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French Revolt Leads to War

In 1789, the French, who had long been dissatisfied with their government, rose up against the good but somewhat stupid Louis XVI. After some changes, they decided to set up a republic, like the Americans. To get rid of their king they finally beheaded him (1793), more in punishment for the sins of his fathers than for his own. The famous General Lafayette, who had fought in our War for Independence, took part in this revolution also, knowing that the French people had good cause to complain of their government; and when they tore down the great state prison, La Bastille, he sent one of its huge keys to his friend Washington.

But the French did not know how to make the best of the power they had seized. Before long, they made such bad use of it that much innocent blood was shed and people grew indignant at their cruelty. The English, who had always hated and had often fought against the French, soon took advantage of this sad state of affairs to begin a new war.

When the Americans heard of this, some cried that, as the French had helped us, we ought to help them. But others, cooler and wiser, with Washington at their head, said that it would be far better for the United States not to have anything to do with European quarrels. As people began to side everywhere for or against this opinion, they were soon divided into two parties. The one led by Washington was called the Federalist party, while the men who favored the French were known as Republicans. But these two parties also differed on questions concerning our own government.

Genet, a Frenchman, shortly after came to America to ask help. He felt so sure it would be granted that, without waiting for permission from either President or Congress, he began buying vessels and fitting them out to attack the British navy. He had no right to do this, and Washington immediately bade him cease, saying that the United States meant to keep neutral—that is to say, not to side with either country. Genet, however, paid no attention to Washington’s orders, and, as he was not behaving as a minister should, our President forced France to recall him.