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The XYZ Affair

the first true diplomatic crisis in U.S. history

American relations with France deteriorated seriously after Jay's Treaty with Britain in 1794, which the French government believed violated the French-American alliance of 1778. The French retaliated by intercepting American ships. In 1797, President John Adams sent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Elbridge Gerry and John Marshall to Paris to negotiate a settlement, but the French Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, refused to receive the Americans. Instead, he designated three unofficial agents to negotiate with them. These agents -- who became known as X, Y, and Z -- demanded that America pay for alleged wrongs done to France, grant a large loan to finance the French war with Britain, and pay a bribe of about $240,000 to Talleyrand. The United States envoys refused the terms, and Adams made public the blackmail attempt. The XYZ Affair resulted in tense bitterness on both sides, and led to an undeclared naval war between the two nations that lasted several years.

The cartoon below depicts a five-headed monster, representing the Directory that ruled France in 1797, demanding payment of a bribe from the three American representatives.


Robert G. Athearn American Heritage New Illustrated History of the United States New York: Fawcett Publications, 1971

See Also

Jay's Treaty
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Elbridge Gerry
John Marshall

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The Robinson Library >> John Adams' Administration

This page was last updated on December 01, 2018.