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The XYZ Affair is a diplomatic scandal that lasted from March of 1797 to 1800. Three Frenchmarker agents, publicly referred to as X, Y, and Z, but later revealed as Jean Conrad Hottinguer, Pierre Bellamy and Lucien Hauteval, demanded major concessions from the United Statesmarker as a condition for continuing bilateral peace negotiations. The concessions demanded by the French included 50,000 pounds sterling, a $12 million loan from the United Statesmarker, a $250,000 personal bribe to French foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, and a formal apology for comments made by U.S. President John Adams. The demand came during a meeting in Parismarker between the French agents and a three member American commission consisting of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry. Several weeks prior to the meeting with X, Y, and Z, the American commission had met with French foreign minister Talleyrand to discuss French retaliation to the Jay Treaty, which they perceived as evidence of an Anglo-American alliance. The French seized nearly 300 American ships bound for Britishmarker ports in the Atlanticmarker, Mediterraneanmarker, and Caribbean Seasmarker.

Sending Pinckney as part of the commission was a brilliant step by Adams as Franco-U.S. relations had recently worsened by Talleyrand's rejection of Pinckney as America's minister to France. The French continued to seize American ships, and the United States Federalist Party advocated going to war.

The American delegates found these demands unacceptable and answered "Not a sixpence", but in the inflated rhetoric of the day the response became the infinitely more memorable: "Millions for defense, sir, but not one cent for tribute!" Recent evidence suggests that this slogan was not widely adopted.

The U.S. offered France many of the same provisions found in Jay's Treaty with Britainmarker, but France reacted by deporting Marshall and Pinckney back to the United States, refusing any proposal that would involve these two delegates. Gerry remained in France, thinking he could prevent a declaration of war, but did not officially negotiate any further.

President Adams released the report of the affair a month later resulting in passionate anti-French sentiment. In 1798, a declaration of war was narrowly, and only temporarily, avoided by Adams' diplomacy; specifically by appointing new diplomats including William Murray to handle the growing conflict. However, despite the lack of a formal declaration of war, continued French raids against American merchantmen led to the abrogation of the Franco-American Alliance in the Quasi-War (July 7, 1798-1800). Adams again sent negotiators on January 18, 1799, which eventually negotiated an end to hostilities through the Treaty of Mortefontaine. During negotiations with France, the U.S. began to build up its navy, a move long supported by Adams and Marshall, to defend against both the French and the British. In addition, in a speech delivered on July 16, 1797, Adams championed the formulation of a navy and army while emphasizing the importance of renewing treaties with Prussia and Swedenmarker.


  • Brown, Ralph A. The Presidency of John Adams. (1988).
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1993)
  • Ferling, John. John Adams: A Life. (1992)
  • Hale, Matthew Rainbow. "'Many Who Wandered in Darkness': the Contest over American National Identity, 1795-1798." Early American Studies 2003 1(1): 127-175. Issn: 1543-4273
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era: 1789-1801 (1960), pp 210-227
  • Ray, Thomas M. "'Not One Cent for Tribute': The Public Addresses and American Popular Reaction to the XYZ Affair, 1798-1799." Journal of the Early Republic (1983) 3(4): 389-412. Issn: 0275-1275 Fulltext online in Jstor
  • Jean Edward Smith, John Marshall: Definer Of A Nation, New York: Henry, Holt & Company, 1996.
  • Stinchcombe, William. The XYZ Affair. Greenwood, 1980. 167 pp.
  • Stinchcombe, William. "The Diplomacy of the WXYZ Affair," in William and Mary Quarterly, 34:590-617 (October 1977); in JSTOR; note the "W".

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