Thomas Jefferson Papers

Proposed Public Statement on Edmond Charles Genet, [ca. 16 December 1793]

Proposed Public Statement on
Edmond Charles Genet

[ca. 16 Dec. 1793]

A Question whether Mr. G. has threatened to appeal from the Pr. to the people of the US. has excited considerable attention, has been thought worthy of calling forth the evidence of1 the highest officers of the government2 and to justify the disclosure of the private3 consultations of the Exve. The performance of an official duty having connected me with the matter in question, I have4 been vouched in affirmation of the charge.5 It is with much6 regret that I find my self made use of for any thing7 in so disagreeable an altercation, but considering it’s present ground, silence on my part might beget surmises which would not be just. I had conversations on Sunday the 7th. of July with Mr. Genet and Mr. Dallas as has been stated in the public papers. I had a private consultation with the Secrs. of the Treasury and war on the Monday to decide what should to be done in the event of the L.D’s attempting to depart8 and it was than I made my communication to them.9 The Pr. returned on the Wednesday, and on that day I committed the same communications10 to writing in a Report to him.11 I did this when the transactions were fully in my mind, and particular considerations12 led me to detail with more minuteness than usual every circumstance which I thought13 worthy14 notice. I could not then15 foresee the16 altercation which has now arisen, nor consequently17 give to the statement any aspect respecting it. My only object was to give18 to the Pr. a circumstantial and faithful relation of what he had a right to know. And I did it with a sacred regard to truth.19 I have since heard the same matter spoken of on different20 occasions and by different persons insomuch that I should fear to attempt from21 memory alone to distinguish at this time22 what I have heard from one what from another, what on one occasion or what on another. I think it therefore safest to give the whole report, without the suppression of a tittle.23 It contains many things which relate not at all to the present question, and some which it will be obvious were never expected to be made public. Were these however now omitted it might be imagined that24 the aspect of what would remain might be sensibly affected by it.25 I chuse then to throw myself on the indulgencies of those who may read it, rather than to incur their suspicions, and therefore give a verbal copy of the whole report as follows.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 96: 16460); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated; heavily emended, only the most significant revisions being noted below. Recorded in SJPL between 16 and 18 Dec. 1793: “draught of paragraph contemplatd. to have been put in papers.”

TJ’s unusual proposed public statement—intended as a preface to his publication of the memorandum of a conversation with Edmond Charles Genet that he had prepared for the President on 10 July 1793—was a response to Federalist exploitation of one of the French minister’s worst blunders: the threat he made on the evening of 6 July 1793 to Alexander J. Dallas, the staunchly Republican secretary of Pennsylvania, during the Little Sarah affair to “appeal from the President to the people” (for a discussion of this episode, see note to Cabinet Opinions on the Little Sarah, 8 July 1793). After reporting the threat to Governor Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania, Dallas apprised TJ of it the next day. Moreover, on the basis of information received in conversations with TJ and Mifflin, Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox quoted a slightly variant version of Genet’s offending remark in an 8 July 1793 report to the President on the case of the Little Sarah, which TJ read before it was submitted to Washington, in which they warned that Genet’s defiance reflected a sinister design by the French minister to undermine popular confidence in his administration (Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xv, 76; see also Hamilton to Rufus King, 13 Aug. 1793, same, 239–42; [Hamilton and Knox], Statement to John Dunlap, Dunlap and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, 17 Dec. 1793; “To the Public,” same, 18 Dec. 1793). TJ also cited Genet’s statement to Dallas in his memorandum to the President two days later, though he tried to minimize its seriousness by emphasizing that the French minister had not repeated the threat during their lengthy discussion of the Little Sarah affair on 7 July 1793. Although Genet later denied ever having made such a threat, it was consistent with his previously expressed opinion to TJ that he had a right to “appeal from the Executive to Congress, and from both to the people,” and TJ seems never to have doubted that Genet uttered the remark (TJ to James Monroe, 28 June 1793; TJ to James Madison, 1 Sep. 1793).

The Secretary of State’s involvement in this chain of events became a public issue as a result of a bold counterstroke that Genet launched against his chief Federalist critics in mid-November 1793. In a letter to TJ enclosing one to Edmund Randolph, both of which he took care to have published, Genet denounced as uttterly false the charge that he had threatened to appeal from the President to the people—an accusation Chief Justice John Jay and Senator Rufus King had made against him in an otherwise circumspect joint statement published in a 12 Aug. 1793 issue of a New York newspaper—and called upon the Attorney General to have the two Federalists prosecuted for libel (Genet’s sixth letter to TJ, 14 Nov. 1793, and note; New York Diary; or Loudon’s Register, 12 Aug., 22 Nov. 1793). Jay and King retaliated early the following month with a rebuttal that described in print for the first time the exact circumstances under which Genet had made his threat and the transmission of it from Dallas to Mifflin and TJ—a statement which they acknowledged was based upon information they had received from Hamilton and Knox, and which in fact drew very heavily on an account of the events in question that Hamilton had provided to King more than three months before. Jay and King accompanied their rebuttal with a supporting certificate in which Hamilton and Knox attested that Mifflin and TJ had both informed them of Dallas’s report about Genet’s threat soon after it was made (Jay and King, “To the Public,” 26 Nov. 1793, New York Daily Advertiser, Supplement, 2 Dec. 1793; Statement by Hamilton and Knox, 29 Nov. 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, 418–19; see also Hamilton to King, 13 Aug. 1793, Jay and King to Hamilton and Knox, 26 Nov. 1793, Jay to Hamilton, 26 Nov. 1793, King to Hamilton, 26 Nov. 1793, and Hamilton and Knox to Jay and King, 27 Nov. 1793, same, 239–42, 41114, 416).

It was at this point, in an effort to discredit the French minister’s Federalist critics by giving his own version of his disputed meeting with Genet, that Dallas made the existence of TJ’s memorandum to the President a matter of public record for the first time. In his statement, which he issued apparently after conferring with Genet in New York and certainly after consulting with TJ in Philadelphia, Dallas denied that Genet had threatened to appeal from the President to the people in any seditious sense—though he conceded that Genet had spoken of “publishing his correspondence with the officers of government, together with a general narrative of his proceedings”—and suggested that TJ’s memorandum had erred in citing him as an authority for the threat (Dallas, Statement to the Public, 7 Dec. 1793, Dunlap and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, 9 Dec. 1793; Dallas to TJ, 4 Dec. 1793; King, Life, description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, New York, 1894–1900, 6 vols. description ends i, 464). Instead of quelling the controversy, however, Dallas’s intervention elicited a public statement from Hamilton and Knox, unsigned but clearly emanating from the highest circles of the American government and initially interpreted in some quarters as the work of TJ himself, in which they not only reiterated Jay and King’s more extended account of Genet’s threat to appeal to the American people, but also quoted without authorization the section of TJ’s memorandum to the President asserting that Genet had made this threat to Dallas ([Hamilton and Knox], Statement to John Dunlap, Dunlap and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, 17 Dec. 1793; “To the Public,” same, 18 Dec. 1793).

With two such diametrically opposed versions of Genet’s remark to Dallas now in the public record, TJ reluctantly set aside his intense aversion to public controversy and prepared the above statement for publication as a preface to his memorandum to the President. Despite the memorandum’s damaging admission that Dallas had in fact informed the Secretary of State of Genet’s threatened appeal to the American people, TJ in his prefatory remarks tried to put the best face possible on Genet’s expressions. His notation in SJPL and internal evidence suggest that he probably drafted the statement shortly before the appearance on 17 Dec. 1793 of Hamilton and Knox’s pseudonymous rejoinder to Dallas’s public defense of Genet. But in the end, for reasons he never explained, he chose to withhold it from the press. By remaining silent, however, TJ may have inadvertently encouraged Genet to continue his quest for legal redress against the Chief Justice and the Senator from New York, who, unbeknownst to TJ at the time, made a concerted effort to obtain a copy of his 10 July 1793 memorandum in preparation for their defense (see TJ to Edmund Randolph, 18 Dec. 1793, and note).

L.D.: Little Democrat, the anglicized form of the French name given to the Little Sarah after it was converted to a privateer.

1Preceding three words interlined.

2TJ here canceled “to bear testimony to it.”

3Word interlined in place of “secret.”

4Preceding ten words substituted for a passage in which TJ first wrote “having implicated me in the transaction, I have,” replaced it with “made me a witness in the occasion,” and finally substituted “necessarily <made> given me a part,” canceling each interlineation in turn.

5Preceding three words interlined in place of “of the question.”

6Word interlined in place of “extreme.”

7Preceding nine words interlined in place of “enter <mix>,” which TJ had interlined in place of “find myself <mixed> meddle.” TJ may have inadvertently left the last three words in the text uncanceled.

8Remainder of sentence interlined.

9TJ first wrote “communicated to them what had passed” and then altered it to read as above.

10Preceding three words interlined.

11TJ here canceled “a full detail of what had passed.”

12Word interlined in place of “circumstances of the moment.”

13Word interlined in place of “could recollect as.”

14TJ here canceled “any” and an interlined “the least.”

15Sentence to this point interlined in place of “I did this when it was impossible to.”

16TJ here canceled “question.”

17Preceding two words interlined in place of “to.”

18Preceding nine words interlined in place of “hue which might reflect on that, and under no other view than that of giving.”

19Sentence interlined.

20Word interlined in place of “so many.”

21Preceding eight words interlined in place of “<that my memory> I could not trust to my.”

22Preceding three words interlined.

23TJ first wrote “without altering a tittle of it” and then revised it to read as above.

24TJ here canceled “their suppression.”

25Sentence interlined in place of “Had these been omitted it mt. have been thought that tho’ the parts given forth were in the very words of the report and consequently not stated with a view to the present case, yet that it has been [gar?]bled with an eye to it,” with “could have no eye” interlined and left uncanceled above “consequently.”

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