Nationalism and Internationalism: Essays Inscribed to Carlton J. H. Hayes

By Edward Mead Earle | Go to book overview

A SECRET AGENT'S ADVICE ON AMERICA, 1797

FRANCES S. CHILDS

AN INFORMAL LETTER addressed to "cher Alexandre" and signed "Je vous embrasse, Maurice" is a surprise in a volume of French diplomatic correspondence, dealing with Franco-American relations in the late eighteenth century. And five such letters in rapid succession1--letters in which considerable detailed information and forthright opinion on contemporary conditions in the United States are interspersed with complaints about nagging ill- health and insufferable boredom--are enough of a surprise to make one wonder whether one may not have unearthed a nugget of gold in this veritable mountain of serious, long-winded, and extremely polite documents. Who is Alexander? Who is Maurice? What is all this about? As one moves backward and forward in the records, their identities emerge and their correspondence can very gradually be put together. The nugget is the correspondence of a French secret agent in the United States during the summer of 1797.

Alexander was Pierre Auguste Adet ( 1783-1832)2 who, in June 1795, had succeeded Fauchet and the Commissioners, who in their turn had succeeded Citizen Charles Edmond Genêt as Minister Plenipotentiary of the French Republic, one and indivisible, to the United States of America. Originally educated as a scientist, Adet had served in Santo Domingo and as head of the colonial administration before being assigned to the United States. A somewhat milder man than his predecessors, he was concerned with building up good will for France as well as realizing French aims; but Genêt's dynamic and undiplomatic revolutionary spirit had sown the wind, Fauchet had failed to deflect it, and Adet was left to reap the whirl- wind of anti-French sentiment in the United States at the end of the

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1
France, Affaires Étrangères, Paris, Correspondance Politique, États-Unis (hereafter referred to as Aff. Étr., Cor. Pol. É.-U.), vol. 47, folios 393-96; vol. 48, fols. 3-4, 13-16, 66-67 vo., 141 vo.-142.
2
"Correspondence of the French Ministers in the United States," American Historical Association Annual Report, 1903 ( Washington, 1904), II, Introduction, pp. 12, 728, note a. See also Nouvelle biographie générale ( Paris, 1858), I, 278-79.

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