William Findley was a new self-styled Republican. For him, the Republican societies were a vehicle for political strategy. When Edmond Charles Genet, French Revolution’s new minister plenipotentiary, came to the United States, he got himself elected as president of one of the Republican societies, leading to anti-Genet rallies being organized against his involvement.
William Findley was a sharp example of one of the new self-styled Republicans. Findley had immigrated to Pennsylvania from Northern Ireland in 1763. He was elected to the Pennsylvania assembly as an energetic supporter of the 1776 Constitution.
Findley sat in the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention as an opponent of the Constitution, declaring that the powers given to the federal body for imposing internal taxation will necessarily destroy the state sovereignties for there cannot exist two independent sovereign taxing powers in the same community, and the strongest will, of course, annihilate the weaker.
In 1790, he was elected to Congress to represent Western Pennsylvania, where he made no claim to virtuous Republican impartiality. He made himself a nuisance to Alexander Hamilton, and he was one of the three representatives who wrote the resolutions demanding Hamilton’s resignation in 1792.
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Findley embraced the new Republican societies as a vehicle for political strategy.
Madison had already bolted in this direction in his essays for Freneau’s National Gazette. Jefferson soon followed. They did not actually join the societies, but they did not need to, so long as the societies were calling for “a radical change of measures” and denying “the continuance of our confidence to such members of the legislative body as have an interest distinct from that of the people.”
Just how radical this change might be was indicated first by the repeated assertions of the Republican societies that the interests of the American and French revolutions were bound together, and then by what was happening in the French Revolution.
Learn more about Alexander Hamilton’s papers.
Effect of the French Revolution
Once the unhappy king of France, Louis XVI, was executed by the revolutionaries in January 1793, aristocratic Europe declared war on the French. The revolutionaries responded with the paranoid Reign of Terror but with a reign of cultural silliness, which would have been laughable had it not been promoted with such deadly seriousness by the most radical of the revolutionary factions, the Jacobins.
A new set of public revolutionary festivals—such as the Feast of Unity and Indivisibility in August 1793—replaced the old religious holidays. Christianity was outlawed in favor of a cult of the supreme being. The calendar was rewritten to create a week of ten, rather than seven days. They even proposed to recalculate the years from the official abolition of the monarchy; 1792 would thus become the Year I, 1793 the Year II, and so on. Overshadowing anyone who smirked at these innovations was a new device for execution, the guillotine.
None of this might have done more than amuse American observers until the behavior of the new French Revolutionary emissary to America began to suggest that the French had plans to export their brand of revolutionary fervor to the American republic.
Learn more about the Quasi-War with France.
Edmond Charles Genet: Revolution’s Minister Plenipotentiary
Edmond Charles Genet was the son of a minor diplomatic official in the government of Louis XVI. After the Revolution removed the king, he allied himself with the Girondiste faction of the Revolutionaries.
In January 1793, Genet was dispatched to the United States as the Revolution’s new minister plenipotentiary. His instructions were peculiar.
The embattled Revolutionaries directed him firstly to recruit by fair means or foul any French-speaking inhabitants of North America as volunteers for an expedition against the Spanish along the Mississippi river; secondly, to commission American merchant vessels through “letters of marque” as privateers, to war on British shipping; and thirdly, if possible, to persuade the Washington administration to join France in a “national pact in which the two peoples would amalgamate their commercial and political interests”.
Genet and Washington
Genet arrived in Charleston on April 8, 1793. He then issued letters-of-marque for four privateers, dropped hints that he planned to “excite the Canadians to free themselves from the yoke of England”, and even paid to outfit a captured British ship, the Little Sarah, as a 14-gun French Revolutionary brig, the Petite Democrate.
Washington erupted when he learned of Genet’s activities, forbidding the Petite Democrate to leave port. Genet responded, in a colossal breach of diplomatic protocol, by announcing that he would appeal over Washington’s head to the American people as a whole.
It did nothing to endear Genet to Washington that Genet allowed himself to be elected president of one of the Republican societies, or that Jefferson, as Secretary of State, had been an audience to Genet’s schemes.
To Washington, Genet posed the twin threat of starting wars with both Spain and England at a time when the Americans were barely starting to be able to pay their own bills.
Genet’s Impact on the Political World
To Hamilton, Genet was the symbol of a revolution gone awry. He encouraged Rufus King and John Jay to sponsor anti-Genet rallies in New York and New England.
Jefferson, struggling to disentangle himself from Genet, announced his resignation as Secretary of State at the end of July 1793. Washington persuaded him to delay it until the end of the year, and Jefferson relented.
But the societies were another matter. Washington saw in the societies only the clubs that had toasted “Citizen” Genet.
So when the protests over the whiskey excise finally exploded in violence in the summer of 1794, Washington was prepared to turn his full wrath on the tax protesters as the treasonous offspring of “Citizen” Genet and “the first formidable fruit of the Democratic Societies.”
Common Questions about Republican Societies: Agendas and Impact of French Revolution
William Findley declared that the powers given to the federal body for imposing internal taxation would destroy the state sovereignties for there could not be two independent sovereign taxing powers in the same community.
Edmond Charles Genet was the son of a minor diplomatic official in the government of Louis XVI. In January 1793, Genet was dispatched to the United States as the Revolution’s new minister plenipotentiary.
Edmond Charles Genet issued letters-of-marque for four privateers, dropped hints that he planned to “excite the Canadians to free themselves from the yoke of England”, and paid to outfit a captured British ship as a 14-gun French Revolutionary brig.