George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 28 December 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

Dec. 28. 93.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to inclose to the President a copy of mister Genet’s instructions which he has just recieved from him with a desire that they may be communicated to the legislature.1

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State.

1In a letter to Jefferson of 20 Dec., Genet enclosed the printed translations of “Instructions to Citizen Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic to the United States, from the Executive Council, and Minister of Marine” which were to appear in his Correspondence between Citizen Genet, Minister of the French Republic, to the United States of North America, and the Officers of the Federal Government; to Which Are Prefixed the Instructions from the Constituted Authorities of France to the Said Minister. All from Authentic Documents (Philadelphia, 1793), 1–9.

Genet requested that Jefferson ask GW to lay the translations before Congress so that they might judge whether Genet’s actions had been conformable to his instructions. This done, Genet continued, “nothing will remain for me to do but to prosecute in your courts of Judicature, the authors and abettors of the odious and vile machinations that have been plotted against me by means of a series of impostures which for a while have fascinated the minds of the public, and misled even your first magistrate, with a view to shake at least, if not to break off entirely, the alliance between two nations which every consideration calls upon to unite and rivet still faster the bonds which tie them to each other, at a period when the most imminent danger equally threatens them both” (Genet’s translation from Correspondence, [ii–iii]; for the original French, see Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 27:593–95).

The “Instructions” included a “memorial” from the executive council to Genet of 4 Jan. 1793, an “Extract from a supplement to the instructions” of 17 Jan., two letters from Minister of the Marine Gaspard Monge and Minister of the Navy Jean Dalbarade to Genet of 8 Feb. and 28 May, and Genet’s credentials of 30 Dec. 1792. The instructions in essence directed Genet to negotiate a new commercial treaty, but added various rhetorical flourishes.

The council prescribed that Genet “exert himself to strengthen the Americans in the principles which led them to unite themselves to France; to make them perceive that they have no ally more natural or more disposed to treat them as brethren.” They criticized the “machiavelian principle” and “duplicity” that guided the former French regime and suggested that the new commercial treaty “admits a latitude still more extensive in becoming a national agreement, in which two great people shall suspend their commercial and political interests and establish a mutual understanding, to befriend the empire of liberty, wherever it can be embraced, to guarantee the sovereignty of the people, and punish those powers who still keep up an exclusive colonial and commercial system, by declaring that their vessels shall not be received in the ports of the contracting parties.” Such a pact would “quickly contribute to the general emancipation of the new world.” The council claimed that America’s “safety still depends on ours, and if we fail they will sooner or later fall under the iron rod of great Britain.” However, in case “false representations” should make America’s ministers “adopt a timid and wavering conduct” in the negotiations, Genet was charged “to take such steps as will appear to him exigencies may require, to serve the cause of liberty and the freedom of the people.” In addition Genet was told that he should “avoid as much as he can those ridiculous disputes about etiquette which so much occupied the old diplomacy,” but “insist on all the prerogatives the French power has at any time enjoyed.”

The supplement discussed the negotiation of the new treaty, if not impeded “by secret manœuvres of the English minister and his partizans at Philadelphia, by the timidity of certain members of the federal government, who notwithstanding their known patriotism have always shewn the strongest aversion to every measure which might be unpleasing to England.” In the meantime, they instructed Genet to “employ all the means in his power to procure a religious observance of the 17th, 21st, and 22d articles of the treaty of commerce” (giving protection to prizes seized by either party when brought to the other’s ports, while denying shelter to prizes seized from either party; forbidding either nation from issuing letters of marque against the other; and forbidding the fitting out of enemy privateers in the ports of either party). The letters from the naval ministers enclosed 300 letters of marque and commissions for the conductors of prizes, to be issued to Americans who wished to fit out as privateers against the enemies of France. For the original instructions, see Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends , 2:201–11.

From the instructions, Genet omitted specifics included in the “emancipation of the new world”—opening the navigation of the Mississippi to Kentuckians, freeing Louisianans from Spanish tyranny, and, perhaps, adding Canada to the United States—and he suppressed under the phrase “such steps” his authority to germinate the principles of liberty in Louisiana and other provinces near the United States by using agents in Kentucky and Louisiana to support free navigation of the Mississippi. From the supplement, he omitted passages explaining the importance of insisting on a reciprocal exemption from the duty on tonnage, discussing the use of French sympathizers in the American government, and indicating that the enclosed army commissions were for Indians who might take arms against France’s enemies.

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