Thomas Jefferson Papers

Memorial from Edmond Charles Genet, 27 May 1793

Memorial from Edmond Charles Genet

Philadelphie 27.1 mai 1793. L’an 2e. de la Republique Française.

Le Soussigné Ministre plenipotentiaire de la Republique Française a l’honneur d’informer Monsieur le Secretaire d’etat Jefferson que le Citoyen Gedeon Henfield né à2 Salem3 officier à bord du4 Corsaire de la République Française5 le Citoyen Genet a été arreté et mis6 en prison en vertu, dit-on,7 d’un mandat de l’alderman Baker de cette ville qui l’accuse d’avoir8 enfreint, en s’embarquant à bord du dit batiment la neutralité que les Etats-Unis veulent observer avec les puissances Européenes actuellement en guerre. Le soussigné observe à Monsieur le Secretaire d’Etat que cet officier a été admis au service de france en s’embarquant sur le dit Corsaire,9 ainsi qu’il appert par le role d’équipage et10 par le certificat ci joint du Consul de11 la République française à Philadelphie et que si cet officier en embrassant la deffense de la cause que soutient la france, s’est exposé sans avoir pu le prévoir à des poursuites dans le sein des Etats Unis, il a mérité l’appui et la protection de la République française.

Le12 soussigné le réclame donc comme étant au service de la Republique13 et prie en consequence Monsieur le Secretaire d’Etat Jefferson d’employer ses bons offices pour obtenir promptement son élargissement.

(signed) Genet

Tr (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., with date altered by him (see note 1 below). PrC (DLC); with date altered in ink. Dft (DLC: Genet Papers); in Genet’s hand except for dateline; dated “Du 29 Mai,” with “9” written over “7”; at head of text by Genet and a clerk: “Note relative à l’Emprisonnement fait en vertu d’un ordre du Président des officiers du corsaire le Citoyen genet.” Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii); with minor variations; dated “Du 29 May.” FC (DLC: Genet Papers); in English; dated 29 May 1793. FC (same); in English; dated 29 May 1793. FC (same); in English; dated 29 May 1793; draft translation of preceding FCs. Recorded in SJL as a letter of 27 May 1793 received 28 May 1793. Enclosure: Statement by François Dupont, 27 May 17[9]3, certifying that Gideon Henfield of Salem, about forty years of age, had been in the service of the French Republic on board the Citoyen Genet, commanded by Captain Pierre Johanene, Lieutenant of the French Republic, since 17 Apr. 1793 (Tr in DLC, in French, in Taylor’s hand; PrC in same).

The Washington administration decided to prosecute Gideon Henfield as a test case of the Proclamation of Neutrality’s ban on American enlistments in belligerent service during the current European war. A seaman from Salem, Massachusetts, Henfield had recently arrived in Philadelphia as prize master of the William, a Scottish merchant ship captured in the Delaware River on 3 May 1793 by the Citoyen Genet, a French privateer commissioned by Genet at Charleston, where Henfield had enlisted on it in return for a promise from the captain that he would be appointed master of its first prize (Federal Cases description begins The Federal Cases; Comprising Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States …, St. Paul, Minn., 1894–97, 30 vols. description ends , xi, 1101, 1112, 1113, 1116; National Gazette, 3 Aug. 1793; Memorial from George Hammond, 21 June 1793, and enclosures). The Cabinet’s unanimous decision to prosecute Henfield led to an open conflict between the Washington administration and Genet, who insisted on the right of American citizens to enlist in French service so that he could carry out his instructions from the Provisional Executive Council to fit out French privateers in the United States and obtain American support for French expeditions against Louisiana and Canada. Although no act of Congress expressly forbade American citizens to enlist in belligerent service while the nation was at peace, Attorney General Edmund Randolph advised TJ that Henfield’s service on the Citoyen Genet and his participation in the capture of the William were indictable not only under federal law—because they violated the American treaties which guaranteed peace with three of the countries then at war with France (Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia) and were the supreme law of the land under the Constitution—but also under the common law because they had disturbed the peace of the United States (Opinion on the Case of Gideon Henfield, 30 May 1793). Failing to avert legal action against Henfield, Genet hired three lawyers—Peter S. Du Ponceau, Jared Ingersoll, and Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant—to defend him when his case came before a special session of the United States Circuit Court of Pennsylvania which convened in Philadelphia on 22 July 1793. Five days later District Attorney William Rawle obtained a grand jury indictment, drafted by Randolph and possibly amended by Alexander Hamilton, charging that Henfield’s actions violated the law of nations as well as the peace and dignity of the United States. It remains unclear whether the latter formulation was intended to charge Henfield with a transgression of common law, though in his argument to the jury Rawle maintained that Henfield’s actions infringed the law of nations, threatening the United States with reprisals from and even war with France’s enemies, and violated common law, which gave the American government alone the right to wage war. Henfield’s attorneys, while admitting that he had performed the acts of which he stood accused, argued that the seaman had renounced American citizenship upon entering French service, that the charges against him did not include an offense under the common law, that if the Proclamation of Neutrality created such an offense, his actions preceded it, that the treaty with France did not forbid the enlistment of Americans in its service, and that there was no statutory basis for the court’s jurisdiction in the case. Despite a charge to the jury by Supreme Court Justice James Wilson upholding the prosecution’s contention that Henfield’s actions clearly violated the law of nations as well as laws of the United States, on 29 July 1793, after dividing eleven to one in favor of acquittal, the jurors finally found him not guilty on all counts (Federal Cases description begins The Federal Cases; Comprising Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States …, St. Paul, Minn., 1894–97, 30 vols. description ends , xi, 1105–22; National Gazette, 31 July, 3 Aug. 1793; Turner, CFM description begins Frederick Jackson Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791–1797,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1903, II description ends , 204–5, 207–9, 211; Genet to TJ, 1 June 1793; TJ to Genet, 1 June 1793; TJ to James Monroe, 14 July 1793; TJ to James Madison, 11 Aug. 1793; TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 16 Aug. 1793, and note; Randolph’s later and somewhat confused recollections on the common law aspects of the case in Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962-, 21 vols. description ends , xvii, 283–5; Goebel, Supreme Court description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., The Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United States, Volume 1: Antecedents and Beginnings to 1801, New York and London, 1971 description ends , 624–7, which argues that the prosecution was not grounded in the common law). Although Genet hailed the jury’s decision as a vindication of his right to enlist Americans in French service, the Washington administration continued to maintain its ban on American enlistments in belligerent service, and in June 1794 Congress finally provided a statutory basis for this policy by passing the so-called Neutrality Act (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , iv, 1461- 4; Hyneman, Neutrality description begins Charles S. Hyneman, The First American Neutrality, Urbana, Ill., 1934 description ends , 131–2, 155–6; Thomas, Neutrality description begins Charles M. Thomas, American Neutrality in 1793: A Study in Cabinet Government, New York, 1931 description ends , 173–6, 186–8).

1Digit written over what appears to be “9”; it is overwritten in ink in PrC.

2Preceding two words written in the margin in Dft in place of “de.”

3In Dft Genet here canceled “enseigne.”

4In Dft Genet here canceled “batiment.”

5Preceding four words written in the margin in Dft.

6Dft and AMAE Tr: “arrêté et conduit.”

7Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

8In Dft Genet here canceled “contrevenu aux loix des Etats unis en prenant les armes contre.”

9Preceding seven words written in the margin in Dft.

10Preceding six words interlined in Dft as “par les rôles d’équipage et.”

11In Dft Genet here canceled “france.”

12In Dft Genet here canceled “Citoyen.”

13Preceding eight words written in the margin in Dft in place of “en Consequence.”

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