Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The XYZ Affair

I was reading a (children’s) book on the Presidents and ran across The XYZ Affair on the John Adams page. It sounded so contemporary and intriguing, like it could be the title of the next James Bond movie.

John Adams, the country’s first Vice President, beat Thomas Jefferson in the 1796 race for President. As our 2nd President, Adams held the same beliefs as George Washington in his desire to keep the U.S. neutral in the war between France and Britain. However, American shipping was suffering as a result of the fighting. After the French attacked U.S. ships in 1797, Adams sent diplomats to France to negotiate a commercial agreement to protect U.S. shipping and for peace talks.

Three French agents suggested America pay a bribe of $250,000 to Talleyrand, the French Foreign Minister, and a $10 million loan to France as a prelude to negotiations. In April 1798, the scheme of the three French agents (referred to as X, Y and Z in the diplomatic correspondence) was made public and the scandal became known as The XYZ Affair. There was public outcry and many Americans were very angry and wanted war with France. 

There was a period of undeclared naval warfare between France and the United States, but a formal war was avoided. In 1800 Adams sent more diplomats to France and this time they were successful and a peace treaty was signed. Adams ran for President again that year but lost to Thomas Jefferson.

Interesting Facts: John Adams established the U.S. Navy and ordered the first warships to be built • Thomas Jefferson was Adams’ Vice President • Fierce rivals after Adams lost his re-election to Jefferson, they became close friends as time passed • Adams died on July 4, 1826, just hours after Jefferson died • Thomas Jefferson was George Washington’s Secretary of State and wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.

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