George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmond Charles Genet, 13 August 1793

From Edmond Charles Genet

New-York, 13th Aug. 1793, 2d Year of the Republic.


Intrusted in this part of the world with the interests and rights of the French people, as you are with those of the citizens of America, I have sworn to my country, and imposed it as a sacred duty on myself never to permit private considerations or other motives foreign from the general weal to impede me in what I conceived the line of duty. My conduct has accordingly been marked with all the energy and frankness which ever characterize a true republican. To you alone, thro’ the Secretary of State, have I complained of the principles you have adopted and remonstrated against decisions which have resulted therefrom.1 To you alone have I declared that the Federal government, far from manifesting any regard for our generous conduct towards this country—for the new advantages which we were offering to her commerce—or for the reiterated demonstrations of our real and disinterested friendship, were sacrificing our interests to those of our enemies, by their interpretation of the treaties which exist between us.2 To you have I represented without reserve that this conduct did not appear to correspond with the views of the people of America, with their desire to observe with fidelity their public engagements or with their affectionate regard for the cause of liberty, upon which their very existence and prosperity depend. Certain decisions of your tribunals and verdicts of your juries, added to the sentiments of your fellow-citizens publicly expressed, might permit me without a crime to draw this inference.3

Nevertheless certain persons, actuated by views which time will develope, despairing to attack my principles, have descended to personal abuse—In hopes of withdrawing from me that esteem which the public feel and avow for the representative of the French republic. They publish with great warmth that I have insulted you and that I have threatened you with an appeal to the people, as if you would permit any one with impunity to treat you with disrespect, or as if the slightest hint of an appeal, which, a Magistrate deserving of his high office, should ardently desire, was to you the greatest offence I could offer.4

It is become necessary, Sir, to dissipate these dark calumnies by truth, and publicity.—I dare therefore to expect from your candor and probity an explicit declaration that “I have never intimated to you an intention of appealing to the people; that it is not true that a difference in political sentiments has ever betrayed me to forget what was due to your character or to the exalted reputation you had acquired by humbling a tyrant against whom you fought in the cause of liberty.” A publication of your answer will be the only reply which shall be given to those party men, who never fail to confound the individual with affairs of state, which they too often make use of as a pretext for their zeal and a reason for dastardly appearing under anonimous signatures.5

As to myself, I have always openly declared what I thought, and signed what I had written, and if others have supposed they could advance my views, by newspaper publications and paragraphs they are much deceived—A good cause needs no advocate—Time and Truth will make it triumph, and ours must triumph in spite of its implacable enemies, and the present cold indifference of some who were its ancient friends.

I have the honor, &c.

Printed, Diary; or, Loudon’s Register (New York), 21 Aug. 1793; DfS (in French), with revisions in Genet’s writing, DLC: Genet Papers; Copy (in French), certified and signed by Genet, FrPMAE; Letterpress copy of a copy (in French), DLC: Jefferson Papers; Copy, NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers; Copy (in French), P.R.O.: FO 97/1. Genet provided both a French version and an English translation of this letter for publication. When published it was titled “Citizen GENET, Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic, to General WASHINGTON, President of the United States.” Genet’s dating of this letter as in the second year of the Republic reflects the French adoption of a Revolutionary Calendar on 5 Oct. 1792, with the first year beginning on 22 Sept. 1792. When GW received this letter, the original of which has not been found, he forwarded it with his letter to Thomas Jefferson of 15 August.

1For some of the letters sent by Genet to Jefferson, see Jefferson’s memoranda to GW of 11, 11–13 July 1793, and Genet to Jefferson, 25 July, 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 , 26:563–65. For some of the recent decisions made by the administration regarding U.S. neutrality, see the two Cabinet Opinions of 3 Aug. and that of 5 Aug. 1793.

2The French government had authorized Genet to negotiate a new commercial treaty with the United States (Genet to Jefferson, 23 May 1793, and source note, ibid., 96–99. For the existing Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance, both signed in 1778, see Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 3–48.

3On the failure of the federal government to obtain a conviction of American mariner Gideon Henfield for his service on a French privateer, see GW to Cabinet, 3 Aug., n.4.

4On 12 Aug. 1793, John Jay and Rufus King, in a signed letter addressed to “Messrs. Printers,” wrote: “CERTAIN late publications render it proper for us to authorize you to inform the Public, that a report having reached this City from Philadelphia, that Mr. Genet, the French Minister, had said he would Appeal to the People from certain decisions of the President; we were asked, on our return from that place, whether he had made such a declaration—we answered, that he had, and we also mentioned it to others, authorising them to say that we had so informed them” (Diary; or Loudon’s Register [New York], 12 Aug. 1793).

5Jefferson, rather than GW, responded to Genet’s request with a letter of 16 Aug. that reads: “The President of the U.S. has received the letter which you addressed to him from New York on the 13th instant, and I am desired to observe to you that it is not the established course for the diplomatic characters residing here to have any direct correspondence with him. The Secretary of state is the organ thro’ which their communication should pass.

“The President does not conceive it to be within the line of propriety or duty for him to bear evidence against a declaration, which, whether made to him or others, is perhaps immaterial. He therefore declines interfering in the case” (DLC: Genet Papers). This letter also was published in the 21 Aug. issue of the Diary; or Loudon’s Register.

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