Marc Schulman

 


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Genet Affair

Citizen Genet was sent by France to be its new ambassador to the United States. Genet's instructions were to use the United States as a base to equip privateers against the British. He was also determined to do his utmost to embroil the US in the war with the British. He then attempted to bring about change in the American government. The US government unanimously requested his recall.


 

News of the French Revolution was greeted with enthusiasm in the United States. To Americans, it was a confirmation of their own revolution. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens were clearly following American revolutionary ideas. As the French Revolution became ever more violent, however, some of the American enthusiasm began to wane. In February 1793, France declared war on England. The French appointed Edmond Charles Genet, a 30 year old man, to be the French Minister to the United States. Genet's task was to stir up trouble for the British and Spanish in North America. Furthermore, he was to outfit privateers to attack British ships. Genet also aimed to strengthen the American-French treaty. Furthermore, Genet was to convince the Americans to prepay their debt to France.
When Genet arrived in Charleston on April 8, 1793, he was met with jubilation. He immediately commissioned four privateers. On April 18th, he headed for Philadelphia, the seat of the federal government. It took Genet 28 days to make the journey, and all along the way he was greeted enthusiastically.

While Genet was arriving in the United States; Washington was meeting with Hamilton and Jefferson, his Secretary of Treasury and State respectively, to discuss American reactions to the French war. They decided that the President would issue a simple declaration of neutrality, stating that United States was not a belligerent in the war. Washington also decided to receive Genet without reservation, thus rejecting Hamilton's position that the treaty between the United States and France was no longer in effect due to change in government in France.

When Genet finally arrived in Philadelphia, he was toasted by many of the citizens of the city. He was officially received by Washington on the afternoon of May 18th.

Washington, however, soon turned down Genet's two most important requests: the right of the French to arm privateers in American ports, and the early payment of the debt owed to France.

Believing that he could convert the sympathy that he had received into opposition to the policies of Washington, Genet threatened to go directly to the people against the government. Furthermore, Genet had defied Washington's ban on outfitting privateers by outfitting a captured British ship, called the * Little Democrat, and sending her to sea. Washington was livid, and demanded that recall of Genet. Genet never returned to France, since he probably would have faced the guillotine there. He remained in the United States, and went on to marry the daughter of New York's Governor DeWitt Clinton. Genet and his wife had six children. After his wife's death, Genet married Martha Osgood and had five more children, living a good life in the Hudson Valley and becoming an American citizen.