Edmond-Charles Genêt

Edmond-Charles Genêt

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Edmond-Charles Genêt also known as Citizen Genêt, was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 ambassador to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...


Early life

Genêt was born in Versailles
Versailles , a city renowned for its château, the Palace of Versailles, was the de facto capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. It is now a wealthy suburb of Paris and remains an important administrative and judicial centre...

 in 1763. He was the ninth child and only son of a French civil servant, Edmond Jacques Genet (September 11, 1726 – September 11, 1781), head clerk in the ministry of foreign affairs. The elder Genet analyzed British naval strength during the Seven Years War and monitored the progress of the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. 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
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg...

. In 1792, Catherine declared Genêt persona non grata
Persona non grata
Persona non grata , literally meaning "an unwelcome person", is a legal term used in diplomacy that indicates a proscription against a person entering the country...

, calling his presence "not only superfluous but even intolerable." The same year, the Girondist
The Girondists were a political faction in France within the Legislative Assembly and the National Convention during the French Revolution...

s rose to power in France and appointed Genêt to the post of minister to the United States.

Citizen Genêt Affair

The Citizen Genêt affair began in 1793 when he was dispatched to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to promote American support for France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

's wars with Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...


Genêt arrived in Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

, South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 on the warship Embuscade on April 8. Instead of traveling to the then-capital of Philadelphia to present himself to U.S. President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 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 privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...

s which would join French expeditions against the British. He commissioned four privateering ships in total, including the Republicaine, the Anti-George, and the Sapoopnêt. Working with French consul Michel Ange Bernard Mangourit
Michel Ange Bernard Mangourit
Michel Ange Bernard Mangourit was a French diplomat, and French ambassador to the United States from 1796 to 1800.-Life:He was the son of Bernard de Mangourit and Marguerite-Angélique Cairgnon de La Touche....

, Genêt organized American volunteers to fight Britain's Spanish allies in Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

. 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
Democratic-Republican Societies
Democratic-Republican Societies were local political organizations formed in the United States in 1793-94 to promote republicanism and democracy and to fight aristocratic tendencies...

, 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
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 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
Federalist Party (United States)
The Federalist Party was the first American political party, from the early 1790s to 1816, the era of the First Party System, with remnants lasting into the 1820s. The Federalists controlled the federal government until 1801...

 Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

 and the Democratic-Republican
Democratic-Republican Party (United States)
The Democratic-Republican Party or Republican Party was an American political party founded in the early 1790s by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Political scientists use the former name, while historians prefer the latter one; contemporaries generally called the party the "Republicans", along...

 Jefferson agreed. Genêt replied obstinately.

The Jacobins
Jacobin Club
The Jacobin Club was the most famous and influential political club in the development of the French Revolution, so-named because of the Dominican convent where they met, located in the Rue St. Jacques , Paris. The club originated as the Club Benthorn, formed at Versailles from a group of Breton...

, 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
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

, 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
George Clinton (vice president)
George Clinton was an American soldier and politician, considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was the first Governor of New York, and then the fourth Vice President of the United States , serving under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He and John C...

. She died in 1810 and in 1818 Genêt married Martha Brandon Osgood, the daughter of Samuel Osgood
Samuel Osgood
Samuel Osgood was an American merchant and statesman born in North Andover Massachusetts, parent town of the Andovers. His family home still stands at 440 Osgood Street in North Andover...

, the United States' first Postmaster General
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...


Genêt lived on a farm he called Prospect Hill located in East Greenbush
East Greenbush (town), New York
East Greenbush is a town in Rensselaer County, New York, USA. The population was 15,560 at the 2000 census. The word Greenbush is derived from the Dutch "Greenen Bosch," referring to the pine woods that originally covered the land. The first settlement of the land now known as East Greenbush was...

, New York overlooking the Hudson River
Hudson River
The Hudson is a river that flows from north to south through eastern New York. The highest official source is at Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the slopes of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains. The river itself officially begins in Henderson Lake in Newcomb, New York...

. Living the life of a gentleman farmer, he wrote a book about inventions.

He died on July 14, 1834 and is buried in the churchyard behind the Greenbush Reformed Church, about two miles east of his farm.

See also

  • Franco-U.S. relations
  • Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan
    Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan
    Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan, born Henriette Genet was a French educator and lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette before and during the French Revolution....

    (1752–1822), Genêt's eldest sister and author

External links