Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Virginia and Nicholas Trist; by descent to a private collection; by loan to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation since 1968 and purchased in 1996
Accession Number: 1968-58-1
Historical Notes: Edmond Charles Edouard Genet came to the United States in 1793 as French envoy during Jefferson's term as secretary of state. He probably presented this miniature to Jefferson as a routine diplomatic gift — possibly the only routine act of his short, controversial career. Genet attempted to draw the United States into aggressions on land and sea, against Spain and Holland. His disregard for the authority of the United States government, particularly Washington's power as president, led Jefferson to complain to James Madison:
Never, in my opinion, was so calamitous an appointment made, as that of the present minister of F[rance] here. Hotheaded, all imagination, no judgment, passionate, disrespectful and even indecent towards the P[resident] in his written as well as verbal communications .... He renders my position immensely difficult.1
After suffering through Genet's many diplomatic and political indiscretions, Jefferson, Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox (Washington's Secretary of War) agreed that to maintain peace between the United States and France, Genet's appointment must be recalled. Jefferson particularly feared that Genet's threatened appeals to the people of the United States would "enlarge the circle of those disaffected to his country."2 Jefferson summarized the minister's actions in his report to the French government:
When the government forbids their citizens to arm and engage in the war, he undertakes to arm and engage them. When they forbid vessels to be fitted in their ports for cruising on nations with whom they are at peace, he commissions them to fit and cruise. When they forbid an unceded jurisdiction to be exercised within their territory by foreign agents, he undertakes to uphold that exercise and to avow it openly.3
Genet was removed from his post in the same year in which he began.4 He remained in the United States and became an American citizen.