Edmond Charles Genêt|
January 8, 1763
July 14, 1834 71) (aged|
East Greenbush, New York, U.S.
|Other names||Citizen Genêt|
Early life and education
Genêt was born in Versailles in 1763. He was the ninth and final child of a French civil servant, Edmond Jacques Genêt (September 11, 1726 – September 11, 1781), who was a head clerk in the ministry of foreign affairs. The elder Genêt analyzed British naval strength during the Seven Years' War and monitored the progress of the American Revolutionary War. Genêt was a prodigy who could read French, English, Italian, Latin, Swedish, and German by the age of 12.
At 18, Genêt was appointed court translator, and in 1788 he was sent to the French embassy in Saint Petersburg. Over time, Genêt became disenchanted with the ancien régime, learning to despise not just the French monarchy but all monarchical systems, including Tsarist Russia under Catherine the Great. In 1792, Catherine declared Genêt persona non grata, calling his presence "not only superfluous but even intolerable." The same year, the Girondists rose to power in France and appointed Genêt to the post of minister to the United States.
Citizen Genêt Affair
Genêt arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on the French frigate Embuscade on April 8. Instead of traveling to the then-capital of Philadelphia to present himself to U.S. President George Washington for accreditation, Genêt stayed in South Carolina. There he was greeted with enthusiasm by the people of Charleston, who threw a string of parties in his honor.
Genêt's goals in South Carolina were to recruit and arm American privateers who would join French expeditions against the British. He commissioned four privateering ships in total, including the Republicaine, the Anti-George, the Sans-Culotte, and the Citizen Genêt. Working with French consul Michel Ange Bernard Mangourit, Genêt organized American volunteers to fight Britain's Spanish allies in Florida. After raising a militia, Genêt set sail toward Philadelphia, stopping along the way to marshal support for the French cause and arriving on May 18. He encouraged Democratic-Republican societies, but President Washington denounced them and they quickly withered away.
His actions endangered American neutrality in the war between France and Britain, which Washington had pointedly declared in his Neutrality Proclamation of April 22. When Genêt met with Washington, he asked for what amounted to a suspension of American neutrality. When turned down by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and informed that his actions were unacceptable, Genêt protested. Meanwhile, Genêt's privateers were capturing British ships, and his militia was preparing to move against the Spanish.
Genêt continued to defy the wishes of the United States government, capturing British ships and rearming them as privateers. Washington sent Genêt an 8,000-word letter of complaint on Jefferson's and Hamilton's advice – one of the few situations in which the Federalist Alexander Hamilton and the Republican Jefferson agreed. Genêt replied obstinately. President Washington and his Cabinet then demanded that France recall Genêt as its Ambassador.
The Jacobins, having taken power in France by January 1794, sent an arrest notice which asked Genêt to come back to France. Genêt, knowing that he would likely be sent to the guillotine, asked Washington for asylum. It was Hamilton – Genêt's fiercest opponent in the cabinet – who convinced Washington to grant him safe haven in the United States.
Later life and death
Genêt moved to New York State and married Cornelia Clinton in 1794, the daughter of New York Governor George Clinton. Their son was Henry J. Genet (1800–1872), a member of the State Assembly in 1832. Cornelia died in 1810, and on July 31, 1814, Genêt married Martha Brandon Osgood, the daughter of Samuel Osgood, the United States' first Postmaster General.
He died on July 14, 1834 and is buried in the churchyard behind the Greenbush Reformed Church, about two miles east of his farm.
- Franco-U.S. relations
- Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan (1752–1822), Genêt's eldest sister and author
- Aglaé-Louise Auguié (1782-1854), wife of Marshal Ney of France, and Genêt's niece.
- Edmond Genet (b.1896) who served with the Lafayette Escadrille and was killed in action in 1917 was Genêt's great-grandson
- A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great Britain Delivered December 5, 1793, With the Papers Therein Referred to, to Which are Added the French Originals, Published by Order of the House of Representatives. Philadelphia: printed by Charles and Swaine. 1793. p. 28-29. Retrieved 14 April 2016 – via Google Books.
- Ammon, Harry. The Genet Mission. New York: W.W. Norton, 1971.
- Childs, Frances Sergeant. French Refugee Life in the United States, 1790–1800: An American Chapter of the French Revolution Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1940.
- Elkins, Stanley, and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
- Link, Eugene Perry. Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942.
- Sheridan, Eugene R. "The Recall of Edmond Charles Genet: A Study in Transatlantic Politics and Diplomacy". Diplomatic History, Vol. 18 (Fall 1994), 463-68.
- Thomas, Charles Marion. American Neutrality in 1793: A Study in Cabinet Government. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931.
- Unger, Harlow Giles. The French War Against America: How a Trusted Ally Betrayed Washington and the Founding Fathers. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.
- Citizen Genêt and Foreign Policy - historical context
- The Origin of Genet's Projected Attack on Louisiana and the Floridas – (AHR 3:650‑671)
- Information about Citizen Genêt can be found in the Genêt Family Papers, which contains manuscripts, letters, correspondences, compilations, circulars, and photographs related to Edmond Charles Genêt and his diverse career as diplomat, inventor, farmer, and correspondent with the leaders of American government, society, and scientific thought, in the Albany Institute of History & Art Library.