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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 the army.

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.

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Table of Contents

4.0 - Chronology of Major Events in this Period
4.1 - The Hamilton Reports
4.2 - About the Constitution
4.3 - Emergence of Political Parties
4.4 - Foreign Affairs
4.5 - The XYZ Affair
4.6 - The Louisiana Purchase
4.7 - The War of1812
4.8 - Points to Remeber

Chapter 5





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