-House, and sung God save the King, then proceeded to a place called Truebody’s Hill, in their own parish, where the figures were first hung on a gallows near thirty feet high, and then burnt.”

All of which was done, the editor states, without eliciting a dissentient manifestation of any kind. Dr. Priestley, whose house had been destroyed, and his library scattered over the land by a Tory mob the year before, now shared with his friend Paine the honors of many a scene like that of Bristol. He was discovering that England was not a comfortable dwelling-place for a republican.

All went well with Citizen Genet as long as there was nothing to be done but receive enthusiastic deputations and assist at effusive banquets. Those British prizes, too, did not come amiss. Waging war in the sacred cause of liberty is not arduous so long as the sea swarms with unwarned prizes, and there are no hard knocks to risk in taking them. It was not until M. Genet read the President’s proclamation of neutrality, that he experienced a premonitory chill. He thought the President should have waited to hear what he had to communicate before taking a step so decisive. It was at Richmond that he read the proclamation, and Governor Henry Lee endeavored to convince him that, in adopting the policy of neutrality, the President had served France. Genet seemed to acquiesce; but he thought the safety of the United States depended on the success of France in the war. If, said he, the Bourbons are restored, the kings of Europe will unite to crush liberty in the United States. On his arrival at Philadelphia he heard that the President of the United States, a few days before, had gone to the length of admitting to a private audience two émigrés of the most pronounced quality, the Vicomte de Noailles and M. Talon. M. de Noailles had served in the American war, by the side of Lafayette, under Washington’s own eye, and had been among the most decided republicans in France, until terror had precipitated the Revolution into chaos and massacre. Then he had resigned his rank in the army, and became an émigré. M. Talon had actually assisted the king’s flight, and escaped to America only after lying in close concealment for many weeks. And these men had been admitted to a private audience ! M. Genet was losing his head ; else he would have felt how particularly welcome both these gentlemen must have been to General Washington, and what a claim one of them had to cordial recognition from a President of the United States.

Citizen Genet stood, at length, in the impassive, and perhaps slightly austere, presence of General Washington. He observed that the room was decorated with what he was pleased to style “medallions of Capet and his family,” then regarded in France as emblematic of the most extreme “ reaction.” M. Genet, who owed his advancement to the favor of “ Madame Capet,” had reached such a pitch of exaltation as to be, as he said afterwards, “extremely wounded ” at this exhibition. Controlling his feelings, however, the plenipotentiary made his bow, and delivered a speech, conceived in a style of magnanimity which is inexpensive, indeed, but congenial to the “Latin” mind. “We know,” said he in substance, “ that, under present circumstances, we have a right to call upon the United States for the guaranty of our West India islands. But we do not desire it. We wish you to do nothing but what is for your own good, and we will do all in our power to promote it. Cherish your own peace and prosperity. You have expressed a willingness to enter into a more liberal treaty of commerce with us. I bring full powers to form such a treaty, and a preliminary decree of the National Convention to lay open our country and its colonies to you for every purpose of utility, without your participating in the burden of maintaining and defending them. We see in you the only people on earth who can love us sincerely, and merit to be by us sincerely loved.”

In short, as Mr. Jefferson remarked at the time, “ he offers everything, and asks nothing.” The President responded to this effusion in a manner which was not pleasing to M. Genet. Warmly as he spoke of the friendship of the people of the United States for France, he said nothing of the Revolution. Not a revolutionary sentiment, as M. Genet complained, escaped his lips, “while all the towns from Charleston to Philadelphia had made the air resound with their most ardent wishes for the French Republic.”

The President may well have been somewhat graver than usual during this interview. The spectacle of the British ship Grange, with the British colors reversed, and the glorious flag of France flying over them, was thrilling to the republicans of Philadelphia ; but Mr. Hammond, the British Minister, did not find it agreeable. Several days before Genet’s arrival he had sent in a remonstrance. Many of the sweet hours of his honeymoon he was obliged to spend in writing memorials and despatches, and in toying with Vattel, Wolf, Grotius, and Puffendorf. He was a polite, but urgent and strenuous diplomatist; who, as Mr. Jefferson remarked, “ if he did not get an answer in three days or a week, would ‘goad’ a Secretary of State with another letter.” He demanded the surrender of the Grange to her owners. He objected to the proceedings of M. Genet, and required the surrender of all the prizes taken in consequence of those proceedings. He complained that a French agent was buying arms for France in the United States. These demands had been most anxiously considered by the President, and debated in the Cabinet by Hamilton and Jefferson with a warmth and pertinacity worthy of the importance of the crisis. A crisis we may well style it, for, in truth, the independence of an infant nation was never so menaced as that of the United States was then ; and the moral questions involved presented real difficulties. The passion of the country was to help France ; but that involved war with two powers, each of which had the United States at a disadvantage. England retained the seven posts, and was mistress of the sea. Spain held Florida and the mouth of the Mississippi, which gave her ascendency over the Creek Indians, the most numerous, powerful, and warlike system of tribes in North America. As the ancient alliance between France and Spain had been dynastic only, not national, the Revolution had dissolved it, and thrown Spain into the coalition of kings. The Creeks were already threatening the frontiers. The mouth of the Mississippi, never too wide open for the convenience of Kentuckians, showed symptoms of closing tight to American commerce ; and the tone of the Spanish government in its intercourse with that of the United States was such as usually precedes the invention of a pretext for open hostility.

In these circumstances, President Washington could see but one course, which was sanctioned both by prudence and morality,—absolute neutrality. The country was shut up to that policy. The government could not be said to have a choice; because, even if it had been shown that the United States were morally bound to help France in her dire and pitiable extremity, it was manifest that the United States were powerless to do so by arms. No man saw this more clearly than Jefferson. The difference between him and Hamilton was this : Hamilton’s sympathies were wholly and warmly with the coalition of kings, and Jefferson’s with the French people. Both accepted neutrality as a necessity of the case, and both with reluctance : Hamilton, because he longed to help England ; and Jefferson, because he yearned to help France. In every question that came up, therefore, Jefferson desired to do as much, and Hamilton as little, to oblige and gratify France as Vattel, the treaties, and eternal justice would permit. Between them sat Washington, a just man, who, because his inclination was toward France, was all the more on his guard against any influence favoring that side.

FIRST QUESTION. — Shall we give up the ship Grange ? Yes ; because she was taken when lying at anchor off Cape Henlopen, within the jurisdiction of the United States. Genet was requested to surrender her accordingly.

SECOND Question.— Is it right and lawful for our citizens to sell arms to agents of France ? It is. They may sell to either power. “ Our citizens,” wrote Jefferson to Hammond, “ have always been free to make, vend, and export arms. It is the constant occupation and livelihood of some of them. To suppress their callings, the only means perhaps of their subsistence, because there is a war exists in foreign and distant countries, in which we have no concern, would scarcely be expected. It would be hard in principle and impossible in practice.” But if any of these American arms are taken on their way to a belligerent port, the American vender has no redress.

THIRD QUESTION. — May privateers be fitted out, manned, or commissioned in American ports? Decidedly not. No citizen of the United States may enlist under either flag. Besides the duty we owe to other nations, “ our wish to preserve the morals of our citizens from being vitiated by courses of lawless plunder and murder ” would induce us to use all proper means to prevent this, “ with good faith, fervor, and vigilance.”

FOURTH QUESTION. — Well, then, ought we to surrender the prizes which Genet’s Charleston privateers have brought in ? On this point the difference between Hamilton and Jefferson was irreconcilable. Hamilton thought that the commissioning of those vessels by Genet was an affront and a wrong to the United States, for which apology and reparation should be demanded from France. It was his opinion also, that, since the privateers were unlawfully commissioned, the captures were unlawful, and should be restored by the United States. Jefferson contended that, although Genet’s conduct toward the United States was improper, yet he had a right to issue commissions to privateers. Genet had done a right thing in a wrong place. The commissions, therefore, were valid, notwithstanding the offence against the United States ; and hence the captures were lawful and might be retained. Edmund Randolph, the Attorney-General, gave an ingenious opinion, to this effect: The French may lawfully sell their prizes, but the privateers themselves cannot remain in American ports. They must be ordered away, not to return to the United States “until they should have been to the dominions of their own sovereign, and thereby purged the illegality of their origin.” This opinion was the one which the President adopted. Genet was notified of the President’s conclusion, and informed that he was expected to act in accordance therewith. The prizes he might sell, but the privateers he must order away.

FIFTH QUESTION. — M. Genet asked, as a favor to his beleaguered country, that the United States should advance some instalments of its debt to France, which he proposed to send home in the form of produce. Hamilton advised that this request be bluntly refused, without a word of explanation. Jefferson’s opinion was, that the request should be complied with so far as it could be done lawfully ; and if it could not be done lawfully, then the refusal should be explained so far as it could be without compromising the credit of the United States. It was found that the debt could not be advanced without violating both the letter and the spirit of the law ; that is, without borrowing at six per cent to pay a debt at five. Mr. Jefferson’s advice was followed.

M. Genet was shocked and amazed at the course of the administration. His reception had bewildered him. Though belonging to a nation given to “ demonstrations,” he was as completely deceived as Kossuth was; and he was the more misled because he had just come from a country where the people and the government had been for years belligerent powers. The United States, he concluded, had a Capet! Interpreting America by the light of France, he fell naturally into the delusion that, though he was, as a matter of form, accredited to the President of the United States, yet it was with the people of the United States, the Sovereign People, that he really had to do. The ship Grange, indeed, he gave up, though not without a wry face, nor without making a merit of the act. When, however, Mr. Jefferson informed him that he was expected to send away the privateers to purge the illegality of their origin, he merely shrieked. And yet there was some method in his shriek. It was a shriek of insulting defiance which alone would have justified the President in asking his recall.

“If,” wrote Genet, “our merchant vessels or others are not allowed to arm themselves, when the French alone are resisting the league of tyrants against the liberty of the people, they will be exposed to inevitable ruin in going out of the ports of the United States, which is certainly not the intention of the people of America. Their fraternal voice has resounded from every quarter around me, and their accents are not equivocal ; they are as pure as the hearts by whom they are expressed ; and the more they have touched my sensibility, the more I wish, sir, that the Federal government should observe as far as in their power the public engagements contracted by both nations ; and that by this conduct, they will give, at least to the world, the example of a true neutrality, which does not consist in the cowardly abandonment of their friends in the moment when danger menaces them, but in adhering strictly, if they can do no better, to the obligations they have contracted with them.”

And, soon after, when he learned that two Americans who had gone privateering in the Citizen Genet were in prison awaiting trial for the offence, he shrieked again. The crime laid to their charge, he said, was one which his pen almost refused to state, and which the mind could not conceive. Their crime was serving France, and “ defending with her children the common glorious cause of liberty.” With both treaties open before him, he declared, and kept declaring, that the United States were bound by treaty to permit the equipping of privateers in American ports, and to allow all citizens who chose to take service in them. There is not a word in either treaty which gives support to the position.

This was bad diplomacy, even for a tyro; nor did it promote any of M. Genet’s objects. Mr. Hammond might well congratulate himself upon having such a competitor. The President’s conduct, on this occasion, would have been exquisite art, if it had not been simple truth and fidelity. After listening to many a hot discussion in the Cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton on the questions of international law at issue, he resolved to refer the whole subject of the rights and duties of neutrals, and the true interpretation of the French treaties, to the judges of the Supreme Court, summoned expressly for that purpose. Twenty-nine questions were drawn up for their consideration, which covered the whole field of inquiry. But, as the solution of so many problems would take time, the entire fleet of privateers and prizes, seven vessels in all, were ordered not to depart, “ till the further order of the President.” M. Genet would have done better to sell his prizes while he could.

“ Never, in my opinion,” wrote Jefferson to Madison, July 8, 1793, “was so calamitous an appointment as that of the present minister of France here. Hot-headed, all imagination, no judgment, passionate, disrespectful, and even indecent toward the President in his written as well as his verbal communications, before Congress or the public they will excite indignation. He renders my position immensely difficult. He does me justice personally, and giving him time to vent himself and become more cool, I am on a footing to advise him freely, and he respects it ; but he will break out again on the very first occasion, so that he is incapable of correcting himself.”

When these words were written Citizen Genet was “breaking out” in a manner unexampled in the annals of diplomacy. Not by words only, but by an open and unequivocal act, he had resolved to defy the administration ! Among the prizes captured by L’Embuscade was a vessel named the Little Sarah, then lying in the Delaware, within a mile or two of the President’s house. After having been most distinctly and at great length informed by Mr. Jefferson, officially, that no vessel could lawfully be equipped in a port of the United States for a purpose hostile to a nation at peace with the United States, M. Genet changed the name of the Little Sarah to Le Petit Démocrate, pierced her for fourteen guns, armed and equipped her for a cruise, placed on board of her a crew of one hundred and twenty men, and was about to send her to sea. This act was the more flagrant because it was done while the President was absent at Mount Vernon. Colonel Hamilton, who was the first officer of the government to discover the project, caused the governor of Pennsylvania to be notified. Governor Mifflin, Republican as he was, gave orders on the instant (it was late Saturday evening, July 6) to call out a body of militia to prevent the Little Democrat from sailing. The Secretary of the State of Pennsylvania, Mr. G. J. Dallas, another Republican, suggested that, perhaps, M. Genet would be found accessible to reason, if he were approached in a friendly spirit. Before summoning the militia, therefore, Mr. Dallas was requested to try the effect of argument and persuasion upon the mind of the plenipotentiary.

M. Genet and Mr. Dallas met at eleven o’clock on Saturday evening, at M. Genet’s house. They talked till midnight, or, rather, M. Genet stormed till midnight. He utterly refused to detain the vessel, ending with these words : “ I hope no attempt to seize her will be made ; for, as she belongs to the Republic, she must defend the honor of her flag, and will certainly repel force by force.”

Early on Sunday morning Mr. Jefferson, at his house on the Schuylkill, received a despatch from the Governor to the effect that the vessel was to sail that day, and requesting him to detain her at least until the President’s return, which was expected on Wednesday. An hour or two later Mr. Jefferson was at Genet’s house, listening to a repetition of the tempest with which Mr. Dallas had been favored the night before. But Jefferson knew his man. “ I found it necessary,” he records, “to let him go on, and, in fact, could do no otherwise; for the few efforts which I made to take some part in the conversation were quite ineffectual.” The storm showed, at last, some signs of abating, when the angry diplomatist said that as soon as the President arrived he meant to ask him to convene Congress. Mr. Jefferson availed himself of the lull to give him a little elementary instruction in the nature of constitutional government. He explained to him how it was that Congress could have no voice in the questions which had arisen, since they belonged to the executive department of the government. “ If Congress were sitting,” said the Secretary of State, “ they would take no notice of them.” “ Is not Congress the sovereign ? ” asked Genet. “ No,” replied Jefferson, “ Congress is sovereign in making laws only ; the executive is sovereign in executing them ; and the judiciary in construing them when they relate to their department.” “ But,” said Genet, “ at least Congress are bound to see that the treaties are observed.” Again Mr. Jefferson set him right. No, said he, the President is to see that treaties are observed. “If,” asked Genet, “he decides against a treaty, to whom is a nation to appeal?” “The Constitution,” replied Jefferson, “ has made the President the last appeal.”

This idea, which was new to the plenipotentiary, seemed to him utterly preposterous. He bowed to Mr. Jefferson, and said that he “ would not make him his compliments upon such a Constitution ! ” He expressed the utmost astonishment at it; and the contemplation of such an absurdity was so amusing as to restore him to goodhumor. Mr. Jefferson seized the happy moment to expostulate with him on the impropriety of his conduct. Genet took it in good part. “ But,” said he, “ I have a right to expound the treaty on our side ! ” “ Certainly,” replied Jefferson, “ each party has an equal right to expound their treaties. You, as the agent of your nation, have a right to bring forward your exposition, to support it by reasons, to insist on it, to be answered with reasons for our exposition where it is contrary ; but when, after hearing and considering your reasons, the highest authority in the nation has decided, it is your duty to say you think the decision wrong, that you cannot take upon yourself to admit it, and will represent it to your government to do as they think proper ; but, in the mean time, you ought to acquiesce in it, and to do nothing within our limits contrary to it.”

M. Genet, inexperienced as he was in the diplomatic art, could not object to this statement. His silence appearing to give assent, Mr. Jefferson came to the point, and pressed him to detain the Little Democrat till the President’s return. “Why detain her?” asked Genet. “ Because,” replied Jefferson, “ she is reported to be armed with guns acquired here.” No, said Genet, the guns are all French property. Mr. Jefferson, however, insisted that the vessel should not sail, and said that her departure “would be considered a very serious offence.” After some hesitation, M. Genet, partly by words, partly by look and gesture, intimated to Mr. Jefferson that the Little Democrat, not being yet ready for sea, would not sail till the President’s return. “ But,” said he, “she is to change her position, and fall down the river to-day.” “What,” asked Jefferson, “will she fall down to the lower end of the town ? ” M. Genet’s reply was : “ I do not know exactly where, but somewhere there for the convenience of getting ready some things ; but let me beseech you not to permit any attempt to put men on board of her. She is filled with high-spirited patriots, and they will unquestionably resist; and there is no occasion, for I tell you she will not be ready to depart for some time.”

Mr. Jefferson said he would then take it for granted that the vessel would not be ready before the President’s return, and in the mean time the government would make inquiries into the facts of her armament, for the President’s information. He immediately reported this conversation to the Governor, who dismissed the militia called out in the morning.

The next day there was a Cabinet meeting on the subject at the State House, the Governor having asked advice as to the steps he should take in the absence of the President. The Governor informed the Secretaries that two of the Little Democrat’s new cannon had been, as he had good ground for believing, bought in Philadelphia. Colonel Hamilton and General Knox advised that a battery should be thrown up on Mud Island and manned by militia, and if the vessel should attempt to leave before the pleasure of the President should be known, she should be prevented by force. Jefferson dissented. He dissented strongly, and he has left us the reasons of his dissent, expressed with a blending of dignity and passion, of lawyer-like coolness and philanthropic fire, which speak to us both of the man and the time. He was satisfied, he said, that the vessel would not sail until the arrival of the President, who was known to be but forty-eight hours distant ; and it was not respectful to him to resort to a measure so unusual and so extreme, when he was so near at hand. The erection of the battery, too, would probably cause the departure it would be designed to prevent; and the vessel would sail after having added blood to the other causes of exasperation. Blood usually closed the hearts of men and nations to peace. Besides, a French fleet of twenty men-of-war and a hundred and fifty merchant vessels was hourly expected in the Delaware ; it might arrive at the scene of blood in time to join in it. And if the Little Democrat should sail to-day, how easily we could explain the matter to the belligerents ! How capable of demonstration our innocence ! And suppose there are fifteen or twenty Americans on board of her ; are there not ten times as many Americans on board English vessels, impressed in foreign ports ? Are we as ready and disposed to sink British ships in our harbors as we are to fire upon this French vessel for a breach of neutrality far less atrocious ? How inconsistent for a nation, which has been patiently bearing for ten years the grossest insults and injuries from their late enemies, to rise at a feather against their friends and benefactors; and that, too, at a moment when circumstances have knit their hearts together in a bond of the most ardent affection ! And how monstrous to begin a quarrel by an act of war ! England wrongs us deeply and essentially; we negotiate ; we submit to the outrage of her insolent silence; but let one excited Frenchman do us an injury which his government would instantly disavow, and we are ready to precipitate a war!

“ I would not,” said Jefferson, “gratify the combination of kings with the spectacle of the only two republics on earth destroying each other for two cannon; nor would I, for infinitely greater cause, add this country to that combination, turn the scale of contest, and let it be from our hands that the hopes of man received their last stab.”

The battery was not erected upon Mud Island. The Little Democrat dropped down the river as far as Chester, where she lay at anchor until the President’s return to the seat of government. As soon as the President could master the facts of the situation, he caused M. Genet to be informed that, since all the questions in dispute were referred to the judges, “it was expected” that the Little Democrat, as well as the other prizes and privateers, would remain where they were until further notice. Within three days after the date of this communication Le Petit Démocrate put to sea. It was then that the administration, formally and distinctly assuming the responsibility of all the damage she might do the belligerents, adopted the doctrine of international obligation which has recently been applied, with such happy and hopeful results, to the case of the Alabama. Mr. Jefferson officially notified M. Genet that, in case the Little Democrat made any prizes, the government of the United States held itself bound to restore the same or to compensate the owners; “the indemnification to be reimbursed by the French nation.”

M. Genet behaved like a man who has crossed the Rubicon, and means to press on to mastery or destruction. It was evident that he was bent upon fully executing his threat of appealing to the people. Besides assisting to form Jacobin clubs in the Atlantic cities, distributing considerable sums of money for the purpose, besides organizing a troop of mounted Frenchmen with whom he paraded Philadelphia on festive days, besides playing other pranks of the same histrionic nature, he continued to defy and frustrate the government in its resolve to hold the balance even between the warring powers. Other vessels, in New York and Baltimore, he was getting ready for cruising in quest of British prizes. He was still intent upon organizing an expedition in Kentucky for an attempt upon New Orleans ; and this in the teeth of Mr. Jefferson’s emphatic notification that “his enticing men and officers in Kentucky to go against Spain was putting a halter around their necks.” This Kentucky scheme of Genet’s was set on foot at the very moment when it seemed as if Spain was only waiting for a pretext to declare war against the United States. Jefferson’s famous despatch to Madrid, the most energetic of all his official papers, in which he warned Spain to let the Creeks alone, was crossing the ocean at the time. Never before, never since, has the government of the United States taken a firmer or a loftier tone than at this threatening crisis. “ We confide in our strength,” wrote Mr. Jefferson, “without boasting of it; we respect that of others without fearing it. If we cannot otherwise prevail on the Creeks to discontinue their depredations, we will attack them in force. If Spain chooses to consider our defence against savage butchery as a cause of war to her, we must meet her also in war, with regret, but without fear ; and we shall be happier, to the last moment, to repair with her to the tribunal of peace and reason.” What a time was this for Citizen Genet to be, not merely fomenting war with Spain, but preparing to wage war by attacking a Spanish post!

All Cabinet questions were now merged into one, — What shall we do with Genet? “Send him out of the country,” said robust Knox at the Cabinet meeting of August I, when this dreadful question was first discussed. “ Publish the whole correspondence,” said Hamilton, “with a statement of his proceedings, thus anticipating him in his threatened appeal to the people.” Jefferson’s advice, supported warmly by Randolph, was this : To send a history of his doings in America, with copies of the letters between Genet and himself, to the French government, and request, with all the delicacy possible, the recall of Genet. For two days the subject was debated with a heat and passion unexampled, Hamilton twice haranguing his audience of four individuals for three quarters of an hour, in a manner, as Jefferson reports, “as inflammatory and declamatory as if he had been speaking to a jury.” He dwelt upon the new Jacobin Society just formed in Philadelphia, on the model of the dread club to which Robespierre owed his power. The publication of Genet’s letters, Hamilton thought, would crush this terrible organization. Jefferson, on the contrary, thought that the club would die out of itself if it were only let alone ; opposition alone could give it undue importance.

The President was, like Othello, “ perplexed in the extreme.” If we may believe the exaggerating memory of Mr. John Adams, a vast multitude of the noisier part of the population of Philadelphia sided with Genet at this moment. Years after we find him writing to Jefferson of the terror of 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.” The Republican newspapers, too, were all that Genet could have wished. The President was no longer spared, either in prose or verse, and there was even a burlesque poem in which he was represented as being brought to the guillotine. At one of these Cabinet meetings, irritated by Knox reminding him of this pasquinade, he lost his self-control for a moment. Voltaire wickedly remarks that Newton “ consoled ” mankind for his unapproachable supremacy in the realm of science by coming at last to write on the Prophecies. George Washington occasionally solaced the self-love of his admiring friends by getting into a good honest passion, like an ordinary mortal. Bursting into speech, he defied any man to produce a single act of his since he had been in the government which was not done from the purest motives. He declared that he had never repented but once of having slipped the moment of resigning his office, and that was every moment since. “ By God ! ” he exclaimed, using the familiar oath of the period, “ I would rather be in my grave than in my present situation ! I would rather be on my farm than be made emperor of the world ; and yet they are charging me with wanting to be a king ! ” That rascal Freneau, he continued, sent him three of his papers every day, as if he would become their distributor, and he could see nothing in this but an impudent design to insult him.

Happy the mortal who has no worse fault than a rare outburst of legitimate and harmless anger ! It was embarrassing to get back to the question after this explosion. The subject was, however, resumed, and the President decided to follow Mr. Jefferson’s advice, of appealing to the French government and asking Genet’s recall ; reserving the expedient of appealing to the American people to a later day. With all the discretion conceivable, and with a most happy mixture of frankness, friendliness, and decision, the Secretary of State performed this difficult duty. In due time M. Genet was recalled, and his proceedings were discovered; but France was a long way off in 1793, and some months elapsed before the letter of recall reached the plenipotentiary. In the mean time he continued his course of reckless defiance. He executed his threat of appealing to the people by publishing a portion of his official correspondence with Mr. Jefferson ; and the people, with a near approach to unanimity, condemned him.

This summer of delirium at Philadelphia ended in the panic and desolation of the yellow fever, from which every member of the government fled, Jefferson last of all. In New York, where M. Genet then resided, love softened his heart and assisted to restore serenity to his mind. Miss Cornelia Clinton, the daughter of that stanch Republican chief, George Clinton, Governor of the State of New York, was the young lady to whom he paid his court; and paid it with such success, that, when he received his recall, he married her, and settled in the State. He spent there the rest of his days, a good citizen, a worthy gentleman, though never quite able to understand how it was that the American people cherished such veneration for the character of their first President. Everything would have gone well with his mission, he thought, had it not been for the invincible resolution of President Washington. He died at Jamaica, Long Island, in 1834, after contributing much to agricultural improvement and the progress of science. His virtues were his own ; his errors were those of the time in which he was called upon to act.

Meanwhile Jefferson was longing for retreat with ever-growing desire. Hamilton, too, wearied of the vain effort to maintain his prodigious family upon his little salary, had made up his mind to return to the New York bar, and only remained for a while longer, like Jefferson, in compliance with Washington’s earnest entreaty. Hamilton, however, was not so painfully situated as his colleague, for he had society on his side. The people he oftenest met approved his course and valued his character. Jefferson had few adherents among the rich and the educated. It is only the human race in general that is the gainer by the ideas of which he was the exponent. Classes may be benefited, or may think themselves benefited, by abuses, by privilege, by “protection,” by “caste”; and those classes often know enough to flatter and retain the occasional gifted men — the Cannings, the Peels, the Hamiltons — whom birth, breeding, or circumstances throw in their way. Fair play and equal rights are the common and eternal interest of human nature. No man has ever been so loved in the United States, nor loved so long, as Thomas Jefferson was by those who had no interest apart from this common interest, and no hope or desire except to share the common lot of man. But the elegant class of Philadelphia in 1793 held him in aversion ; for the commerce of the United States, by which they were chiefly sustained, was in British hands. Genet was warring upon that commerce, and Jefferson had to share the odium of his irrepressible zeal. His letters to Madison and Monroe of this year show us that he felt acutely the alienation of the people around him, and saw, too, how powerless he was to stem the tide of reaction which the guillotine in France and Genet in America had caused.

“ The motion of my blood,” he wrote to Madison in June, 1793, “no longer keeps time with the tumult of the world. It leads me to seek for happiness in the lap and love of my family, in the society of my neighbors and my books, in the wholesome occupations of my farm and my affairs, in an interest or affection in every bud that opens, in every breath that blows around me, in an entire freedom of rest, of motion, of thought, owing account to myself alone of my hours and actions. What must be the principle of that calculation which should balance against these the circumstances of my present existence, — worn down with labors from morning to night, and day to day ; knowing them as fruitless to others as they are vexatious to myself, committed singly in desperate and eternal contest against a host who are systematically undermining the public liberty and prosperity ; even the rare hours of relaxation sacrificed to the society of persons in the same intentions, of whose hatred I am conscious even in those moments of conviviality when the heart wishes most to open itself to the effusions of friendship and confidence ; cut off from my family and friends, my affairs abandoned to chaos and derangement; in short, giving everything I love in exchange for everything I hate, and all this without a single gratification in possession or prospect, in present enjoyment or future wish.”

All his confidential letters of 1793 are in this tone. But as often as he alluded to the necessity under which he rested of retiring, General Washington urged him to remain with such importunity that he knew not how to resist. When the President discovered that he could not prevail, he begged him at least to defer his resignation ; for, said he, “like a man going to the gallows, I am willing to put it off as long as I can.” Jefferson remained in office through the year. “ Yesterday,” he wrote to his daughter, December 22, 1793, “the President made what I hope will be the last set at me to continue ; but in this I am now immovable by any considerations whatever.” So indeed it proved. He could not continue without ruin ; and such was the urgency of the case, that his going home did but postpone the catastrophe. The President accepted his resignation January 1, 1794. “ The opinion,” wrote General Washington on this occasion, “ which I had formed of your integrity and talents, and which dictated your original nomination, has been confirmed by the fullest experience, and both have been eminently displayed in the discharge of your duty.” Five days after he was on his way to Monticello, having held the post of Secretary of State two months less than four years.

Strange to relate, he went out of office in a blaze of glory to which even the fine ladies and gentlemen of “ the Republican court” were not wholly insensible. When Congress met, the correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and the two plenipotentiaries, George Hammond and Edmond Genet, was published in a massive pamphlet. The intense interest of the public in the recent transactions, now fully disclosed for the first time, caused this collection to be widely disseminated and most eagerly scanned. What candid person has ever read that correspondence without enjoying Jefferson’s part of it? It shows him at his best. His singular diligence and skill in gathering information was happily displayed ; and all men saw that he had never — not in a single phrase — gratified his feelings as a man at the expense of his duty as a public officer. It was evident that he distinguished between France and her plenipotentiary, and that he did not withdraw his sympathy from that distracted nation at the moment of her extremest need. And whatever wrath may have swelled within him at the conduct of the English government toward his country, he preserved always the conciliatory tone which renders easy the adoption of a worthier policy. The people of the United States appreciated the merit of his despatches, and many of them recognized the difficulties which so warm a partisan as he must have overcome in producing them. His opponents, as we are informed by the most respectable of them all, Chief Justice Marshall, were conciliated for the moment. Their prejudices were “dissipated.” They even flattered themselves, while under the spell of his benign and large intelligence, that the sentiments which Hamilton, their idol, had contested and reviled in the Cabinet were their own ! “The partiality for France,” says Marshall, in his Life of Washington, “ that was conspicuous through the whole of the correspondence, detracted nothing from its merit in the opinion of the friends of the administration, because, however decided their determination to support their own government in a controversy with any nation whatever, they felt all the partialities for that Republic which the correspondence expressed. The hostility of his enemies, therefore, was, for a time, considerably lessened, without a corresponding diminution of the attachment of his friends.”

Genet might have destroyed the Republican party, if the Republican chief had not, with so much tact and right feeling, repudiated the plenipotentiary while conciliating France. The reaction of the following years no man could have prevented. The reaction was necessary. France had torn down, without having acquired the ability to construct. Not a community on earth was yet ripe for the republican system, except that of the American States, wherein a majority of the people were accessible through their understandings. It was necessary for Christendom to wait another century before assuming revolution at the point where the Terror interrupted it in 1792.

In reading the records of those years, we discover in Jefferson some human foibles, some morbidness, some impatience with virtuous stupidity, some misinterpretation of men and events. He did not, indeed, misconceive the Federalists as grossly as they misrepresented him ; and yet he did misconceive them. On one occasion, when he was attributing to some of them an intention to avail themselves of the first opportunity to convert the government into something like monarchy, Washington set him right in half a dozen words : Desires there may be, but not designs. This we now know was the truth ; but we know also how easily desires become designs, and we know the contempt and utter distrust in which the leading Federalists of the day held the republican system which Jefferson loved and which is evidently destined to govern the world. We know that Hamilton passed the remaining years of his life awaiting the crisis which should call him to contend in arms for the ideas which he had vainly struggled for in the Cabinet and the Convention.

Jefferson was clear in his great office, and he lived up to his great principles. Being asked by a neighbor to write something that should help him into Congress, Jefferson said, “ From a very early moment of my life, I determined never to intermeddle with elections by the people, and have invariably adhered to this determination.” Much as he loved his old friend and secretary, William Short, he would not assist him to sell the little public stock which he possessed, saying, “ I would do anything my duty would permit; but were I to advise your agent (who is himself a stock-dealer) to sell out yours at this or that moment, it would be used as a signal to guide speculation.” Invited to share in a promising speculation, he declined, on the ground that a public man should preserve his mind free from all possible bias of interest. When the fugitives from the St. Domingo massacre arrived in 1793, destitute and miserable, he wrote to Monroe : “ Never was so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man. I deny the power of the general government to apply money to such a purpose, but I deny it with a bleeding heart. It belongs to the State governments. Pray urge ours to be liberal.” In his French package came one day a letter from the wife of a groom in the stables of the Duke of Orleans in Paris, addressed to her sister, a poor woman who lived fifteen miles from Monticello. He was careful to enjoin it upon his daughter, not merely to forward the letter, but to send it to the woman’s house by a special messenger.

We observe, too, that he still looked wistfully to the unexplored West. As a member of the Philosophical Society, he took the lead in 1792 in raising a thousand guineas to send Andrew Michaud to grope his way across the continent and find out all he could of the great plains and rivers, the Indians and the animals, the bones of the mammoth, and whatever else a Philosophical Society and an American people might care to know. Andrew Michaud did not find the Pacific Ocean, and the task remained undone till Jefferson, ten years later, found the predestined man in Merriwether Lewis, a son of one of his Albemarle neighbors.

James Parton.

  1. New York Historical Magazine for February, 1871, p. 143, Article by the editor, H. B. Dawson
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. V. p. 547.