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To Thomas Jefferson from Edmond Charles Genet, 16 May 179[3]

From Edmond Charles Genet

Philadelphie le 16 Mai 1792 [1793].
L’an 2e. de la R épublique francaise.

J’ai l’honneur de vous communiquer, Monsieur, une copie des lettres de créance qui m’ont été délivrées par le Conseil éxécutif de la République française; Je vous prie de vouloir bien les mettre Sous les yeux du Président des Etats unis et de me faire connoitre l’heure à laquelle Je pourrai les lui presenter ainsi qu’une lettre que la convention-nationale à chargé son Président de lui ecrire.

FC (DLC: Genet Papers); below dateline: “Le Citoyen Genet Ministre pl énipotentiaire de la République française près les Etats-unis d’amerique, à Monsieur Jefferson Secretaire d’Etat des Etats-unis”; at foot of text: “Translated.” FC (same); in English. Recorded in SJL as received 16 May 1793.

With this letter Edmond Charles Genet (1763–1834), the first minister to the United States appointed by the French Republic, began what was destined to be a tumultuous and short-lived diplomatic relationship with TJ and the Washington administration. Born in Versailles, Genet was the only son of Edmé Jacques Genet, the chief of the Bureau of Interpretation in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A gifted linguist with a keen interest in science, Genet became a clerk in the Bureau at the age of fourteen, translating documents relating to the American Revolution and making the acquaintance of such noted American diplomats as John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Upon the death of his father in 1781, Genet became chief of the Bureau and held this position until the agency was abolished in 1787 for reasons of economy. With the patronage of Marie Antoinette, whom one of his sisters served as a lady in waiting, Genet served in Russia for the next five years, first as secretary of legation to the French ambassador, the Comtede Ségur, and then, after Ségur’s return to France in 1789, as the French government’s chargé d’affaires in St. Petersburg, until at length he was expelled by Catherine the Great in July 1792 on account of his enthusiastic support for the French Revolution. Genet’s diplomatic experience and zeal for the revolutionary cause commended him to the Girondin ministry that came to power after the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy and led to his appointment as French minister to the United States in November 1792. Genet did not leave Paris until late January 1793, having been delayed by an abortive Girondin plan to avert the execution of Louis xvi by exiling the king and the royal family to the United States, and his ship did not sail for America until the following month, landing him in Charleston, South Carolina, in April (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Meade Minnigerode, Jefferson, Friend of France, 1793: The Career of Edmond Charles Genet… [New York, 1928]). For an overview of his mission to the United States and its collapse, see Editorial Note on the recall of Edmond Charles Genet, at 16 Aug. 1793.

Genet presented the French text of the enclosed Lettres de créance to the President on 18 May 1793 (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 143). At that time he probably also presented two letters addressed to Washington by the French government. The first was a letter from the president of the Convention-Nationale of 22 Dec. 1792 which proclaimed the establishment of the French Republic, justified the abolition of the monarchy, ascribed the French court’s support of American independence to deceitful motives, declared that by its solitary struggle for liberty against the coalition of kings France has shown itself worthy of American brotherhood, compared the successes of French armies to the American victories at Saratoga, Trenton, and Yorktown, gave thanks for American assistance to France’s colonies, and expressed eagerness to strengthen the political and commercial ties between the two nations, now that they shared the same principles and interests, if the United States had the courage to hasten the time when commerce would rest, not on exclusive interests, but on the joint interests of all nations and the nature of things (Dft in AMAE: CPEU, xxxvi, in French; printed in Archives Parlementaires, description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860: Recueil Complet des Débats Législatifs & Politiques des Chambres Françaises, Paris, 1862-, 222 vols. description ends 1st ser., lv, 353–4; translation printed in National Gazette, 2 Mch. 1793; see also TJ to Washington, 22 Aug. 1793). Genet probably also produced a letter of [13] Jan. 1793 from the Provisional Executive Council to the President expressing confidence that the establishment of the French Republic would lead to closer relations between France and the United States, noting that Genet came with extensive powers to agree with anyone authorized by Washington on articles designed to consolidate on the most liberal and durable basis the ties of friendship and commerce between the two nations, and expressing satisfaction that Genet’s success would depend in great part on a virtuous and talented President who had frequently manifested friendly sentiments toward France (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NL; in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., and bearing month and year of date only, with “Translation” at head of text; Tr in same, consisting of draft translation in a clerk’s hand, except for revisions by TJ, partial date and salutation in Taylor’s hand, and endorsement by Tobias Lear; Dft in AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii, in French, in a clerk’s hand, unsigned, bearing date of 13 Jan. 1793, with “[…] Washington [Pré]sident des Etats unis de l’Amerique. A Philadelphie” at head of text). For the manner in which Genet was received, see Genet to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, 7 Oct. 1793, Turner, CFM, description begins Frederick Jackson Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791–1797,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1903, II description ends 245.

The present letter is the first of the approximately 80 surviving letters and memorials that Genet wrote to TJ in his capacity as Secretary of State. Although, according to TJ’s own later testimony, recipient’s copies were on file in the Department of State when he retired from office at the end of 1793, only two have survived (Genet to TJ, 30 Sep. 1793, which TJ returned for the correction of clerical errors; Note from Genet, [ca. 30 Oct. 1793], which TJ preserved among his papers; see also Deposition of TJ, [ca. 9 Feb. 1809]). In view of this significant gap in the inventory of Genet’s communications, the following guidelines have been adopted for their presentation. Letters and memorials written by Genet between 27 May and 25 July 1793 and enclosed in TJ’s 16 Aug. 1793 letter to Gouverneur Morris requesting the French minister’s recall have been printed from press copies of transcripts made from the missing recipient’s copies by a clerk working in the State Department under TJ’s aegis and preserved by TJ among his own papers. Except for occasional anomalies and transparent slips of the pen, internal evidence indicates that these texts are faithful copies of the letters and memorials the Secretary of State received from Genet. Whenever possible, all other letters and memorials TJ received from the French minister, whether written before or after 25 July 1793, have been printed from authorial texts that survive among Genet’s papers in the Library of Congress and the New-York Historical Society. Some of these texts were drafted by the French minister and bear clerical additions; others were prepared by Genet’s clerks and revised by him. When these authorial texts are unavailable, clerical file copies in Genet’s papers or clerical transcripts in the Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, both derived from authorial texts, have been employed. In all cases, the most significant emendations and variations derived from the collation of extant manuscript texts are recorded in textual notes.

The political controversy generated by the French minister’s diplomatic mission and the request for his recall, documented in this and the next volume, led the President on 5 Dec. 1793 to transmit to Congress copies of the relevant correspondence and enclosures that Genet exchanged with TJ. On the recommendation of the Secretary of State, supported decisively by Washington, a selection of TJ’s correspondence with George Hammond and Thomas Pinckney on British violations of the peace treaty and American neutrality was also sent with Washington’s message (see Notes of a Cabinet Meeting on the President’s Messages to Congress, 28 Nov. 1793; Fitzpatrick, Washington, xxxiii, 170–3). The House of Representatives ordered the publication of all this material in pamphlet form, the documents from Genet being presented in English translation with a separately paginated appendix of French texts (see Message description begins A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great-Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793. With the Papers therein Referred to. To Which Are Added the French Originals. Published by Order of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1793 description ends ). Genet in turn published a smaller selection of his correspondence with TJ and related documents, first in English (see Correspondence description begins [Edmond Charles Genet], The 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 description ends ) and then in French (see Correspondance description begins [Edmond Charles Genet], Correspondance entre le Citoyen Genet, Ministre Plenipotentiaire de la Republique Française pres les Etats-Unis, et les Membres du Gouvernement Féderal, Precedee des Instructions données à ce Ministre par les Autorités constituées de la France, Philadelphia, 1794 description ends ). The descriptive notes to the relevant documents on French and British relations in this and the next volume record their publication in these pamphlets. Citations to Genet’s communications and their enclosures in the Message description begins A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great-Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793. With the Papers therein Referred to. To Which Are Added the French Originals. Published by Order of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1793 description ends will include page references both for the appended French texts and English translations, in that order. Translations printed in the Message description begins A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great-Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793. With the Papers therein Referred to. To Which Are Added the French Originals. Published by Order of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1793 description ends are also printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, i, 142–88. The infrequent discrepancies between the manuscript texts and the pamphlets have been recorded in textual notes.

For earlier correspondence with the British minister printed in the Message description begins A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great-Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793. With the Papers therein Referred to. To Which Are Added the French Originals. Published by Order of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1793 description ends in a separate pagination, see TJ to Hammond, 29 Nov. 1791; Hammond to TJ, 30 Nov. and 6 Dec. 1791; TJ to Hammond, 13 Dec. 1791; Hammond to TJ, 14 Dec. 1791; TJ to Hammond, 15 Dec. 1791, and enclosures; Hammond to TJ, 19 Dec. 1791, and 5 Mch. 1792, and enclosures; TJ to Hammond, 30 Mch. 1792; Hammond to TJ, 6 Apr. 1792; TJ to Hammond, 29 May 1792, and enclosures; and Hammond to TJ, 2 June 1792.

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