The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
EVENTS AND OPINIONS

GENÊT AFFAIR

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION met with the immediate approval of a great many people in the United States. This enthusiasm was shared by both the Federalists and their opponents. Such a reaction was hardly unnatural. Americans remembered with gratitude the assistance extended to the patriots during their own revolution. They gloried in doctrines that proclaimed the rights of man and the freedom of the individual. This political affinity was practically enhanced by French willingness to permit American traders to enter her island possessions, a privilege accorded by no other nation. And most important of all, Franco-American ties had been cemented by a treaty of formal alliance.1

In 1792 France's admirers in America rejoiced in her brilliant military victories as she courageously met the foes who had determined to encircle her and quench the new fires of democracy. She had indeed become the crusading champion of all those who embraced the stirring concepts of freedom and equality. The Philadelphia press recorded every shock of her clashing armies and reported fully on the latest ideas that emanated from Paris to shake the European continent. Public zeal made the month-old news vital and timely. And if newspaper content is any criterion, the Philadelphia citizenry was more interested in world affairs than in tavern brawls, vital statistics or the latest armed robbery on Market Street.

Three events caused a division in American opinion regarding France: the September massacres, the execution of Louis XVI, and the entrance of England into the war on the side of the monarchies. The first two combined to alienate many, principally Federalists, because of the implied threat to law and order. The last posed a very delicate and practical commercial problem. It was expected that the war would become a struggle for naval supremacy, which could vitally affect America's international position and commerce.

The French government, naturally anxious to maintain profitable and friendly relations with a country as commercially important as the United States, appointed Edmond Genêt as minister to Philadel.

-75-

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