4. The Citizen Genet affair rocked the Washington Administration
In April, 1793, the Revolutionary Government of France dispatched Edmond-Charles Genet to the United States as its ambassador. Chief among his duties was securing the support of the United States in France’s wars with Spain and Britain. Washington declared American neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars that same month. Genet had other ideas. Upon his arrival in the United States at Charleston, South Carolina, Genet commissioned privateers to raid British and Spanish shipping, under the French flag. He also recruited a personal militia, with the expressed intention of attacking Spanish and British holdings in what was then the two Floridas. Ordinarily, the first duty of a foreign ambassador is to present their credentials to the visited government. Genet ignored this duty for over a month as he prepared for war, from American territory, against France’s enemies.
Washington was outraged, both at Genet’s flaunting of protocol, and the hostile activities which threatened to violate his expressed neutrality. Washington’s cabinet was frequently divided, almost perpetually, with Alexander Hamilton expressing Federalist views. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson held Democratic-Republican opinions. Yet both men agreed the activities of the Frenchman Genet were dangerous and required immediate curtailment. As Genet traveled north to meet with the government in Philadelphia, his frequent stops led to the development of societies supporting his views. Washington angrily denounced the societies, though he did not take legal actions against them. Hamilton and Jefferson endorsed the President’s stand, a rare case of the cabinet uniting during the turbulent second administration of President Washington. Genet arrived in Philadelphia to present his credentials in May, 1793, to find a government not eager to accept him.