Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Edmond Charles Genet, 9 December 1793

To Edmond Charles Genet

Philadelphia, December 9th. 1793.


I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 3rd. instant, which has been duly laid before the President.1

We are very far from admitting your principle, that the government on either side has no other right, on the presentation of a consular commission, than to certify that, having examined it, they find it to be according to rule. The governments of both nations have a right,2 and that of your’s has exercised it, as to us, of3 considering the character of the person appointed; the place for which he is appointed, and other material circumstances; and of taking precautions as to his conduct, if necessary;4 and this does not defeat the general object of the convention, which, in stipulating, that Consuls shall be permitted on both sides, could not mean to supersede reasonable5 objections to particular persons, who might at the moment6 be obnoxious to the nation to which he was sent,7 or whose conduct might render him so at any time after. In fact every foreign agent, depends on the double will of the two governments,8 of that which sends him and of that which is to permit the exercise of his functions within their Territory; and when either of these wills9 is refused or withdrawn, his authority to act within that territory10 becomes incomplete. By what member11 of the government the right of giving or withdrawing permission,12 is to be exercised here, is a question on which13 no foreign Agent can be permitted to make himself the Umpire. It is sufficient for him, under our government that he is informed of it by the Executive.14

On an examination of the Commissions from your nation among our records, I find,15 that before the late change in the form of our government, foreign agents were addressed, sometimes to the United States, and sometimes to the Congress of the United States, that body being then Executive as well as Legislative. Thus the Commissions of Messrs. L’Etombe, Holker, Dannemours, Marbois, Crevecoeur, and Chateaufort, have all this clause, “Prions et requerons nos très chers et grands Amis et Allies, les Etats Unis de l’Amérique septentrionale, leurs Gouverneurs, et autres officiers &c. de laisser jouir &c. le dit Sieur &c. de la charge de notre Consul” &c. On the change in the form of our Government,16 foreign Nations, not undertaking to decide to what member of the new Government17 their Agents should be addressed, ceased to do it to Congress, and18 adopted the general address to the United States19 before cited. This was done by the government of your own Nation, as appears by the Commissions of Messrs. Mangourit and La Forest, which have in them the clause before cited. So your own Commission was, not as M. Gerards, and Luzerne’s had been “A nos très chers &c. le President et Membres du Congrès general des E. Unis” &c. but “A nos très chers &c. les Etats Unis de l’Amerique” &c. Under this general address, the proper member of the government was included, and could take it up. When,20 therefore, it was seen in the Commissions of Messrs. Dupont and Hauterive, that your Executive had returned to the ancient address, to Congress, it was conceived to be an inattention, insomuch that I do not recollect21 (and I do not think it material enough to inquire) whether I noticed it to you either verbally or by letter. When that of Mr. Dannery was presented with the like address, being obliged to notice to you an inaccuracy of another kind, I then mentioned that of the address, not calling it an innovation, but22 expressing my satisfaction, which is still entire, that it was not from any design in your Executive Council.23 The Exequatur was therefore sent. That they will not consider our notice of it as an innovation, we are perfectly secure. No government can disregard formalities more than ours. But when formalities are attacked with a view to change principles, and to introduce an entire independence of foreign agents on the nation with whom they reside, it becomes material to defend formalities. They would be no longer trifles if they could in defiance of the national will, continue a foreign Agent among us, whatever might be his course of action. Continuing, therefore, the refusal to receive any Commission from yourself addressed to an improper Member of the government, you are left free to use either the general one, To the United States, as in the Commissions of Messrs. Mangourit and la Forest before cited,24 or that25 special one, To the President of the United States. I have the honor to be, with respect, Sir, Your most obedient, and most humble servant,

PrC (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., unsigned; at foot of first page: “M. Genet. minister plenipy. &c.” Dft (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, unsigned; with only the most important variations being noted below. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). Recorded in SJPL.

There is no evidence that TJ informed Genet by letter of the irregularities in the consular commissions of Dupont and Hauterive (see note to Genet’s first letter to TJ, 22 May 1793). For that of Mr. Dannery, see TJ to Genet, 2 Oct. 1793.

For the Cabinet’s prior approval of the substance of this letter, see Cabinet Opinions on Edmond Charles Genet and James King, 7 Dec. 1793.

1In Dft TJ here canceled two unfinished paragraphs:

“Before the late change which took place in our form of government foreign agents were addressed sometimes to the US. sometimes to the Congress of the US. the latter being then the Executive as well as the legislative body. Recurring to our records as far as they respect your nation, I observe that

“As to the question of right.”

Next to these paragraphs TJ wrote in the margin:

  • “Congress. Gerard
  •     Holker. Oster. Dannemours
  •     Luzerne.
  •     Dupont. Hauterive
  • US. L’Etombe. Holker. D’annemours.
  •   Marbois. Crevecoeur.
  •   Chateaufort.
  •   Ternant.
  •    Mangourit. La Forest.
  •   Genet.”

2In Dft TJ here canceled an interlined passage that reads “necessarily understood tho not expressed in the convention.”

3In Dft TJ here canceled “examin.”

4Remainder of sentence written in the margin of Dft.

5Word interlined in Dft.

6Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

7In Dft TJ here canceled “or might become so during his residence with them.”

8Remainder of clause interlined in Dft.

9Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

10In Dft TJ here canceled “ceases.”

11Word interlined in Dft in place of “branch.”

12Sentence to this point interlined in Dft in place of “whether that right.”

13Preceding five words interlined in Dft in place of “by this or that branch of government can only.”

14Sentence interlined in Dft, “under our government” being interpolated.

15Sentence to this point in Dft altered from “Examining this question by the precedents found in our own records I have to observe.”

16In Dft TJ here canceled “most” and an interlined “some.”

17Altered in Dft from “decide what branch of the government.”

18Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

19Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

20In Dft TJ here canceled “more lately.”

21In Dft TJ here canceled “whether I thought it was.”

22Preceding six words interlined in Dft.

23Remainder of text of Dft interlined and written perpendicularly in the margin in place of a heavily emended passage that in its final form appears to read: “and therefore sent the Exequatur. Whether the innovation you are pleased to charge on us was on the address of these last commissions or in our notice of them we are not afraid to leave to the good sense and the good dispositions of the Xve. Council of France: nor have we a doubt of their correcting the error as soon as it shall have been suggested to them. And to shew that we are not punctilious even with you who have thought proper to question a formality that you may build on the [charge?] of it an independence on the Presid. of the US. you are left free to adopt the address before cited.”

24Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “or that to the Presidt. of the US.”

25In Dft TJ here canceled “more.”

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