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As Easy as XYZ

The Genet episode, combined with the Jay Treaty, brought Franco-American relations to the verge of war. After the French Directory high-handedly refused to receive U.S. minister Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the new president, Adams, sent a commission consisting of Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry to attempt to heal the breach by concluding a new treaty of commerce. Incredibly, French prime minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838) sent three agents to greet the American commissioners in Paris in October 1797. The agents told the commissioners that before they could even discuss a treaty, the United States would have to loan France $12 million and pay Talleyrand a personal bribe of $250,000.

On April 3, 1798, an indignant President Adams submitted to Congress the correspondence from the commission, which designated the French agents as “X,” “Y” and “Z.” Congress, equally indignant, published the entire portfolio, and the public learned of the “XYZ Affair.” Americans of all political stripes united in outrage, the nation mobilized for war with its erstwhile ally, and, in fact, an undeclared naval war was sporadically fought from 1. 798 to 1800. Fortunately, that conflict was limited, and international tempers cooled as the French Revolution came to an end.


Foreign Affairs | Complete Idiots Guide to American History | Overreaction







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