Sold – Samuel Adams Laments the Death of His Protégé, John Hancock; Encourages Citizen Genet to Defy

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As a Massachusetts legislator, Adams organized the protest against the Stamp Act in 1765 and was a founder of the Sons of Liberty. He drafted most of the major protest documents against the Crown, including the Circular Letter against the Townshend Acts. After 1770 he was the focal point in the creation...

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Sold – Samuel Adams Laments the Death of His Protégé, John Hancock; Encourages Citizen Genet to Defy

As a Massachusetts legislator, Adams organized the protest against the Stamp Act in 1765 and was a founder of the Sons of Liberty. He drafted most of the major protest documents against the Crown, including the Circular Letter against the Townshend Acts. After 1770 he was the focal point in the creation of intercolonial Committees of Correspondence to sustain and fan the spirit of resistance and was a principal organizer of the Boston Tea Party. Adams saw the value of affiliating a prominent merchant with the cause of independence and groomed young John Hancock for this role. He selected well, as Hancock emerged as a leading figure in the revolutionary movement and in 1774 was chosen president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. By the following year Hancock and Adams were the key leaders of the patriot movement, and when the British offered pardons to all rebels, only the two of them were excluded. In April 1775, when Hancock and Adams were visiting Lexington, British officials determined to arrest them for their treasonous activities, and while they were at it to seize colonial weapons stores in nearby Concord. Warned by Paul Revere in his midnight ride that “The British are coming,” the two men fled Lexington on the night of April 18. The next day, when American militia units took the field at Lexington to obstruct the British forces, the result was “the shot heard ‘round the world” – the start of the Revolutionary War. Later in 1775, Adams and Hancock were selected as members of the Second Continental Congress, Hancock being elected President of that body. In 1776, they advocated breaking with England, and voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. Adams stayed in Congress until 1781. Hancock went back to Massachusetts and served as governor from 1780-1785, then returned to that post in 1787, remaining in office until his death on October 8, 1793 at age 56. His lieutenant governor after 1789 was Adams, who succeeded him on his death. At Hancock’s funeral on October 14, 1793, Adams was the chief mourner and followed the bier. However, during the procession, walking directly behind the body of his friend, he was so overcome with emotion that he was unable to continue and had to be escorted away. Thus ended the close and eventful, three-decade-long association of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, which was so crucial to establishing American independence.

Citizen Genet

Following the execution of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in January 1793, the French revolutionary government found itself at war with Spain, the Netherlands and Great Britain. It dispatched Edmond Charles Genêt as minister to the United States, for the purpose of enlisting American assistance to the fullest extent possible. Genêt arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on April 8, 1793 – calling himself “Citizen Genêt” to emphasize the revolutionary title. He received a warm welcome and immediately began to issue privateering commissions that authorized the bearers, regardless of their country of origin, to seize British merchant ships and their cargo for personal profit, all with the approval and protection of the French Government. President Washington saw this as a dangerous attempt to draw the new United States into a European war and, on April 22, issued his Proclamation of Neutrality, declaring the U.S. a neutral nation in the conflict and threatening legal proceedings against any American providing assistance to the warring countries. Genet then proceeded to the capital at Philadelphia and was met with acclaim and jubilation everywhere he went, as many Americans supported the French Revolution’s goals of liberty, equality, fraternity. He was officially received by Washington on the afternoon of May 18th, but Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson soon informed him that the United States considered the outfitting of French privateers in American ports to be a violation of the U.S. policy of neutrality. Genet ignored this warning, and in fact threatened to take his case directly to the American people, bypassing official government opposition. Genêt was thus willing to challenge Washington and risk being seen as a foreign meddler in American domestic affairs. In late August, this led the President and his Cabinet to request that the French government recall Genet and a letter was accordingly sent. However, Genet, sure from what he saw and heard that the American people were anxious to help France and wanted him to remain in the country, and that the Washington administration was a mere obstruction that he could maneuver around, tried to go over President Washington’s head again by appealing to the American public to force reversal of the administration’s demand that he leave the country.

According to Adams’ biographer John C. Miller, the following letter of support from the old patriot was one of the causes leading to Genet’s decision to undertake his challenge of Washington.

Letter Signed as Governor of Massachusetts just eight days after Hancock’s funeral, Boston, October 22, 1793, to “Citizen Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary.” In it, he laments the death of Hancock and encourages Genet in  his mission. “Our late worthy & excellent Governor having been taken from us by death, Citizen Dennery on his arrival delivered to me your letter directed to the Governor, which on the melancholy event it became my duty to answer. I perceive he is appointed by the Executive Council to succeed Citizen Setembre, who is now on his passage to France. Had the late Governor been living, he would have received the new Consul, as he did the Vice Consul, with great regard & friendship. I do assure you that I shall observe the same line of conduct as he did from a respect due to your recommendation of him & my own attachment to him as an officer under the French Republic. I hope he will soon receive his Exequatur, which is necessary to be entered on our public records &?I shall then in form duly acknowledge him. I am satisfied in my own Mind that you are possessed of feelings of warm affection towards our Country, as well as your own; & I rejoice to observe your expectations that your conduct being made public will evidently appear to have been right in the Eyes of all reasonable men. It will make those ashamed whose prejudices have caused them with great Industry to lay you with abuse & Calumny. I earnestly pray that your future residence in the United States as Minister Plenipotentiary may render you personally happy; being already persuaded it will greatly tend to promote the common cause of Liberty & the rights of men.” This letter is cited in “Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams” by William V. Wells, volume 3.

Events would now intervene to end the Genêt affair.  Power had shifted from the more moderate Girondins, who had originally sent Genêt on his mission, to the radical Jacobins, who instituted the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins suspected Genet of continued loyalty to the Girondins. The French government did recall Genêt. President Washington and Attorney General Edmund Randolph, aware that Genêt’s return to France would certainly result in his being sent to the guillotine, allowed him to remain in the United States.

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