John Adams, Portrait, Stuart

Founding Father John Adams was President during the XYZ Affair, which raised tensions between the United States and France. The diplomatic scandal led to the Quasi-War and the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

XYZ Affair Facts, Details, and Results


Facts about the XYZ Affair, including dates, participants, the impact, and more interesting details you might not know. This fact sheet provides a quick overview of the event and is for kids doing research and students preparing for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.


XYZ Affair Definition

The XYZ Affair, in simple terms, was a diplomatic scandal between the United States and France that resulted in an undeclared war known as the Quasi-War.

Quick Facts About the XYZ Affair

  • Date Started: The XYZ Affair does not have an exact start date, but the American diplomats were sent to France in July 1797.
  • Date Ended: The scandal has no exact end date, but Elbridge Gerry returned to the United States in October 1798.
  • Location: The events of the XYZ Affair took place in France, but had a significant impact in the United States.
  • President: John Adams was President when the XYZ Affair took place.
  • Vice President: Thomas Jefferson was Vice President during the scandal.
  • Minister to France: The American minister — or ambassador — to France was Charles C. Pinckney.
  • Result: The scandal led to anti-French sentiment in the United States, the founding of the U.S. Navy, and the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
  • Outcome: The outcome of the XYZ Affair was an undeclared naval war between the United States and France known as the Quasi-War.
  • Slogan: The popular slogan was: “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” It was first said by Massachusetts Representative Samuel Sewell on April 8, 1798.

Charles C. Pinckney, Portrait, Trumbull

This portrait of Charles C. Pinckney was painted by John Trumbull in 1791. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Interesting Facts About the XYZ Affair

Causes of the XYZ Affair

  • The XYZ Affair was caused by tension between France and the United States over the Jay Treaty.
  • The Jay Treaty was a treaty between the United States and Britain.
  • France saw the Jay Treaty as a violation of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce it had signed with the United States on February 6, 1778.
  • In response to the Jay Treaty, France started attacking American merchant ships that were trading with Britain.
  • The American ships were seized and the sailors were held in prison.

Adams Inherits the Trouble with France

  • George Washington announced he would not run for a third term as President.
  • Vice President John Adams ran for the office and was elected as the second President of the United States.
  • Adams was sworn in on March 4, 1797.
  • He inherited the controversy with France from the Washington administration.
  • Adams sent John Marshall, Elbridge Gerry, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to France to negotiate with French officials.
  • However, Adams also wanted to calm growing anti-French and pro-war sentiment in the United States.

French Diplomats Demand Tribute from the United States

  • The French Foreign Minister, the Marquis de Talleyrand, refused to meet with the American envoys when they arrived in France.
  • Instead of meeting with them himself, Talleyrand sent four intermediaries to meet with the Americans.
  • The intermediaries informed the Americans that Talleyrand would only meet with them if they met his demand.

The French Intermediaries

  • Nicholas Hubbard
  • Jean Conrad Hottinguer
  • Pierre Bellamy
  • Lucien Hauteval

The French Demands

The French intermediaries demand the United States would:

  1. Provide France with a low-interest loan.
  2. Assume and pay all the claims made by American merchants against France.
  3. Pay a substantial fee — a bribe — to Talleyrand.

Minister Talleyrand, Portrait

French Foreign Minister, the Marquis de Talleyrand. Image Source: Wikipedia.


Americans Refuse and Negotiations Fail

  • When the Americans refused to meet the French demands, Talleyrand gave in and met with them anyway.
  • Talleyrand dropped his demands for money but refused to stop the seizure of American merchant ships.

Adams Prepares for War

  • When President Adams received reports of the negotiations he asked Congress to prepare for war with France.
  • Democratic-Republicans, who were pro-France, were suspicious of Adams’ request and asked him to publicly release the letters he received from the American envoys.
  • Adams released the correspondence in early 1798 but replaced the names of the French intermediaries with the letters W, X, Y, and Z.

Who Were X, Y, and Z?

In the versions of the letters Adams sent to Congress, he did not state the names of the French intermediaries. Instead, he used the codes that the American envoys had used to refer to each of them.

  • Hubbard (W)
  • Hottinguer (X)
  • Bellamy (Y)
  • Hauteval (Z)

Results of the XYZ Affair

The outcome of the XYZ Affair was the growth of anti-French sentiment in the United States, the founding of the U.S. Navy, and the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In the short term, all of it contributed to the Quasi-War — an undeclared naval war with France. In the long term, it increased Sectionalism — the divide between the Northern States and the Southern States — which led to the Civil War.

Impact of the XYZ Affair

  • The scandal raised tensions between the United States and France.
  • It increased anti-French and pro-war passion in the United States.
  • Members of the Federalist Party rallied around the slogan, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
  • Congress re-established the United States Navy in order to protect American merchant ships.
  • The affair resulted in an undeclared war with France known as the Quasi-War.
  • Public criticism of the President and Congress led to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.
  • France and the United States negotiated their differences by 1800 and avoided a formal war.

Long-Term Results of the XYZ Affair Contribute to Civil War

  • Founding Fathers James Madison and Thomas Jefferson thought the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and illegal.
  • They wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
  • The Resolutions challenged the authority of the Federal government.
  • Madison and Jefferson argued that the United States was formed as a compact between the states and that the Constitution established the rules of that compact.
  • If the federal government, afterward, passed legislation that went beyond the powers specifically delegated to it in the Constitution, then the legislation was null and void.
  • The idea that states could declare federal legislation null and void is known as “nullification.”
  • Nullification was a primary concept behind the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, which led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832.
  • Ultimately, Nullification proved to be a direct cause of the American Civil War.

Timeline of the XYZ Affair

This list shows the main events before and after the XYZ Affair, and how it fits into the chronological order of the French Neutrality Crisis and the early years of the United States under the Constitution.

  • April 8, 1793Edmund-Charles Genet Arrived in Charleston, South Carolina
  • April 22, 1793George Washington Issued the Proclamation of Neutrality
  • November 17, 1794Jay Treaty Signed by Representatives from the United States and Britain
  • June 24, 1795 — Jay Treaty Ratified by the United States Senate
  • November 4, 1796–December 7, 1796 — Presidential Election of 1796
  • March 4, 1797 — Inauguration of John Adams
  • May 16, 1797 — XYZ Affair Started, John Adams Speech to Congress
  • January 1, 1798Quasi War Started
  • June 1, 1798 — Alien and Sedition Acts Passed
  • September 30, 1800 — Treaty of Mortfontaine Signed, Quasi War Ended
  • October 31 to December 3, 1800 – Presidential Election of 1800
  • November 16, 1798 — First Virginia and Kentucky Resolution Passed
  • March 4, 1801 — Inauguration of Thomas Jefferson

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title XYZ Affair Facts, Details, and Results
  • Coverage 1797–1798
  • Author
  • Keywords XYZ Affair, John Adams, Quasi-War, American History Facts for Kids Social Studies Resources, APUSH Study Material
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 11, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 20, 2022