George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Gouverneur Morris, 18 October 1793

From Gouverneur Morris

Paris 18 October 1793

My dear Sir

You will see by the Official Correspondence that your orders are complied with, and that your Intentions are fulfilled.1 Permit me on this occasion to remark that had the People of America been well inform’d of the State of Things on this Side of the Atlantic, no one would have dar’d to adopt the Conduct which Mr Genest has pursued. In reading the few Gazettes which have reach’d me I am surprizd to see so little sound Intelligence.

The present Government is evidently a Despotism both in Principle and Practice. The Convention now consists of ⟨on⟩ly a Part of those who were chosen to frame a Constitution. These after putting under Arrest their Fellows, claim all Power and have delegated the greater Part of it to a Committee of Safety2—You will observe that one of the ordinary Measures of Government is to send out Commissioners with unlimited Authority. They are invested with Power to remove Officers chosen by the People and put others in their Place. This Power as well as that of imprisoning on Suspicion is liberally exercis’d. The revolutionary Tribunal establish’d here to judge on general Principles gives unlimited Scope to Will. It is an emphatical Phrase in Fashion among the Patriots that Terror is the order of the Day. Some Years have elapsed since Montesquieu wrote that the Principle of arbitrary Governments is Fear.3 The Queen was executed the Day before Yesterday. Insulted during her Trial and reviled in her last moments she behav’d with Dignity throughout. This Execution will I think give to future Hostilities a deeper Dye and unite more intimately the allied Powers. It will silence the Opposition of those who would not listen to the Dismembrement of this Country, and therefore it may be concluded that the Blow by which she died was directed from a Distance. But whatever may be the Lot of France in remote Futurity, and putting aside the military Events, it seems evident that she must soon be governd by a single Despot. Whether she will pass to that Point thro the Medium of a Triumvirate or other smaller Body of Men seems as yet undetermind. I think it most probable that she will. A great and awful Crisis seems to be near at Hand. A Blow is I am told meditated which will shroud in Grief and Horror a guilty Land. Already the Prisons are surcharg’d with Persons who consider themselves as Victims. Nature recoils: and I yet Hope that these Ideas are circulated only to inspire Fear. I am my dear Sir very truly yours

Gouvr Morris

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC: Gouverneur Morris Papers.

1Morris’s most recent dispatches to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, both of 10 Oct., discussed Morris’s efforts to protect American commerce and announced that the French government had agreed to recall Edmond Genet (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:372–73).

2On 10 Aug. 1792 the French assembly had called for the election of a national convention to produce a new constitution. That body met in September 1792 and promptly proclaimed the First Republic. For the convention decree of 6 April 1793, establishing a committee of public safety (comité de salut public) “chargé de surveiller et d’accélérer l’action de l’administration confiée au conseil exécutif provisoire, dont il pourra même suspendre les arrêtés,” see Archives Parlementaires description begins J. Mavidal et al., eds. Archives Parlementaires de 1787 a 1860. 1st ser., 101 vols. to date. Paris, 1868—. description ends , 61:373–74. Although the convention adopted a new constitution on 24 June 1793, the French government remained under the control of the provisional convention and its committees during the state of emergency arising out of the European war. As early as June 1793, power struggles within the convention led to the arrest and expulsion of some deputies; by October 1793 France had entered the period conventionally known as the “Reign of Terror.”

3This idea appears in book 3, chapter 9 of Montesquieu’s De l’Esprit des Loix (1748).

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