Why was it called the XYZ Affair?
President Adams made the letter public (replacing the names of the French ministers with X, Y, and Z). The 'XYZ affair' was extremely serious and brought the United States to the brink of all-out war with France.
XYZ Affair for kids: Background and History
The French Revolution (1789-1799) continued to rage in France. The French King and Queen had been beheaded and France declared a Republic. France was now governed by five leaders of the French Revolution, who were collectively called the "Directory." The members of the "Directory." were furious when they heard of Jay's Treaty (the 1794 Treaty with the British). The French had hoped that the United States would declare war on the British - instead they had made a treaty.
XYZ Affair for kids: Background and History of Diplomatic Relations with France
At the time of the Jay's Treaty, James Monroe was the US minister at Paris. The previous US Minister, Gouverneur Morris who was a Federalist, was recalled at the request of the French government, due to his support of the French monarchy. James Monroe was an anti-Federalist, a member of the new Republican political party sympathetic to the French revolutionaries. Instead of doing all he could to smooth over the situation, James Monroe encouraged the wrath of the Directory. President Washington recalled James Monroe from France, and sent General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, another Federalist, in his place. The Directory promptly refused to receive Pinckney, and ordered him to leave France. News of this defiant action of the Directory refusing to receive the US Ambassador reached Philadelphia three days after John Adams was inaugurated as the second president of the United States.
XYZ Affair for kids: Diplomatic Relations with France
The new President Adams immediately summoned Congress and addressed the members in furious and stirring words on May 16, 1797. He said that the insult by the French was "the denial of a right; but the refusal to receive him until we have acceded to their demands without discussion and without investigation is to treat us neither as allies nor as friends, nor as a sovereign state." President Adams continued his strong words by saying "...shall convince France and the world that we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of fear and sense of inferiority". France had deeply humiliated and insulted the United States of America.
XYZ Affair for kids: President Adams efforts to avoid war with France
The President decided to make one more effort to establish diplomatic relations with France and avoid war. President Adams therefore sent John Marshall, a Virginia Federalist, and Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts Republican, to join Pinckney in France. Their mission was to negotiate with the French Directory.
The XYZ Affair for kids: The Bribe
When the US Ambassadors reached Paris they were denied permission to formally meet with the Foreign Minister, the Marquis de Talleyrand. Instead French diplomats came to see them. The names of three of the men were Jean Hottinguer (later X), Pierre Bellamy (later Y), and Lucien Hauteval (later Z). These men said that:
America must apologize for the President's vigorous words
America must lend money to France
Must pay a bribe the members of the Directory and the Minister of Foreign Affairs
These outrageous suggestions were emphatically rejected by the members of the US envoy. In sending the papers to Congress, the three French diplomats were referred to Mr. X., Mr. Y., and Mr. Z., giving the name of the "XYZ Affair." to the incident.
The XYZ Affair for kids: The Reaction in America
President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair" in April 1798. The reaction in America to the "XYZ Affair" was total outrage. Members of both the Federalist and Republican political parties joined in indignation. "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute," was the cry of the day in response to the "XYZ Affair". The reaction of the American people was to tear down French flags. President Adams declared that he would not send another minister to France until he was assured that the representative of the United States would be received as "the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent state." The XYZ Affair sparked what is known as the Quasi War with France