Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

new

secret instructions, charging him to endeavor to induce the American government to make common cause with France.

On the 23d of May, Genet communicated a decree of the French convention, by which American vessels were admitted into the ports of France and her East and West India colonies, with the same privileges as those enjoyed by her own. In the letter accompanying this decree, he says: “The French republic, seeing in the Americans but brothers, has opened to them, by the decrees now inclosed, all her ports in the two worlds; and has charged me to propose to your government to establish, in a true family compact, the liberal and fraternal basis on which she wishes to see raised the commercial and political system of the two people, all whose interests are confounded.” In forming this

compact” it was the object of the French executive council, as appears from their instructions, to enlarge the treaty of 1778. They suggest "a national agreement, to befriend the empire of liberty, to guaranty the sovereignty of the people, and to punish those powers who still keep up an exclusive colonial and commercial system, by declaring that their vessels shall not be received in the ports of the contracting parties.” Genet was instructed to require of the United States, in the “enlarged” treaty, a new guaranty of the French West India Islands, as a condition of their free commerce with those islands. His instructions say: “The citizen Genet will find the less difficulty in making this proposition relished in the United States, as the trade which will be the reward of it will indemnify them ultimately for the sacrifices they may make at the outset; and the Americans can not be ignorant of the great disproportion between their resources and those of the French republic; and that for a long period, the guaranty asked of them will be little else than nominal for them, while that on our part will be real; and we shall immediately put ourselves in a state to fulfill it, in sending to the American ports a sufficient force to put them beyond insult, and to facilitate their communication with the islands and with France."

From these instructions, and the subsequent conduct of Genet, it became evident to the American government, that, in the proposed modification of the commercial and political relations of the two countries, the chief object was to effect such a political connection with France, as would have identified the United States with her in all her fortunes.

France being engaged in war, and in want of funds, Genet was instructed to request the immediate payment of the remainder of the French debt, not yet due. As an inducement, he proposed to expend the whole sum (between two and three millions of dollars,) in the purchase of provisions and other productions of the United States. The government, unwilling to resort to new loans for this purpose, especially

[merged small][ocr errors]

as money could not then be obtained on favorable terms, declined the proposal

. At this refusal Genet took offense, and, in his reply, said it tended “ to accomplish the infernal system of the king of England, and of the other kings, his accomplices, to destroy, by famine, the French republicans and liberty."

Upon every decision of the government unfavorable to the designs of Genet, he made direct issue. He claimed the right to arm vessels in the ports of the United States, under that article of the treaty by which the parties agreed not to permit the enemies of either to fit out privateers in their ports. The express prohibition of this privilege to enemies, he considered as implying a permission to the parties themselves. The president maintained, that the silence of the treaty respecting the rights of the contracting parties did not justify the inference of the right claimed. This point, on which the treaty was silent, must be determined by circumstances. Genet also insisted on the right, by the treaty, to arm vessels and to try and sell prizes in American ports, under the article allowing each party to bring prizes into the ports of the other. The president considered this provision as merely a permission to the parties to enter and leave the ports of each other with prizes, but not of equipping vessels. Genet also held the singular doctrine, that the American government was not responsible for the acts of its citizens who had enlisted on board of the French privateers, as they had for the time renounced the protection of their own country.

Notwithstanding the determination of the government to enforce the rules of neutrality, Genet persisted in his unlawful acts. In his warfare against the government, he was encouraged by the aid he received from our own citizens. A powerful political party and its presses were allied with him in this warfare. The two opposition papers at Philadel. phia, Frencau's Gazette, and Bache's Advertiser, both pronounced the proclamation, not only a violation of the treaties with France, but a usurpation of the rights of congress. Genet was expressly told that the people would sustain him. The lead of these papers was soon followed by kindred presses in other parts of the union.

The paper first above mentioned exhorted thus: “The minister of France, I hope, will act with firmness and with spirit. The people are his friends, or the friends of France, and he will have nothing to apprehend; for as yet the people are sovereign of the United States. .. If one of the leading features of our government is pusillanimity, when the British lion shows his teeth, let France and her minister act as becomes the dignity and justice of her cause, and the honor and faith of nations." The other paper said: “It is no longer possible to doubt, that the intention of the executive of the United States is, to look upon

[ocr errors]

the treaty of amity and commerce between France and America, as a nullity; and that they are prepared to join the league of kings against France."

An impulse was also sought to be given to the cause of France by the formation of "democratic societies," on the plan of the Jacobin clubs of Paris. The first of these was formed in Philadelphia, soon after Genet's arrival. The declared object of these societies was the protection of American liberty against a "European confederacy,” and “the pride of wealth and arrogance of power" at home. These societies brought their influence to bear against the president, and in favor of the French minister. After the fall of Robespiere in France, these societies, as did their prototypes in Paris, soon died away.

Thus supported, it is not so strange that Genet persisted in setting the government at defiance. It was said that not less than fifty British vessels--some of them within the jurisdiction of the United States were captured by vessels fitted out and acting under his authority. And in spite of express prohibitions, French consuls continued to exercise admiralty powers, in holding prize courts, and in the condemnation and sale of prizes.

The language of the French minister in his correspondence was highly disrespectful and offensive. Obstructions to the arming of French vessels, he pronounced " an attempt on the rights of man,” and insinuated the charge against the American government of “a cowardly abandonment of their friends," and of acting against “the intention of the people of America," whose “ fraternal voice resounded from every quarter around him.”

Another subject of complaint by the French minister was, that French property had been taken by British cruisers from American vessels, without

any effort on the part of our government to reclaim it. This he declared to be contrary to the principles of neutrality and the law of nations, that “friendly vessels make friendly goods.” In permitting this seizure of French goods, he charged our government, indirectly, with tolerating" an audacious piracy," and says, “the French, too confidant, are punished for having believed that the (American) nation had a flag; that they had some respect for their laws, some conviction of their strength; and entertained some sentiment of dignity. But," says he, “ if our fellow-citizens have been deceived, and if you are not in a condition to maintain the sovereignty of your people, speak; we have guarantied it when slaves, we shall be able to render it formidable, having become freemen." And he wished to know what measures had been taken to restore the property plundered from his fellow-citizens, under the American flag.

The secretary of state, in answer, reminds the minister of a very important mistake. He is told that, by the law of nations, "the goods of a friend, found in the vessel of an enemy, are free; and that the goods of an enemy, found in the vessel of a friend, are lawful prize." It was true, that, by a special provision in our treaty with France, the character of the vessel should be imparted to the cargo; that is, free ships should make free goods. But no such regulation existed between the United States and Great Britain : therefore, in this case, the law of nations

must govern.

Genet's disrespect of the public authorities was strikingly evinced in the case of the Little Sarah. This vessel had been taken by a French frigate, and brought into the port of Philadelphia, where she was equipped as a privateer, and called Little Democrat. When the vessel was about to sail, Mr. Hamilton, to whom the fact had become known, communicated the same to the other secretaries, the president having been suddenly called to Mount Vernon. The interposition of the governor of Pennsylvania was requested, who sent his secretary of state, Mr. Dallas, to persuade Genet to detain the vessel, and save him the Decessity of employing force. On receiving the message, Genet became enraged, and indulged in intemperate language toward those officers of the government whom he considered inimical to the cause of France, and by whom the president was misled. He said the president had not the power to issue a proclamation of neutrality; it belonged to congress; and he intimated his intention to appeal from the president to the people. He would remain until the meeting of congress; and if the representatives of the people should sustain the president, he would depart, and leave the dispute to be settled by the two nations.

Genet having refused to give any pledge to detain the vessel, Gov. Mifflin ordered out one hundred and twenty men to take possession of her. Mr. Jefferson, desirous to prevent the employment of military force, called on Genet to induce him to give his word that the privateer should remain till the return of the president. But he refused, saying the crew would resist by force any attempt to scize the vessel ; declaring at the same time that she was not ready to sail. It was intended merely to move a little down the river that day; and the declaration that she was not yet ready to sail, was repeated in such a manner as to induce the belief that she would not depart. Mr. Jefferson having expressed this belief to the governor, the militia were dismissed. Messrs. Hamilton and Knox then proposed to erect a battery on Mud Island to prevent her passage down the river. Mr. Jefferson dissenting, the measure was not adopted; and before the arrival of the president, the vessel passed down to Chester, whence she might at any time sail without fear of having her progress arrested by the government

[subsumed][ocr errors]

The president reached Philadelphia on the 11th of July, and requested a cabinet meeting at his house the next morning. On reading the papers of the secretary of state relating to the Little Democrat, and the secretary not being present, a messenger was dispatched for him; but he had retired, indisposed, to his country seat. The president immediately addressed a letter to him, which contained the following: "What is to be done in the case of the Little Sarah now at Chester? Is the minister of the French republic to set the acts of this government at defiance with impunity, and then threaten the executive with an appeal to the people ? What must the world think of such conduct, and of the government of the United States in submitting to it? These are serious questions, circumstances press for decision; and as you have had time to consider them, (upon me they come unexpectedly,) I wish to know your opinion upon them even before to-morrow; for the vessel may then be gone." The secretary answered, that immediate coercive measures had been suspended, on the assurances of Genet that the vessel would await the president's decision.

It was agreed in the cabinet council, to refer to the judges of the supreme court, the case of the Little Democrat, together with the subjects of difference between the executive and the French minister in the construction of treaties; and to retain in port all privateers equipped by France and England within the United States. Genet was informed of this determination; but before any decision could be had, the Little Democrat sailed, and other vessels soon followed.

The conduct of the French minister having at length become intoler: able, it was unanimously agreed in cabinet council, that a statement of his acts, and a copy of his correspondence, with a letter requesting his recall, should be sent to Gouverneur Morris, to be laid before the French executive council. Genet, to whom a copy of the statement was communicated, was highly exasperated by this proceeding. His invectives were directed not only against the president and those members of the cabinet whom he considered "partisans of monarchy;" he did not in this case spare the secretary of state, whom he had regarded as a friend, and who had “ initiated him into mysteries which had inflamed his hatred against all those who aspired to absolute power.” He disapproved the use of “ an official language, and a language confidential.”

Genet, as well as the French consuls, persisted in the exercise of his unauthorized powers. His crowning acts of sovereignty within the United States, were the setting on foot of two military expeditions against the Spanish dominions; one from South Carolina and Georgia for the invasion of the Floridas; the other from Kentucky against New Orleans and Louisiana. He had issued commissions for the enlistment

« PředchozíPokračovat »