President Washington Appoints a Frenchman as Consul at the U.S. Embassy in Paris During the French Revolutionary Wars to Mollify the Pro-French Faction in the U.S.

This very appointment would lead Ambassador to France James Monroe to set Department policy by insisting that only American citizens serve as heads of consulates in foreign lands

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Washington would soon rescind this controversial appointment and replace him with a British-born American to satisfy the pro-British faction

From 1790 to 1794, the French Revolution became increasingly radical. After French King Louis XVI was tried and executed on January 21, 1793, war between France and monarchal nations Great Britain and Spain...

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President Washington Appoints a Frenchman as Consul at the U.S. Embassy in Paris During the French Revolutionary Wars to Mollify the Pro-French Faction in the U.S.

This very appointment would lead Ambassador to France James Monroe to set Department policy by insisting that only American citizens serve as heads of consulates in foreign lands

Washington would soon rescind this controversial appointment and replace him with a British-born American to satisfy the pro-British faction

From 1790 to 1794, the French Revolution became increasingly radical. After French King Louis XVI was tried and executed on January 21, 1793, war between France and monarchal nations Great Britain and Spain inevitably followed. These two powers joined Austria and other European nations in the war against Revolutionary France that had already started in 1791. The United States sought to remain neutral, but this policy was made difficult by heavy-handed British and French actions. The British harassed and seized neutral American merchant ships, while the French Government dispatched a controversial Minister to the United States, Edmond-Charles Genêt, whose violations of the American neutrality policy embroiled the two countries in the Genet affair in 1794. And although Americans had treaty and sentimental bonds with France for its help in the Revolution, the Reign of Terror in France that began on September 5, 1793, eroded that support.

Serious divisions existed in the United States between those who supported the French, including Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and those who supported the British, including Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Fearing the repercussions of a war with Britain, and the unpreparedness of the United States to deal with such a war, President George Washington sided with Hamilton. He issued a formal proclamation of neutrality on April 22, 1793. Jefferson resigned his office on December 31, 1793, and was replaced by Edmund Randolph, who was more in tune with Washington’s policies. This cemented the power of the pro-British faction in the U.S. government. Washington then sent pro-British Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate with the British Government, to settle outstanding issues between the two countries that had been left unresolved since American independence. Jay left for England on May 12, 1794, determined to succeed.

But the U.S. government did not want to antagonize France altogether. Just weeks later, in late May 1794, James Monroe was appointed the new American ambassador in France, and he was one who wanted to maintain cordial relations with the French Government. Randolph’s instructions to Monroe contained conciliatory language about French-American relations, as surely Monroe hoped they would. And in June when a consul needed to be appointed to serve in the American embassy in Paris, a Frenchman, Alexander du Vernet, was selected. Monroe presented his credentials in Paris in August 1794.

Document signed, on vellum, Philadelphia, June 9, 1794, appointing “Alexander Duvernet…Vice Consul for the United States of America at Paris in France.”

But not everyone was happy with this appointment. The pro-British faction was, unsurprisingly, opposed. But opposition came from another quarter, and an influential one. On October 16, 1794, Monroe himself wrote Randolph from Paris, taking the position that “The consulate…forms their [Americans with interests in France] natural bulwark in the commercial line against impositions of every kind. Indeed it is the only one which can be provided for them…I am sorry, therefore, upon inspecting our establishment…it was by no means in general endowed with sufficient strength or vigor for the present crisis. American citizens alone can furnish an adequate protection to their countrymen. In the hands of a Frenchman…the consular functions lie dormant.” Thus, Monroe was unhappy with the decision to appoint a non-American as a consul at his embassy. This was tantamount to calling for du Vernet’s removal.

On November 19, 1794, representatives of the United States and Great Britain signed Jay’s Treaty. The treaty proved unpopular with the American public but did accomplish the goals of maintaining peace between the two nations, preserving U.S. neutrality, and accomplishing the evacuation of the British from the Northwest Territory. Two days later, Joseph Pitcairn was appointed to replace du Vernet, the excuse being that he had “loitered” in the United States “too long”. Pitcairn, who was British-born but a U.S. citizen, on the one hand satisfied the pro-British faction, and on the other gave Monroe an American to serve at his side in Paris. Pitcairn was consul at Paris from 1794–97. After Pierre Auguste Adet, the French minister to the U.S., denounced Pitcairn as a British spy, President John Adams appointed him consul at Hamburg, where he served until 1802.

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