Washington's Neutrality Proclamation and the Genêt Affair

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Washington's Neutrality Proclamation and the Genêt Affair

Edmond Charles Édouard Genêt (1763-1834) had been a representative for France in Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin just before the French Revolution. A short time later, in 1792, he was removed from his position in Russia because of his revolutionary passions.

At this time, Americans were following the French Revolution very closely, but France's declaration of war on Great Britain hadn't greatly affected American politics, yet. This changed in 1972, when none other than Edmond Charles Genêt was chosen to serve as the new French envoy to the United States. When he arrived, French supporters went crazy. Genêt saw this and decided to use his new popularity and influence to act on his radical beliefs. He attempted to gather troops to launch an attack on Spanish Florida and pay fleets of privateers to cripple British commerce. These actions violated Washington's promise to remain "friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers" which was the basis of his Neutrality Proclamation. Washington devised this treaty, which excluded the United States from the French Revolutionary Wars because America was still relatively young and unprepared for involvement in such international conflict. Reluctant to break his own terms and irritated by such deliberate acts of rebellion, the President, backed by Alexander Hamilton (pro-British), reacted with strong opposition towards Genêt's demonstrations. Many other French supporters similar to Genêt had been tried for violating the neutrality, but were protected by pro-French juries. Washington banned the use of U.S. ports to the privateers, so Genêt threatened to turn to the people for their opinion. This had gone too far, so the President promptly implored that the French government recall their troublesome minister. They consented without argument, and Genêt was asked to return to his country. Before he arrived in France, Genêt was disheartened to discover that...
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