To Rufus King
Philadelphia August 13th 1793
The Post of to day brought me your letter of the 10th,21 but I was too much engaged to reply to it by return of Post.
The facts with regard to Mr Genet’s threat to appeal from the President to the People stand thus—
On Saturday the 6th of July last, the warden of this Port reported to Governor Mifflin that the Brig Little Sarah since called The Petit Democrat (an English merchant vessel mounting from two to four Guns taken off our coast by the French Frigate The Ambuscade and brought into this Port) had very materially augmented her Military equipments; having then fourteen Iron Cannon and six swivels mounted; and it being understood that her crew was to consist of one hundred & twenty men.
Governor Mifflin, in consequence of this information sent Mr Dallas to Mr Genet to endeavour to prevail upon him to enter into an arrangement for detaining the vessel in Port without the necessity of employing for that purpose military force.
Mr Dallas reported to Governor Mifflin that Mr Genet had absolutely refused to do what had been requested of him—that he had been very angry and intemperate—that he had complained of ill treatment from the Government and had declared that “he would appeal from the President to the People”—mentioned his expectation of the arrival of three Ships of the line; observing that he would know how to do justice to his country or at least he had a Frigate at his command and could easily withdraw himself from this22—said that he would not advise an attempt to take possession of the vessel as it would be resisted.
The refusal was so peremptory that Governor Mifflin in consequence of it ordered out 120 men for the purpose of taking possession of the vessel.
This conversation between Genet & Dallas was in toto repeated by Governor Mifflin to General Knox the day following and the day after that the Governor confirmed to me the declaration with regard to appealing to the People; owned that something like the threat to do justice to his country by means of the ships of the line was thrown out by Mr Genet, but shewed an unwillingness to be explicit on this point; objecting to a more particular disclosure, that it would tend to bring Mr Dallas into a scrape.
Mr Jefferson on sunday went to Mr Genet to endeavour to prevail upon him to detain the Petit Democrat till the President could return and decide upon the case; but, as Mr Jefferson afterwards communicated, he absolutely refused to give a promise of the kind saying only that she would not probably be ready to depart before the succeeding Wednesday, the day of the Presidents expected return. This however Mr Jefferson construed into an intimation that she would remain. Mr Jefferson also informed that Mr Genet had been very unreasonable and intemperate in his conversation (though he did not descend to particulars) and that Dallas had likewise told him, Mr Jefferson, that Genet had declared he would appeal from the President to the People.
The Petit Democrat instead of remaining as Mr Jefferson had concluded fell down to Chester previous to the wednesday referred to, where she was when the President returned. A Letter was written to Mr Genet by order of the President informing him that the case of this vessel among others was under consideration and desiring that she might be detained until he should come to a decision about her; but this Requisition was disregarded. She departed in defiance of it.23
(I give the detail that you may have the whole subject before you but I cannot give leave to make use of it all. All that part however which is scored or underlined may be freely made use of.24 This part is so circumstanced as to take away all scruples of personal or official delicacy. Tis not so with the rest. It can therefore only be confidentially disclosed to Persons whose discretion may be relied on and whose knowlege of it may be useful.)
It is true as you have heard that things if possible still more insulting have since been done by Mr Genet but of this at present no use can be made no more than of some antecedent transactions nearly if not quite as exceptionable. The mass would confound Mr Genet & his associates. Perhaps it may not be long before a promulgation of it will take place.
I am of opinion with you that the change ought to be insisted upon.
P S. The case does not require the naming General Knox or myself and it will therefore not be done. It is to be observed that the equipments of the Petit Democrat are in the strictest sense an original fitting out. She was before a merchant vessel. Here she was converted into a vessel commissioned for war of considerable force.
LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ADfS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
2. The [New York] Daily Advertiser, August 14, 1793.
3. For example, as early as July 19 William Smith of Baltimore had written to Otho H. Williams that the “report from Philadelphia is that … Genet has declared that if the President does not permit him to arm and fit out the Petite Democrat, a French prize, once the Little Sarah, he … will appeal to the people” (Calendar of the General Otho Holland Williams Papers in the Maryland Historical Society [Baltimore, 1940], 293).
4. The [New York] Diary; or Loudon’s Register, August 21, 1793, reprinted in the [Philadelphia] National Gazette, August 28, 1793.
5. The Diary; or Loudon’s Register, August 21, 1793, reprinted in the National Gazette, August 28, 1793.
6. The New-York Journal, & Patriotic Register, November 27, 1793.
7. The New-York Journal, & Patriotic Register, November 27, 1793.
8. The New-York Journal, & Patriotic Register, November 27, 1793.
10. This statement of November 26 reads in part as follows: “When at Philadelphia, in July last, we frequently heard that Mr. Genet, the French Minister, had on a certain occasion said ‘that he would appeal from the President to the People, an appeal by a foreign minister from the President to the People appeared to us to be a serious, and alarming measure: That a foreign minister finding it impossible to bend the government to his purposes, should turn from it with disdain, to the Citizens at large, and before them impeach the wisdom or virtue of the administration, would be a proceeding unprecedented and unpermitted in every well policed State.… We left that city well convinced that Mr. Genet had made such a declaration. On our return to New York, we found a report of that declaration had preceded us, and that it had made the same impression upon others, that it had made upon us: We were asked whether it was true? We answered that it was. To many, a declaration so extraordinary did not appear probable; and our having asserted it to be true, was questioned. We were called upon in the public papers to admit, or deny, that we had made such an assertion.… On the singular letter written by the Minister to the President, and the answer through the Secretary of State, we restrain ourselves to this remark, that it only denies his having made such a declaration to the President; and that it leaves the question whether he had made it at all, entirely out of sight—It seems that this did not escape the discernment of the President; for he very justly observed, ‘that whether the declaration was made to him, or to others, was perhaps immaterial—to whom the declaration was made, was a question foreign to the inquiry, the true, and only question being whether he had made such a declaration to any body—to this question the Minister gave no answer; and thereby left the credit of our assertion not only unimpeached, but also strengthened by his silence, and by his endeavours to elude the force of it, by his letter to the President. He now denies having made such a declaration.…” Jay and King then recapitulated the circumstances surrounding Genet’s alleged assertion and concluded “For the truth and accuracy of this statement, we refer to Mr. Secretary Hamilton and Mr. Secretary Knox, from whom we derived the information, on which we relied, respecting the facts contained in it …” (The [New York] Daily Advertiser, Supplement, December 2, 1793).
14. Jefferson to Madison, September 1, 1793 (AL, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).
16. Dunlap’s [Philadelphia] American Daily Advertiser, December 6, 9, 1793. Jay and King continued to be unsuccessful in their attempt to secure corroboration. On December 19, 1793, Jay wrote to King: “It is to be regretted that Mr Jefferson & Govr Mifflin still remain as it were in a back ground.… I am much inclined to think that Letters, calculated for publication, from Col. Hamilton & Genl. Knox to Mr Jefferson & Govr. Mifflin, calling on them to admit or deny the Facts in Question, wd. have been, and may yet be useful.… Besides the Evidence will not appear to be compleated while Jefferson & Mifflin remain silent—or their silence not accounted for” (ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City).
18. Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
19. Henry B. Dawson, ed., “The Citizen Genet,” The Historical Magazine, X (November, 1866), 342–43.
20. Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers,” description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed., “Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903 (Washington, 1904), II. description ends 279.
21. Letter not found.
22. H wrote in the margin at this point: “From the word mentioned inclusively to the words from this are scored by mistake. They are to be considered a secret.” H bracketed these words in the letter.
23. In the margin opposite this paragraph H wrote: “It will be better not to say a Letter was written &c but to say a requisition was made &c.” On July 12, 1793, Jefferson had written to Genet requesting him to detain in port the Little Sarah and a number of other vessels until the President’s “ultimate determination shall be made known” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 163).
24. At this point H wrote in the margin: “See the Exception noted in the Margin.” See note 22.