Sunday, October 28, 2007
Edmond Genet and the "Plot" to Destroy the Republic
During the early years of the new American republic, scandals and conspiracies ran ramped. Division between those for a strong federal system of government (the Federalists) and those for limited centralized power (the Democratic-Republicans) grew to create a widening rift in the political arena. Issues such as the Jay Treaty had caused an uproar amongst Democratic-Republicans that only intensified with the election of John Adams. The political stance of Washington and Adams (which gave economic favor to the British) deeply angered Democratic-Republican supporters (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison being the primary leaders of that movement). Jefferson and Madison believed in giving strong support to the French cause that was rapidly moving toward revolution itself. In their minds, to deny the French would be treasonous against the very ideals of the revolution itself. As war between England and France continued to grow, America's economic preference with the British made relations with the French extremely tense. The result of such diplomatic desisions ended in a quasi-naval war between the French U.S. that greatly plagued the presidency of John Adams, and made the political feud between Federalist and Democratic-Republican impossible to resolve
The arrival of Edmond Genet as French ambassador to the United States only intensified the ongoing political battle. Federalist leaders (Alexander Hamilton leading their charge) saw the arrival of Genet as a precursor to an even deeper plot to undermine the sovereignty of the new American republic. The Democratic-Republicans, who welcomed Genet with open arms, hoped that his presence would be seen as an act of good will on the part of the French government.
The Federalists disagreed. For the Democratic-Republicans to welcome an "enemy" was equivalent to seeking the destruction of the new federalist government. For men like Hamilton, Genet was only a foreshadowing of the guillotine, which would sever not only the heads of Federalist leaders, but would destroy everything the revolution had created. From this Federalist perspective, it is no wonder that President Adams would take action to suppress such an uprising. The Alien & Sedition Acts, which would come a few years later, are evidence of the hysteria that captivated and drove the Federalists to assume that their demise was just around the corner.
For the modern reader, such actions may sound completely irrational. Why would the presence of one French diplomat cause such uproar? The fact is that the politics surrounding the early American republic were not only supercharged, but were deeply rooted in decades of struggle. The American Revolution (which is much more than a simple war) had turned social structures completely upside down. It would only be natural for contemporaries of this time to carry a sense of dread and worry. These were uncertain times, and hindsight was not an option. Events such as the arrival of Genet, the Alien & Sedition Acts, and others would polarize the new nation, creating an atmosphere ripe for ambitious politicians to capitalize on.