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The Citizen Genet Affair
Digital History ID 223

Author:   Thomas Jefferson


During 1793 and 1794, a series of explosive controversies divided followers of Hamilton and Jefferson. Washington's administration confronted a French effort to entangle the United States in its war with England, armed rebellion in western Pennsylvania, Indian resistance, and the threat of war with Britain. These controversies intensified party spirit and increased voting along party lines in Congress.

In April 1793, "Citizen" Edmond Charles Genet (1763-1834), a French minister, arrived in the United States and passed out letters authorizing Americans to attack British commercial vessels and Spanish New Orleans. Washington regarded these actions as a clear violation of American neutrality and demanded that France recall its minister. The Genet affair did have an important effect--it intensified party feeling. From Vermont to South Carolina citizens organized Democratic-Republican clubs to celebrate the triumphs of the French Revolution. Hamilton and his supporters suspected that these societies really existed to stir up grass-roots opposition to the Washington administration.


The [yellow] fever [epidemic] which at that time had given alarm in Philadelphia, became afterward far more destructive than had been apprehended, & continued much longer from the uncommon drought & warmth of the autumn. The 1st day of this month...began the first rains which had fallen for some months. They were copious, & from that moment the...disease terminated most suddenly. The inhabitants who had left the city, are now all returned, & business going on again as briskly as ever....

Our negotiations with the Northwestern Indians have completely failed, so that war must settle our difference. We expected nothing else, & had gone into the negotiations only to prove to all our citizens that peace was unattainable on terms which any one of them would admit.

You have probably heard of a great misunderstanding between Mr Genet & us. On the meeting of Congress it will be made public.... We have kept it merely personal, convinced his nation [France] will disapprove him. To them [the French] we have with the utmost assiduity given every proof of inviolate attachment. We wish to hear from you on the subject of M. de la Fayette, tho we know that circumstances [the increasing radicalism of the French Revolution, which put the lives of moderates like Lafayette in danger] do not admit sanguine hopes.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney

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