George Washington, Portrait, Stuart

George Washington was President during the Citizen Genêt Affair. This portrait of Washinton was painted by Gilbert Stuart. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Citizen Genêt Affair

1793–1794

Summary and facts of the Citizen Genêt Affair was a diplomatic incident that strained relations between the United Sates and France at the time of the French Revolution.

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Summary of the Citizen Genêt Affair

In 1793, the newly-formed revolutionary government in France appointed Edmond Charles Genêt as French minister to the United States. Upon his arrival in the U.S., “Citizen Genêt,” as he referred to himself, set about trying to undermine the U.S. government’s official position of neutrality in the war Great Britain and Spain were waging against France. In just a few months, Genêt’s actions had irritated President Washington and his cabinet so much that they requested the French government to recall him. The Genêt Affair prompted the U.S. government to formulate an official policy on neutrality that lasted throughout the 19th century.

Significance of the Citizen Genêt Affair

The Genêt affair forced the United States to formulate a consistent policy on the issue of neutrality. Washington’s Cabinet signed a set of rules regarding policies of neutrality on August 3, 1793, and these rules were formalized when Congress passed a neutrality bill on June 4, 1794. This legislation formed the basis for neutrality policy throughout the nineteenth century. The policy of neutrality would be challenged during the administration of John Adams when the XYZ Affair led to the Quasi-War with France.

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Citizen Genêt Affair — Quick Facts

Facts about the Citizen Genêt Affair, including dates, participants, the impact, and more interesting details you might not know. This fact sheet provides a quick overview of the event and is for kids doing research and students preparing for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.

  • Edmond Charles Genêt served as French minister to the United States from 1793 to 1794.
  • At the time of Genêt’s service, American foreign policy was dominated by events surrounding the French Revolution.
  • President Washington declared a policy of neutrality in the war Great Britain and Spain were waging against the French revolutionary government.
  • The French sent Genêt to the U.S. in 1793 with instructions that would bring him into direct conflict with the U.S. of neutrality.
  • When Genêt arrived in the U.S. in 1793, he called himself “Citizen Genêt” to emphasize his pro-revolutionary stance.
  • Rather than traveling directly to Philadelphia, the U.S. capital, Genêt spent a month in the South, where he spent time encouraging privateers to attack British ships and promoting revolution in Florida, Louisiana, and Canada.
  • By the time Genêt arrived in Philadelphia in May to present his credentials, his actions had eroded his credibility with most of Washington’s cabinet.
  • Eventually, Genêt’s staunchest defender in Washington’s cabinet, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, was forced to disassociate himself.
  • Washington and his cabinet unanimously agreed to request that France recall Genêt, in August 1793.
  • By the time the request for Genêt’s recall reached France, the Jacobins had assumed power, and the Reign of Terror had started.
  • Believing that Genêt’s actions had hurt France’s position with the U.S. government, the Jacobins not only recalled Genêt, but they also issued a warrant for his arrest.
  • Knowing that Genêt’s return to France would almost certainly mean he would be put to death, Washington allowed him to remain in the U.S.
  • Genêt spent the rest of his life as a farmer in New York state, where he died in 1834.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Citizen Genêt Affair
  • Coverage 1793–1794
  • Author
  • Keywords Citizen Genêt Affair
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date September 24, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 5, 2022