Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 37 Citizen Genêt

THE reports which came to Philadelphia of Genêt's exceedingly dilatory, yet triumphant progress through the Southland filled all good Federalists with apprehension and made Washington simmer with tightly repressed anger. Hamilton felt that his premonitions had been vindicated; and Knox followed suit. Even Edmund Randolph, republican though he was, veered irresolutely from this forthcoming apparition of the revolution.

But Jefferson found nothing untoward in the curious actions of the new minister. He beamed approval over the manifestations of republican and Francophile sentiment; and he hoped they would strengthen his hand in what was rapidly becoming a solitary position in the councils of the Cabinet. Hamilton, he wrote venomously to Monroe, "is panic-struck if we refuse our breach to every kick which Gr Brit. may chuse to give it. He is for proclaiming at once the most abject principles, such as would invite & merit habitual insults. And indeed every inch of ground must be fought in our councils to desperation in order to hold up the face of even a sneaking neutrality, for our votes are generally 2½ against 1 ½."1 The fractional votes constituted Jefferson's mathematical estimate of Randolph's wavering between the two camps.

On May 17, 1793, more than five weeks after he had landed in Charleston, the new French plenipotentiary finally arrived in Philadelphia and was greeted by the same vast outpouring of cheering republicans as had attended him all along the way. He presented his credentials to Jefferson, who welcomed him cordially and took him to the President. There, for the first time, a decided chill became manifest in the atmosphere. Washington met him with formal politeness and spoke merely of American friendship toward France, but nothing of her Revolution.2

If Washington was chilly, the "yeomanry" of Philadelphia made up for it. It was a repetition of Charleston and the triumphal march, with banquets, toasts, and parades of the new Democratic society. Jefferson took the Frenchman promptly under his wing, and became as confidential and unbuttoned with him as Hamilton had ever been with the Englishman, Hammond.

Genêt was later to acknowledge Jefferson's assistance in orienting him to his strange surroundings and warning him against Hamilton and Senator Robert Morris who, so Jefferson told him, were attached to the interests of Great Britain and exercised the strongest influence on the President--an influence which Jefferson could hardly counterbalance.3

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