|PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History
4. 5 The XYZ Affair
The elections in 1796 put John Adams on the executive
post. His term will be always remembered for the controversial XYZ
affair. Due to the Jay treaty, France was upset as it suspected
an Anglo-American alliance. President John Adams had sent Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney on a diplomatic mission to France. But the French
Government refused to receive him, and Pinckney had to leave the
country. Fearing military aggression, John Adams sent three commissioners
namely - Elbridge Gerry, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall
to Paris, so as to resolve the grievances between the two countries.
Simultaneously, Adams asked the Congress for money to expand and
strengthen the Army and Navy. This was in anticipation of war with
France. But the demand for defense funds once again raised sharp
differences between the Federalists and the Republicans. Republican
members in the Congress felt that paying the national debt was a
far more effective means of securing the respect of foreign powers
than by building or expanding the Navy.
In October 1797, the three commissioners from America
reached Paris to negotiate with the foreign minister, Charles Tallyrand.
After several weeks of meetings and deliberations with various ministers,
three French officials informed the American mission, that the U.S.
government would have to apologize for certain anti-French statements
made by the president. And that, America must give a war loan to
France. But what the American emissaries found most disgusting was
that the French officials (who were identified as X,Y and Z) asked
for bribes from them. The American envoys refused flatly and broke
off all talks with the French government. When the news of the demand
for bribes reached, the American public, there was a furore. Almost
everyone who had any sympathy for the Revolution in France, promptly
turned anti-French. The Congress immediately set aside defense funds
to expand the Army and Navy. It also stopped all trade and commerce
with France. Very soon, an undeclared naval war broke out with France.
At home, John Adam’s career as a president is marked
with the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). To prevent
any fall out of the French Revolution on the American public, the
Federalists in the Congress passed four laws. These laws were collectively
called the Alien and Sedition Acts which were formulated to check
any opposition and criticism on the government.
The first of these acts, i.e. the Naturalization
Act stated that only those who had lived in the U.S. for fourteen
years would be eligible for citizenship. The new Act had extended
the period of residence from 5-14 years.
The second act known as the Alien Act gave the
government the right to deport any foreigner who is suspected of
treason. And the Alien Enemies Act gave the President the power
to arrest or banish any person of an enemy country from the U.S.
While, these first few laws were related to foreigners
and threat from a foreign power, the Sedition Act was aimed at American
citizens who were opposed to the government. By this Act, any citizen
of the U.S. who tried to stop or hinder the implementation of federal
laws; start a riot or hold ’unlawful’ meetings would be fined or
put behind bars. Further, the law also stated that any criticism
against the government through the press or pamphlets would be imprisoned
for two years.
Many progressive people within the country criticized
the New Sedition Act as it was considered a violation of the Bill
of Rights. These Acts made the government extremely unpopular as
several Republicans were fined or arrested for speaking and writing
against the government.
In the Congress, Jefferson and Madison led the
opposition against these repressive laws. They secretly drafted
two resolutions declaring the laws unconstitutional, thus null and
void. These resolutions were then passed in the legislatures of
Kentucky and Virginia. But the resolutions failed to gather support
in the other state legislatures.
The elections in 1800 saw the rise of the Republicans.
Thomas Jefferson won the presidential elections. The Republicans
under Jefferson cut military expenditure and reduced the size of
Jefferson advocated a government that had a limited
role to play in the economy of the country. He could not close the
U.S. Bank before its charter was due in 1811. But he sold the Bank’s
stock for a profit.