Inspiration for high crimes and misdemeanors
Edmund Charles Genet arrived at Charleston in 1793. The French diplomat's official mission was to obtain cash or credit to purchase supplies under the auspices of the 1778 Franco-U.S. alliance. He secretly wanted to give the United States due cause to make war on England, with whom Spain was allied at the time, wherefore he conspired to arm privateers and private armies to emancipate Spanish America and open up the Mississippi for Kentuckians. To that purpose one George Clark enrolled in the plot: he was to lead American frontiersman down from the backswoods and seize New Orleans, with the assistance of the French fleet.
The United States of America found itself in a ticklish situation as a fledgling nation at the time. Two great powers, France and Britain, shared North America with the United States. Spain, although weaker than the other two powers, and therefore motivated to ally herself with either one or the other, was not a power to be mocked or attacked by American backwoodsmen and their Native American allies. Furthermore, such an offense might rub one of the greater powers the wrong way.
President Washington and his virtual prime minister, Alexander Hamilton, both Federalists, distrusted Ambassador Genet when he arrived in '93. They did not want to alienate England - her culture and trade was greatly appreciated. Furthermore, they feared not only the excesses of the French Revolution but its republican (democratic) features as well, particularly the democratic principle of equality, which they perceived as a threat to the nation's institution of slavery. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson, son of the French Enlightenment and Republican leader of revolutionary French principles within the American Revolution, smiled on Genet for awhile, for Jefferson's vision of the Liberal Land was far greater than those who calculated that the U.S. had quite enough territory to chew on and digest. In fine, Jefferson coveted Spanish-American property, presumably with only the public interest in mind - he may have participated in a private conspiracy or two himself.
Genet's designs were exposed to President Washington; he, in turn, demanded Genet's recall. Incidentally, there was no chance that Genet's plot would be executed: there was no army of backwoodsmen, nor was there a French fleet to back them up. France agreed to recall Genet; since he did not want to lose his head in France, he managed to remain in the States, where he married George Clinton's daughter.
Congress enacted the Neutrality Act of 1794, drafted to prohibit persons within the jurisdiction of the United States from outfitting private ships and armies for the purpose of attacking states with whom the United States was as peace. Spain at the time possessed the political and commercial plums badly wanted by pioneers, real estate speculators,and politicians: Florida and Louisiana - the biggest prize, New Orleans, would open up the Mississippi for navigation. The Neutrality Act was intended as a temporary measure to discourage private parties from grabbing the Spanish plums without official sanction; the statute was extended in 1800 and thereafter - it remains on the books to this very day. Although the Genet conspiracy really did not amount to much, it fired the imaginations of people on the frontiers, inspiring William Blount's revival of the scheme, not to mention that of Aaron Burr.