Proposed Presidential Message to Congress
Concerning Revocation of Edmond Charles Genet’s
[Philadelphia, January 6–13, 1794]
Since the application, which was made to the Government of France, for the Recall of its present Minister, that Minister has furnished new and material causes of dissatisfaction with his Conduct. But these occasions of offence have hitherto passed without particular notice; in the hope that it would not be long before the arrival of an order of Recall would terminate the embarrassment—and in the desire, inspired by sentiments of friendship and respect for his Nation, to avoid as long as possible an Act of extremity toward its Agent. But a case has occurred, which is conceived to render further forbearance inconsistent with the dignity and perhaps the safety of the United States. It is proved, as will be seen by papers now transmitted for the information of Congress, that this foreign Agent has proceeded to the extraordinary length of issuing commissions in the name of the French Republic to several of our citizens, for the purpose of raising, within the two Carolinas and Georgia, a large military force with the declared design of employing them, in concert with such Indians as could be engaged in the Enterprize, in an expedition against the colonies, in our neighbourhood, of a Nation with whom the UStates are at peace.
It would seem, likewise, from information contained in other papers, herewith also communicated, that a similar attempt has been going on in another quarter, namely the State of Kentucke; though the fact is not yet ascertained with the requisite authenticity.
Proceedings so unwarrantable, so derogatory to the sovereignty of the UStates, so dangerous in precedent and tendency, appear to render it improper that the person chargeable with them should longer continue to exercise the functions and enjoy the privileges of a diplomatic character.
The supersedure of the exercise of those functions, nevertheless, being a measure of great delicacy and magnitude, I have concluded not to come to an ultimate determination, without first placing the subject under the eye of Congress.
But unless the one or the other House shall in the mean time signify to me an opinion that it is not adviseable so to do, I shall consider it as my duty to adopt that measure after the expiration of 2 days from this communication.
Df, in the handwriting of H, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. This document sets forth one of the compromise solutions regarding Edmond Charles Genet which the cabinet suggested to George Washington. For the Government’s request for Genet’s recall in connection with earlier threats to American neutrality, see “Cabinet Meetings. Proposals Concerning the Conduct of the French Minister,” August 1–23, 1793.
Genet’s recruiting activities in the United States for forces to be used against Spanish and British colonies in North America had endangered American neutrality. Following instructions from his government to encourage independent movements in these areas, Genet began preparations in the summer of 1793 for a series of attacks by volunteers from the United States against the American territories of Britain and Spain. One three-pronged attack under the leadership of William Tate, Samuel and Abner Hammond, and Elijah Clark, and sponsored by Michel Ange Bernard de Mangourit, the French consul in Charleston, was to proceed against Florida. Genet planned a second expedition against Louisiana. This expedition, for which Auguste Lachaise served as Genet’s agent, was to be a joint effort by Kentucky frontiersmen and the French fleet and was to be under the command of George Rogers Clark. A third expedition was to attack Canada.
The Washington Administration, in the hope that Genet would be recalled in the near future, had held in abeyance a letter which Genet wrote to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1793, pending more certain information from South Carolina concerning action of the state government against the men Genet had recruited. In his letter to Jefferson Genet had denied that he had authorized “the recruiting, the formation, or the collecting of an armed force, or of any corps in the territory of the United States” but had admitted that “authorized by the French nation to deliver commissions to those of your fellow-citizens who should feel themselves animated with a desire of serving the best of causes, I have granted them to several brave republicans of South Carolina …” (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, 311). On December 7, 1793, William Moultrie, governor of South Carolina, sent to Washington information from both houses of the South Carolina legislature as well as his proclamation against Genet’s activities (LS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives). The date on which Washington received Moultrie’s letter has not been determined, but the earliest mention of the South Carolina proceedings in a Philadelphia newspaper appeared in The [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States on January 6, 1794. Between that date and January 14, when William Culver, captain of the Hannah, arrived with the news of Genet’s recall, the problem was discussed with Senate leaders as well as within the cabinet. Washington discussed the problem with John Adams (Washington to Adams, January 8, 1794 [LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress]); H discussed it with Rufus King (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress); and on January 13, 1794, Edmund Randolph prepared drafts of alternative letters to be sent to Genet (ADf, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).
King’s recollection of this problem reads as follows: “Previous to the arrival of Captain Culvier, who brought back assurances that he [Genet] Should be replaced, the Proceedings of the South Caroline Legislature respecting the enlistment of Soldiers in that State by Genet were received by the President.
“A question was made in the executive how it ought to act upon that occasion. Hamilton & Knox advised the immediate dismission of Genet, and the annunciation of it, accompanied with a Strong message, and the Proceedings of the South Carolina Legislature, to Congress. Randolph doubted, suggested the constant expectation of the return of Captn. Culver, and of the probable recall of Genet—that the proposed measure was a Strong one that we were a new Government, and that Parties might be engendered by so energetic a course of proceedings—and as a middle way, it was submitted to the President for consideration, to send a message to Congress, declaring his resolution to dismiss the French Minister unless within three days, one or the other of the Houses Should request otherwise.
“Hamilton conferred with me, and I think with [Oliver] Ellsworth, and some others upon this subject. I opposed the project of the provisional Dismissions, on the ground, that it was throwing the Apple of Discord into Congress, and would inevitably produce a violent struggle and convulsion.
“This project was relinquished. The President took time to consider the subject, and on the morning of the day on which Culvier arrived from France with assurances of Genets recall, the President had announced to the heads of departments, that he had well weighed the Question, and had come to a Decision—that the occasion would justify a dismission and that the Duties of his Station required of him the exercise of this power, in the immediate dismission of Mr. Genet. Orders were therefore given to make the requisite preparations to communicate this Resolution to Congress. Culvier arrived and the measure was suspended.” (Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.)
Neither of the letters which Randolph drafted on January 13, 1794, mentions revocation of Genet’s diplomatic status, and they were presumably written after the policy of a provisional dismissal had been rejected. One of Randolph’s drafts is endorsed “Draught of a letter to Mr. G. upon the principles suggested by the other gentlemen” (ADf, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). The other draft is marked “Letter proposed by E. R.,” and it is followed by a draft of a message to Congress submitting Genet’s letter to Jefferson of December 25, 1793, Randolph’s reply, and the papers received from South Carolina (Df, in the handwriting of Randolph, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).
Washington submitted the papers from South Carolina to Congress on January 15, 1794, and news of Genet’s recall on January 20, 1794 (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings of the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 31, 36).
2. Space left blank in MS.