American Revolution, French Revolution, Jacobins, Girondins, Proclamation of Neutrality, Jay Treaty, Hamilton, Jefferson and Citizen Genêt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2012

Politics 101

The Americans stuck by the Rule of Law while the French descended into Mob Rule

The American Revolutionary War was pretty brutal at times.  Especially on the frontier.  And in the civil war in the South.  Where Patriot and Loyalist could be rather cruel to one time friends and neighbors.  But for the most part both the professional soldiers and politicians practiced restraint.  And prosecuted the war by international law.  And a code of honor.  When the Americans defeated Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga the defeated soldiers did not suffer cruel acts of vengeance.  Instead they got rather generous terms of surrender.

When the war was over there were a few flare ups such as Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.  But these were the exception.  Not the rule.  The newly independent states had problems.  Which they addressed through political debate in Philadelphia.  And they drafted a new constitution.  This unleashed bitter partisan debate.  But only bitter partisan debate.  The states ratified the Constitution.  And the new nation went forth.  It wasn’t quite like this in the French Revolution.  Where the streets literally ran with blood.

Jean-Paul Marat, Georges-Jacques Danton and Jacobin Maximillien Robespierre were no Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison.  The Americans stuck by the rule of law.  While the French descended into mob rule.  Where competing mobs rallied around different movements.  The Jacobins, the Cordeliers and the Girondins.  Who all incited the mobs to violence.  Against the ancien régime.  The monarchy.  And the Church.  As well as any counterrevolutionaries.  And anyone lacking in revolutionary zeal.

In 1793 French Revolutionaries Guillotined King Louis and Marie Antoinette

The mobs became judge, jury and executioner.  The Paris Commune (the revolutionary ruling authority in Paris) sanctioned the mobs.  Who could act with impunity.  While the people even watched.  And cheered.  Revolutionaries fell on imprisoned political prisoners.  Priests.  The Swiss Guards who protected the king.  As well as the royal servants and clerics.  They forced prisoners to run a gauntlet of revolutionaries armed with swords, knives, pikes, axes and other blunt and sharp instruments.  And bludgeoned and hacked them to death as they ran screaming back and forth.

And the violence grew.  With torture becoming sport.  The level of barbarity reached such levels to include the butchering of women.  Including the hacking off of a woman’s breasts.  Then setting a bonfire beneath her spread legs.  While the people cheered.  They brutally killed Princess de Lamballe, consort of Marie Antoinette.  Bludgeoned with a hammer, stripped naked, mutilated and dragged through the streets of Paris.  Then guillotined.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  They cut out her heart and roasted it over a fire.  Then stuck her bloodied head on a pike.  Took it to a hair salon to fix her hair.  Then returned it to the pike.  As they impaled her naked body on another pike.  Her crime?  She refused to denounce her king and queen.

In 1793 they guillotined King Louis.  The executioner held up his severed head and the people cheered.  Later that year they guillotined Marie Antoinette.  The executioner held up her severed head and the people cheered.  And the processions to the guillotine increased.  Enemies of the revolution.  People falsely accused of being enemies of the revolution.  And a lot of Girondins.  Who the Jacobins condemned.  And guillotined.  Then the people condemned the Jacobins.  And guillotined them.  They even condemned American Patriot Thomas Paine (who was in Paris and even helped write one of the revolutionary constitutions—unfortunately for him it was with the Girondins) to the guillotine.  But he would escape the guillotine and return to America.  They even imprisoned George Washington’s ‘adopted’ son, the Marquis de La Fayette.  Who fought with him throughout the American Revolution.  But he, too, survived.  Though he would languish in a prison for some 5 years.

When Genêt arrived in Philadelphia Washington greeted him with Portraits of King Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuously behind Him

The events in France would reverberate across the Atlantic.  And further divide an already divided Washington administration.  As the French Revolution escalated the Americans were negotiating the Jay Treaty to resolve some issues left over from the Revolutionary War.  The end result was that the British and the new United States of America moved closer together.  Which really offended the pro-French elements in the Washington administration.  In particular Jefferson and Madison.  While inflaming the French.  For following the Reign of Terror the French exported their revolution throughout Europe.  And soon were at war with the old European monarchies.  Including Great Britain.  Again.

Interestingly, neither Jefferson nor Madison fought in the Revolution.  While Alexander Hamilton and George Washington did.  And yet they were for closer ties to Britain and not revolutionary France.  Why?  America’s future depended on trade.  Most of that trade was with Great Britain.  And that trade enjoyed the protection of the world’s most powerful navy.  The Royal Navy.  It was the pragmatic choice.  Jefferson, though, thought it showed Hamilton’s true colors.  That he was an aristocrat who wanted to turn America into a monarchy like Britain.  That he wanted power for himself.  Not individual liberty.  As exemplified in the American republic.  And in the republic the French were fighting for.  The French believed so strongly in liberty that they turned to world conquest.  Bringing that liberty to oppressed people everywhere.  Which Jefferson liked.  He saw a republican revolution sweeping the world, leaving a swath of liberty in its wake.  Others saw mob rule in France and the execution of a king and queen.  Which absolutely appalled Washington.

George Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in these new European wars.  Which meant they weren’t going to help their one time ally.  France.  Which irked Jefferson.  Then came the Jay Treaty.  Further irking Jefferson.  And the American people.  For the people were clearly behind the French.  And did not like the British at all.  Which made President Washington a very unpopular president at the time.  Then the French sent over Edmond-Charles Genêt.  Citizen Genêt.  The new French ambassador to the United States.  And he was on a mission.  To get American support for their wars against Spain and Great Britain.  Something Jefferson was eager to support.  He communicated with Genêt.  Who assured Genêt that the Franco-American alliance would persevere.  Despite any proclamation or treaty.  He looked forward to his arrival in Philadelphia.  But he didn’t go to Philadelphia to meet President Washington.  He went to South Carolina first.  Where he recruited American privateers to join the French on their attacks on British shipping.  And tried to raise armies to attack Spanish Florida and Louisiana.  And eventually the British in North America as well.  When word of these activities reached Washington he was furious.

When Genêt finally arrived in Philadelphia Washington greeted him with portraits of King Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuously behind him.  The king that was America’s staunchest ally during the American Revolution.  And the king the French had recently executed.  Genêt asked Washington to suspend their neutrality.  The answer was no.  Even Jefferson agreed and told the French ambassador he was out of line.  Actually joining Hamilton on this one issue.  Soon the Jacobins back in France issued an arrest warrant for Citizen Genêt and asked him to return to France.  Knowing that meant a trip to the guillotine he asked Washington for asylum.  That Washington granted on the advice of Hamilton.  Thus ending the Genêt affair.  But the French Revolution still threatened the young American republic.  First by an overwhelming public sentiment to stand by France.  Then by overwhelming public sentiment to go to war against France.  Something that would threaten to tear apart the next presidential administration.

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