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Xyz Affair Essay

Tensions continued to increase between the U.S. and France until the Quasi War broke out from 1798 to 1800. The XYZ Affair was one of the events that led to this war. What was it? Who was involved with it? Here are some XYZ Affair APUSH review points to know for the exam.

What Was the XYZ Affair?

France seized American ships as they fought against the British. However, tensions between these nations continued to rise, especially when President John Adams criticized the French Revolution.

Finally, President Adams decided to send three delegates to meet with the French Foreign Minister. Unfortunately, when the delegates got to France, they had to meet with three French agents instead.

The agents said that the Americans needed to pay a substantial bribe among other things to even meet with the French Foreign Minister. This angered President Adams. He reported the event to the U.S. Senate, referring to the French agents as X, Y, and Z. Thus, the event became known as the XYZ Affair.

A british political cartoon depicting the affair.

Dates

1797- July 1798

Importance of the XYZ Affair

The XYZ Affair caused tensions to increase between the United States and France. It led to an undeclared war on the United States. Because of it, Congress chose to increase their defenses, so the Department of the Navy and warships.

People

  • Charles C. Pinckney- After George Washington appointed him as the U.S. Minister to France, he served from 1796 to 1797. He was one of the three U.S. delegates sent to meet with the French Foreign Minister.
  • President John Adams- John Adams was the Vice President of the United States under George Washington. Later, he became the second President of the United States. Because he criticized the French Revolution, the relationship between the U.S. and France diminished.
  • Marquis de Talleyrand- As the French Foreign Minister, he refused to meet with American delegates without a very large bribe. Also, he became the Prime Minister of France in July 1797.
  • Elbridge Gerry- Because he considered himself a Jeffersonian Republican, the Federalists blamed him for the failure to meet with the French Foreign Minister. However, he considered himself to be an ally of the French, especially since he was against the British.
  • John Marshall– He also served as a delegate in the XYZ Affair. At the time, he was a U.S. Congressman. He later served as the Secretary of State and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • XYZ= The three French agents were Pierre Bellamy, Lucien Hauteral, and Jean Conrad Hottingner.

Events

  • Quasi War- The French-American War was known as the Quasi War since neither side declared war. Battles were fought by both countries’ navies. The Quasi War ended when Napoleon took control of France.
  • Franco-American Treaty of 1778- Also known as the Treaty of Alliances, this treaty was signed during the American Revolution. However, the treaty became void during the French Revolution.
  • Jay’s Treaty- Jay’s Treaty was signed by the United States and Great Britain. France believed that this treaty violated the Franco-American Treaty of 1778. They also said that Jay’s Treaty crippled French trade and hurt their economy.
  • Convention of 1800- At the Convention of 1800, France and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Mortefontaine. Then, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1801, ending the Quasi War.

XYZ Affair APUSH Practice Question 1

What transpired from the XYZ Affair?
a. The Americans refused to meet with the French delegates.
b. Americans were able to purchase the Louisiana Territory for only $15 million.
c. The Americans and French fought an undeclared naval war.
d. Americans provided support to the British during the Napoleonic Wars.

Answer: C. Because of the XYZ Affair, the Americans increased their navy and warships. Then, they fought a naval war against the French. This lasted until Napoleon took control of the country.

XYZ Affair APUSH Practice Question 2

The XYZ Affair:
a. occurred because the French refused to stop firing on American naval ships even though they were at work with the British and not America.
b. involved three French agents who refused to let American delegates speak to the French Foreign Minister until they paid a bribe.
c. strengthened the relationship between America and France during a time when both countries were at war with Britain.
d. included three American delegates and three French agents who worked diligently together to improve the bad relationship between both countries.

Answer: B. The XYZ Affair is the name given to the events that conspired when three American delegates went to speak to the French Foreign Minister. Instead, they met with three French agents (referred to as X, Y, and Z). The agents said that the Americans needed to pay money in order to meet with Marquis de Talleyrand. When President Adams announced the event to Congress, it became known as the XYZ Affair.

If you’re making flashcards for the exam, use these XYZ Affair APUSH review points to help you. Make sure that you know what the XYZ Affair was and how it led to the war between France and America. Also, think about how it led to America’s increased defense with warships and the Navy. Although there isn’t too much to know about the XYZ Affair, think about how it impacted America. Good luck, and happy studying!

About Jamie Goodwin

Jamie graduated from Brigham Young University- Idaho with a degree in English Education. She spent several years teaching and tutoring students at the elementary, high school, and college level. She currently works as a contract writer and curriculum developer for online education courses. In her free time, she enjoys running and spending time with her boys!


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The XYZ Affair really began when France declared war on England in 1793 during the French Revolution.  The United States was bound by the 1778 French Alliance to come to the aid of France just as the French had come to the aid of the colonists during the American Revolution.  However, the United States declared neutrality in the conflict, not wishing to get involved in a European conflict.  As a result, France joined Britain in attacking American shipping which resulted in deteriorating U.S. relations with both countries.  Alexander Hamilton’s supporters strongly favored England in the fight while Jefferson’s supporters strongly favored the French.  Washington remained neutral believing the country was not yet ready to go to war.  To ease tensions and restore goodwill, the French sent the diplomat Citizen Genêt to the United States in 1793.  Prior to being formally received by the Washington administration, he made the trek north from Charleston to Washington, encouraging privateers to prey on English shipping.  Americans in the southern states received Genet as a popular hero, but his attempts to enlist support for the French cause put the United States in a position that compromised its neutrality.  Ultimately Genêt was sent packing, but French agents in America continued the attempt to enlist the support of private U.S. citizens and to influence the U.S. political system to elect pro-French candidates.  At first well-received, these efforts by the French soon wore thin as the French made a clear attempt to interfere with the political system of the United States.

The Affair

Jay’s Treaty irritated France because the treaty was perceived as a prelude to a U.S. British alliance and thus a clear violation of the French-American Alliance.

In 1795 the United States drew up the Jay Treaty with England which eased tensions between America and England. This treaty irritated France because the treaty was perceived as a prelude to a U.S. British alliance and thus a clear violation of the French-American Alliance.  Thus, relations between the United States and France deteriorated further, which resulted in increased French seizures of American ships further worsening relations between the two countries.  Following the election of 1796, John Adams, anxious to avoid war, sent three diplomats to France in an attempt to improve relations between the two countries.  Talleyrand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, dispatched three diplomats (later referred to as X, Y, and Z) to meet with the Americans.  These delegates insisted that the United States pay a $250,000 bribe and grant France a $10 million dollar loan before the U.S. delegates could gain access to Talleyrand and begin negotiations.  The requirement was rejected by the American delegates and they ultimately returned home without having initiated talks with the French government.

The un-named (X, Y, and Z) French delegates insisted that the United States pay a $250,000 bribe and grant France a $10 million dollar loan before the U.S. delegates could gain access to Talleyrand and begin negotiations.

The Backlash Begins

When Adams released the demands publicly (at the insistence of the Jeffersonians), the American public was outraged at the perceived insult; public opinion turned strongly against the French. There was strong pressure on John Adams to seek a declaration of war against France (particularly from Federalists, but also from many Jeffersonians).  The slogan of “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” became an American rallying cry.  The size of the Navy was significantly increased and Congress, in 1798, authorized the Navy to attack armed French ships.  What subsequently transpired was the “undeclared naval war” or “Quasi-War” with France.  During the Quasi-War, ships from both countries attacked their adversaries on the high seas.  Despite this, John Adams resisted popular clamors for war by believing that the young nation was inadequately prepared for a full-scale war.  It was not long before Adams came under heavy criticism from both his own party and the Republican press heavily influenced by French agents who wished to see Adams defeated and Jefferson elected in 1796.

The slogan of “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” became an American rallying cry.

A Seditious Act

To curb this criticism and the attempts by the French to interfere in the American political system, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.  These acts restricted personal liberty, curtailed free speech, and allowed the president to deport aliens.  Set in motion by the XYZ Affair, the enactment of these laws established the precedent that the federal government could restrict personal liberties during wartime, declared or undeclared.  The repercussions of the Alien and Sedition Acts had a significant impact on the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and even the War on Terror’s attempts to suppress criticism.  Additionally the XYZ Affair and the Alien and Sedition Acts stimulated a response from Jeffersonian Republicans that would have a major impact on the future history of the United States.

The Alien and Sedition Acts restricted personal liberty, curtailed free speech, and allowed the president to deport aliens.  Set in motion by the XYZ Affair, the enactment of these laws established the precedent that the federal government could restrict personal liberties during wartime, declared or undeclared.

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