XYZ Affair (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: A request for a bribe leads to an undeclared war between France and the United States.
Summary of Event
The presidency of John Adams of Massachusetts was not a happy one. Adams inherited all the problems of George Washington but none of his prestige. Franco-American relations with the French First Republic progressively worsened. Adams also faced dissension within his own party. Not all Federalists were satisfied when he was chosen as Washington’s successor. Alexander Hamilton was known to have opposed Adams and would do so again in 1800. Adams did not help himself by retaining the Washington cabinet, composed of men with no particular loyalty to the new president. The overriding issue was the question of war or peace with France, but hardly less critical was the question of Adams’ ability to control his own administration.
In the eyes of the French government, the United States, in signing Jay’s Treaty (1795), had repudiated the Franco-American Alliance of 1778. The French charged that the acceptance of the treaty was an unneutral act, inasmuch as the United States had obviously accepted the British definition of neutral rights at sea. The French decided to break off normal relations with the United States. To give force to this action, the French subjected American vessels on the high seas to the same indignities so recently experienced at the hands of the British. In the year...
(The entire section is 1643 words.)
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XYZ Affair (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The XYZ Affair was a diplomatic incident that almost led to war between the United States and France. The scandal inflamed U.S. public opinion and led to the passage of the ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS of 1798 (1 Stat. 570, 596). Though the affair caused an unofficial naval war, the two countries were able to negotiate their differences and end their conflict in 1800.
The affair took place during one of the Napoleonic wars between France and Great Britain. The French regarded the United States as a hostile nation, particularly after the signing of Jay's Treaty in 1794. This treaty settled some of the problems that continued to cause friction between the United States and Great Britain after the peace treaty of 1783 that granted the colonies independence. Consequently, President JOHN ADAMS appointed Charles Pinckney minister to France in 1796 in an attempt to ease French-U.S. relations.
After Charles Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, refused to recognize Pinckney, Adams appointed a commission to France, consisting of Pinckney, JOHN MARSHALL, and Elbridge Gerry. Before official negotiations on a treaty to establish peaceful relations and normalize trade could occur, Talleyrand sent three French agents to meet with the commission members. The agents suggested that Talleyrand would agree to the treaty if he received from the United States a $250,000 bribe and France received a...
(The entire section is 432 words.)