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determine on it; and it is to convince them of its practicability, that citizen Genet must direct all his attention."
After stating that France had a particular interest, in acting efficiently against England and Spain, and that the Americans were equally interested in disconcerting the destructive projects of George III, the executive council added, " as it is possible, however, that the false representations, which have been made to congress of the situation of our internal affairs, of the state of our maritime power, of our finances, and especially of the storms with which we are threatened, may make her ministers in the negociations which citizen Genet is entrusted to open, adopt a timid and wavering conduct, the executive council charges him, in expectation, that the American government will finally determine to make a common cause with us, to take such steps as will appear to him, the exigences may require, to serve the cause of liberty and the freedom of the people."
The real and ultimate views of the French government in sending a new minister to the United States, are here disclosed.
The "steps" he was charged to take in case of the "timid and wavering conduct" of the American government, referred no doubt, to enlisting the American people on the side of France, and through their influence, to induce, if not compel the government finally to make common cause with her; and the conduct of the French minister was in conformity with this ultimate object. And, but for the wisdom and prudence of the chief magistrate, and the indiscretion of the minister himself, the United States would probably at that period, have been involved in the destructive wars of Europe.
The French nation, being at war with the great maritime powers, perceived the importance and even the necessity of a relaxation of its colonial system. Immediately after the declaration of war against Great Britain and Holland, the national convention, therefore, passed a decree opening their ports in the East and West Indies, and granted special privileges to the vessels of the United States.
The communication of Mr. Genet, enclosing this decree, clearly evinced that a political as well as commercial compact between the two countries, was contemplated by the French government, and was at the same time, to be a subject of negociation.
"The French republic," says Mr. Genet, in his letter to the secretary of state, of the 23d of May, 1793, "seeing in the Americans but brothers, has opened to them by the decrees now enclosed, all her ports in the two worlds; has granted them all the favors which her own citizens enjoy, in her vast possessions; has invited them to participate the benefits of her navigation, in granting to their vessels, the same rights as to her own; and has charged me, to propose to your government, to establish in a true family compact, that is, in a national compact, the liberal and fraternal basis on which she wishes to see raised the commercial and political system of two people, all whose interests are confounded." He added, "that he was invested with the powers necessary to undertake this important negociation, of which the sad annals of humanity offer no example before the brilliant era at length opening upon it."
The first instructions of Genet, extracts from which we have just given, bore date the 4th day of January, 1793. On the 17th of the same month, he was furnished with additional instructions, more explicit as to the objects and conditions of the new compact he was directed to propose to the United States. The old treaty of alliance was to be more fully defined and enlarged; and a new guaranty of the French West India Islands was to be a sine qua non of the American commerce with these islands.
These instructions serve to explain the French ministers letter above mentioned, concerning the new "family compact."
"The executive council," say the last instructions, "wish that a new treaty, founded upon a basis more liberal and more fraternal, than that of 1778, may be concluded as soon as possible. As, however, they cannot conceal, that in the actual state of Europe, a negociation of this kind may be subject to many impediments, whether brought about by secret manœuvres of the English minister and his partizans in Philadelphia, by the timidity of
certain members of the federal government, who, notwithstanding their known patriotism, have always shown the strongest aversion to every measure which might be unpleasing to England, they think it right for the present, that citizen Genet should draw every advantage which the provisions of the subsisting treaty secure to the republic, until a new compact has more clearly and fully defined and enlarged them. In this view, which existing circumstances render particularly important, citizen Genet is expressly enjoined to make himself thoroughly master of the sense of the treaty of 1778, and to be watchful in the execution of the articles, which are favorable to the commerce and navigation of the French republic, and he shall endeavor to satisfy the Americans, that the engagements which may appear burdensome to them are the just price of that independence, which the French contributed to acquire for them."
With respect to the terms of this new family compact, the executive council in their last instructions say, "the reciprocal guaranty of the possessions of the two nations stipulated in the 11th article of the treaty of 1778, can be established upon generous principles, which have been already pointed out, and shall equally be an essential clause in the new treaty which will be proposed. The executive council in consequence, recommend especially to citizen Genet, to sound early the disposition of the American government, and to make it a condition sine qua non, of their free commerce with the West Indies, so essential to the United States. It nearly concerns the peace and prosperity of the French nation, that a people whose resources increase beyond all calculation, and whom nature hath placed so near our rich colonies, should become interested by their own engagements, in the preservation of these islands. The citizen Genet will find the less difficulty in making this proposition relished in the United States, as the great trade which will be the reward of it, will indemnify them ultimately for the sacrifices they may make at the outset, and the Americans cannot 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 nomin
al for them, while that on our part will be real, and we shall immediately put ourselves in a state to fulfil 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."
The French minister was also furnished with blank letters of marque, to be delivered" to such French or American owners as should apply for the same." There were also delivered to him by the minister at war, "officer's commissions in blank for several grades in the army."
At that period of the government the president had never made a treaty without previously consulting the senate. The French minister was, therefore, informed, that as "the senate was in recess, and could not meet again till the fall, the participation, in matters of treaty, given by the constitution to that branch of the government, would, of course, delay any definite answer to his friendly propositions."
The American executive was, at the same time, well aware that a political and not a commercial connection with the United States, was the real or principal object of the newly established republic. During the preceding year, the American government had repeatedly made overtures for new commercial arrangements with France, particularly with respect to her colonies. But these had been neglected. In the unsettled state of the new government, the president very wisely delayed meeting the propositions of Genet.
His views on the subject, greatly misrepresented at the time, were communicated to Mr. Munroe, while minister in France, in a letter from the secretary of state, of June 1st, 1795. Referring to these propositions, the secretary says," It is impossible to look into this subject, without remarking, that other principles may be conceived, upon which the executive might have refused to act immediately; but which do not appear to have influenced his designs. His attention must have been arrested by the diction of Mr. Genet's overtures. The president and the French republic had hitherto agitated a change in commercial regulations
only; when Mr. Genet announces a desire to modify the political connection also. The precise meaning of the word political, was not very obvious; though the most natural interpretation was, that the political relation, established by the treaty of alliance, was proposed to be revised.
"The project, therefore," the secretary added, "of a treaty on the basis of Mr. Genet's propositions, ought to have been well explored before the first advance. To assent to them, if it would not have been a departure from neutrality, would at least have magnified the suspicion of our faith, without a confidence in which, that neutrality must always be insecure: To reject them was to incur discontent, possibly a breach with an ally. The councils of nations ought to be superior to the passions which drive individuals. Permanent good being the polar star of the former, they will often have to encounter the impetuosity of the latter, who substitute feelings for sound policy.”*
Mr. Genet was instructed" to solicit the American government for the payment of the sums remaining due to France, though all the times stipulated for the reimbursement had not yet expired." As an inducement for anticipating these payments, it was proposed by the French government, that the whole of the money thus paid, should be expended in purchasing the various productions of the United States. One of the first official acts of the new minister, therefore, was, an application to the executive for this object. He proposed, that the whole of the debt due to France, be paid in specie or bank bills of equal currency with specie, or in government bonds, bearing interest and payable at certain specified periods; on condition that the sums advanced should be invested in the productions of America, for the supply of the French dominions. In answer to this proposition, the French minister was informed that the payment of the instalments, as they fell due, could then only be effected by new loans; and that it was not in the power of the United States to anticipate the payment of the whole sum at once. That the issue of government bonds to so large an amount, would tend greatly to injure * Munroe's View, pp. 240, 241, 242.