Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Edmond Charles Genet, 23 July 1793

Notes of Cabinet Meeting on
Edmond Charles Genet

July 23. 1793. A meeting at the Pr’s of the 3 heads of departments and E.R.

Genet had told me about a fortnight ago that he had come here with instructions to let all his contracts to the lowest bidder of sufficient ability, that he had been privately admonished however at the same time by some individuals who had been in America that, if he meant to succeed, he must put his contracts into the hands of Rob. Morris &c. who were all-powerful in the government. That he paid little regard to this, and pursuing rigorously the plan of his instructions he had failed, as I knew, meeting to every proposition for obtaining money, the decided opposition of the Secy. of the Treasury.—Knowing as I did how decidedly the Sy. of the Tr. had been against every the smallest advance beyond what was actually exigible, and even for a day, I1 was attentive to him. He continued, that he had now found out that if he would put the contract into the hands of Mr. Hamilton’s friends2 he could get money. That he had already been in treaty with Cuningham & Nesbit, had agreed with them on terms mutually acceptable tho’ not as good as in the way pointed out in his instructions, and that Mr. Hamilton had also agreed, tho’ it was not yet in writing. I could not help saying ‘are you sure Colo. H. is agreed. I think it impossible.’ I am sure says he, and you shall see. Accordingly at this meeting Colo. H. proposes to3 agree to pay the4 orders of Mr. Genet to the amount of the instalments of this year5 that is to say, to note at the treasury those orders as presented, and to say to the persons that such a sum will be paid at the day of the instalment and he presented a letter ready cut and dry for the purpose. The Presidt. came into it at once, on account of the distresses of the refugees from St. Domingo, for whom some of it was to be used. Knox asked no other question than whether it was convenient to the treasury. I agreed to it on my old grounds, that I had no objections to an advance. E.R. alone was afraid, and insisted the Secy. of the Try. should present a written paper to each holder of a bill letting them see that we would pay for the government of France on such a day such a sum, so that if a counter-revolution should take place between this and the day (to wit, some day in Sep. and another in Nov.) in time to be known here, we should not be held to pay to the holder but to the new government. Hamilt. agreed to arrange this with E.R. which in private he will easily do.

At this meeting (E.R. being called away on business) I proposed an answer to Genet’s letter of July 9. on French property taken by the English in American bottoms, which was agreed to in toto—Also an answer to his letter of June 14. covering protests of Consuls about Admiralty courts arresting their prizes. To this it was thought some additions were necessary, and particularly Knox proposed some notice should be taken of the expressions towards the Presidt. personally. So it was referred to another day.

The Presidt. mentioned that we must shortly determine what was to be done with Mr. Genet, that in his own opinion his whole correspondence should be sent to G. Morr’ with a temperate but strong representation of his conduct, drawing a clear line between him and his nation, expressing our friendship to the latter, but insisting on the recall of Genet, and in the mean time that we should desire him either to withdraw or cease his functions. Hamilton hereon made a long speech exhorting the Presidt. to firmness, representing that we were now in a crisis whereon the continuance of the government or it’s overthrow by a faction depended, that we were still in time to give the tone to the public mind by laying the whole proceedings before them, and that this should be done in addition to what he had proposed. That as yet the great body of the people could be kept on the right side by proper explanations, but that if we let the incendiaries go on, they would soon have taken side with them.—Knox told some little stories to aggravate the Pr. To wit, that Mr. King had told him, that a lady had told him, that she had heard a gentleman say that the Pr. was as great a tyrant as any of them and that it would soon be time to chase him out of the city—that Mr. Stagg lately from N. York had told him that the St. Tammany society now had meetings to the number of 500. persons, and that Consul Hauterive appeared to be very intimate with them.

The President also desired us to reflect on the question of calling Congress.

Hamilton and Knox told the President they had extorted from Beach a confession that Pascal (one of the Secretaries of Genet) sent him the queries inserted in his paper 2 or 3 days ago and to one of6 which the Visct. Noailles gave the lie in the paper of to-day. He said Talon had never been but twice to his house, which was to public dinners, and that he had dined once with Talon, in a large company.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, with one alteration possibly made at a later date (see note 2 below). Entry in SJPL: “Notes. Genet’s informn of Ham’s favor to Cuningham & Nesbit. Remarkable. free ships free goods—arrest of prizes.—Genet’s dismissn.—on calling Congress.—Talon.” Included in the “Anas.”

On 19 July 1793 Edmond Charles Genet requested from Alexander Hamilton authorization to draw upon the American debt to France in order to supply the “urgent wants” of a French fleet of about 15 warships and 120 merchant vessels that had first reached Norfolk on 7 July 1793 and later stopped off at various American ports with about 10,000 refugees from the great Saint-Domingue slave revolt. This exodus had been triggered in June after the struggle for power between Thomas François Galbaud, the colony’s governor recently appointed by the Provisional Executive Council, and Léger Félicité Sonthonax and Etienne Polverel, the civil commissioners appointed in 1792 by the Legislative Assembly, led to armed conflict between their respective supporters, resulting in a victory for the latter marked by the burning of the town of Cap-Français and a grant of freedom by the commissioners to all rebellious slaves who fought for the Republic against foreign and domestic enemies on the island. Most of the merchantmen sailed to Baltimore, while most of the warships anchored in New York harbor from early August to early October 1793, during which time Genet made a series of ultimately unsuccessful efforts to enlist the fleet in his projected expeditions against Canada and Louisiana (Genet to Hamilton, 19 July 1793, Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xv, 116–17; Ammon, Genet Mission description begins Harry Ammon, The Genet Mission, New York, 1973 description ends , 111, 120–5; Childs, French Refugee Life description begins Frances S. Childs, French Refugee Life in the United States, 1790–1800: An American Chapter of the French Revolution, Baltimore, 1940 description ends , 15; Ott, Haitian Revolution description begins Thomas O. Ott, The Haitian Revolution, 1789–1804, Knoxville, 1973 description ends , 69–72; Stein, Sonthonax description begins Robert L. Stein, Léger Félicité Sonthonax: The Lost Sentinel of the Republic, Rutherford, N.J., 1985 description ends , 63–77; DeConde, Entangling Alliance, 271–6). Five days later—in the letter ready cut and dry that the Cabinet approved this day—Hamilton informed Genet that he could use for this purpose the September and November 1793 installments on the debt to France, subject to the deduction from the former of over 94,000 dollars to compensate holders in the United States of unpaid bills drawn on the government of Saint-Domingue (Hamilton to Genet, 24 July 1793, Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xv, 124; note to Genet to TJ, 18 June 1793).

TJ’s answer to Genet’s letter of June 14 was in fact his draft reply to Genet’s letter of 22 June 1793 (see TJ to Genet, [ca. 16 July 1793]; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 206).

Beach: Benjamin Franklin Bache, printer of the General Advertiser. In the 20 July 1793 issue “A Correspondent” suggested that Alexander Hamilton was unfit to be Secretary of the Treasury because he consorted with an unnamed man who had allegedly purloined money provided him by Louis XVI to bribe members of the French National Convention and that Henry Knox was unfit to be Secretary of War because he had allegedly allowed an unnamed former French general officer to exult to him that Saint-Domingue was ruined. The Vicomte de Noailles denied that he was the officer in question in a brief note published in the same newspaper three days later.

1TJ here canceled “could not help saying these.”

2TJ first wrote “of Mr. Hamilton” and then altered it to read as above, possibly at a later date.

3TJ here canceled “pay up the instal.”

4TJ here canceled “mer.”

5TJ first wrote “next instalments” and then altered it to read as above.

6Preceding two words interlined.

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