Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
(?-1899)
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First Pub. Date
1881
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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1899
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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X Y Z MISSION

III.325.1

X Y Z MISSION (IN U. S. HISTORY). The relations between the French republic and the United States had been steadily becoming more tightly strained for years before the inauguration of President John Adams in 1797, more especially by reason of the manner in which France had seized American provision ships (see EMBARGO, I.), and permitted illegal captures of American vessels by her privateers. The position of France was more advantageous from the fact that she respected, and pretended to respect, no international law whatever. Her assumed place was not that of a coequal unit in the family of nations, but that of an apostle of liberty, limited in her action only by her own conceptions of expediency. Appeals to treaties violated by France met an easy answer in declamatory references to liberty; and any nation refusing to strengthen the hands of France was a self-confessed enemy to liberty and to France. In dealing with both France and Great Britain, Washington's policy was an armed neutrality, but no party supported him cordially in all its features. The republicans (democrats) tended from the beginning to an unarmed dependence upon France; and the federalists, as they grew to be more openly a commercial party, tended to an armed dependence upon Great Britain. Washington's policy was successful in checkmating Genet (see his name), and in keeping succeeding French envoys within limits for some years. But even Washington had to yield to the growing change in the federal party which dates from Jay's treaty (see both these titles) with Great Britain; and Adams, at his inauguration, found his party as much disposed to pick a quarrel with France as France was certain to furnish the opportunity, and far less disposed to submit to a counterbalancing influence from him than from his predecessor.

III.325.2

—In return for the recall of Genet, the French republic had asked and obtained the recall of Gouverneur Morris, the American minister, who had not even affected any sympathy with the course of the French revolution. In his place was sent James Monroe, who proved much more acceptable to France. The French republic (see EMBARGO, I.) had already begun those interferences with American commerce which provoked English retaliatory interferences; and these consequences, in their turn, made the French aggressions increasingly annoying. Most of the English annoyances were removed by Jay's treaty; as to France the United States still depended upon the old treaty of alliance of 1778. But France, in addition to her long-standing grievance arising from Washington's policy of neutrality, of which she could hardly complain openly, had now a plausible ground of complaint in what she chose to consider the American alliance with Great Britain. In February, 1796, one of the directory informed Monroe that the treaty of 1778 was at an end from the moment of the ratification of Jay's treaty; to which Monroe very properly replied that the treaty had already been brought to nothing by the constant French captures of American vessels.

III.325.3

—In other points of his diplomatic intercourse Monroe had not so well satisfied either Washington or the cabinet. He had been given in advance a complete vindication of Jay's treaty for the information of the French government, but had not presented, it, believing that it was intended to be held in readiness to answer formal complaints. And in general his diplomatic language was altogether ill advised and unfitting an ambassador. As a single instance, his letter of Sept. 3, 1794, to the committee of public safety, declared that, if they should be of opinion that the French infractions of the treaty were productive of "any solid benefit to the republic, the American government and my countrymen in general will not only bear the departure with patience, but with pleasure." Their tone of pitiful subservience makes it difficult to read Monroe's official communications, as collected and published by himself, with either pleasure or patience; and, after a sharp rebuke from Pickering, in June, 1796, he was recalled, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was sent in his place.

III.325.4

—By this time the control of the French revolution had passed from the madness of the many to the selfishness of the few. The executive directory now enjoyed a power of which the military ability of Napoleon had been the first foundation and was still the principal buttress; and under its leadership the French republic was employing for pure self-aggrandizement the exemption from international law which it had at first asserted in the name of liberty. And Napoleon, from the beginning, saw the limit which the British channel would put to the conquest of Europe, and the manner in which alone he could pass it, by giving the English fleets employment elsewhere. In 1797, after the peace of Campo Formis, he wrote: "We must set all our strength upon the sea; we must destroy England; and the continent is at our feet." But the same year had already seen the destruction of the Spanish fleet off St. Vincent, and of the Dutch fleet at Camperdown; and from this time until 1812 Napoleon never ceased the effort, by bluster, by kindness, or by fraud, to make the long and stormy coast of North America his most efficient ally against Great Britain.

III.325.5

—A few days before Pinckney's arrival the French minister of foreign relations informed Monroe what formalities were to be observed in taking leave. Dec. 9, 1796, Monroe presented his letter of recall, and Pinckney his letter of credence. Two days after, Monroe received written notice that no American minister would be received until the French grievances should be redressed, and that the French minister to the United States would be recalled; and yet, at the end of the month, he accepted a public reception from the directory, at which the president, Barras, without remonstrance from him, publicly announced that France "would not stoop to calculate the consequences of the condescension of the American government to the wishes of its ancient tyrants." Pinckney was left in Paris, refused recognition by the directory, and even threatened with police surveillance, until the latter part of January, 1797, when he received written notice to quit France, and retired to Holland to await instructions from home.

III.325.6

—Adams was intent upon following up the policy of neutrality, but this news left him little option. He called a special session of congress for May 16, 1797, and stated his intention of sending a new mission to France, to conciliate that country, if possible, but at the same time recommended the prompt formation of a navy and a general permission to private vessels to arm in self-defense. For the mission he named Pinckney, John Marshall, and Francis Dana, chief justice of Massachusetts, and these were confirmed by the senate. Dana declining, Elbridge Gerry was substituted, being specially acceptable to his close personal friend, the president, and, as a democrat, to France also. In October, 1797, the three met at Paris, and undertook to open negotiations with the directory. One leading complaint on the part of France evidently awaited them. The treaty of 1778 had established the principle (between France and the United States) that "free ships made free goods," that enemy's property, excepting contraband of war, was not to be captured in a friendly ship. Jay's treaty, on the contrary, allowed the capture of enemy's property in friendly ships; so that France complained that her ships could not lawfully take English property from American vessels, while British ships were not so restrained as to French property. On this head, the commissioners were empowered to grant to France the same privilege which Jay's treaty granted to Great Britain. They were also directed to demand but not as a sine qua non, compensation for past injuries to American commerce; and they were forbidden to consent to any loan, under any guise.

III.325.7

—While the commissioners were engaged in Paris during the winter, and while little was known of their proceedings, owing to difficulty of winter communication, politics in the United States came to a complete stand-still. The federalists were thoroughly alarmed by the state of affairs in Europe, and the dubious prospects of a single-handed war with France. The French armies had the continent at their feet, and even Great Britain had become anxious for peace. A conflict with France, that is, with continental Europe, was certainly not at any time to be sought wantonly by a backwoods nation of 3,000,000 souls, inhabiting an enormous territory and politically divided among themselves; but the case was infinitely worse if the British navy was to leave the ocean open to the unopposed transport of French troops. Both political parties were afraid to take a step forward, and their uneasiness was increased by the fact, that, though the federalists controlled the senate, there was no party majority in the house of representatives. That body was controlled by a number of members of doubtful political sympathies, without whose support neither party could do anything. Thus, in spite of the president's recommendations to equip a navy, arm private vessels, and fortify the coast, nothing was done throughout the winter. March 5, 1798, the president notified congress that cipher dispatches, dated from November until January, had arrived from the commissioners; and March 19, having deciphered them, he sent another message, in which, without detailing the contents of the dispatches, he summed them up in the information that the commissioners could gain no terms that were "compatible with the safety, the honor or the essential interests of the nation." This first thunder-clap was so effective that the house promptly passed bills to equip three frigates, and to prohibit the exportation of arms; and the senate passed bills to authorize the lease of cannon foundries and the purchase of sixteen additional vessels of war. In spite of the long series of aggressions upon American commerce by both Great Britain and France, these were the first belligerent preparations made by the United States under the constitution. To check them, it was at first hoped by the democrats that an adjournment of congress might be secured; but this was impossible without the consent of the senate. As a second choice, resolutions were offered, March 27, that it was not expedient, under existing circumstances, "to resort to war" against France, or to arm merchant vessels. One of the leaders, Giles, during the debate, attacked the president for not communicating the dispatches; whereupon the federalists offered a resolution calling on the president for copies of such dispatches as were proper to be communicated. To prevent an invidious selection from the dispatches, the democrats insisted on making the call for all the dispatches; and in this form the resolution was passed, April 2. The copies were sent the next day, the president being willing to gratify democratic curiosity to the fullest extent. One may imagine the absolute stupefaction of the democratic leaders as the coup de theâtre, which they themselves had assisted in preparing, fell upon them as the dispatches were read.

III.325.8

—In brief, the commissioners had been kept waiting in Paris for six months without official recognition, had been approached by unofficial go-betweens with proposals for bribes to the directory and the French treasury as indispensable prerequisites to peace, and, on their refusal, had been ordered out of France. On reaching Paris, they had found that Talleyrand, lately a royalist exile, was now the minister of foreign affairs. They had applied to him at once for an interview, but had been informed that he could not grant it until he had finished a report to the directory on American affairs. This answer had hardly been given when Talleyrand's unofficial agents appeared on the scene, and opened communications with the commissioners. In the dispatches, as sent to congress, the names of the agents were honorably kept secret, letters of the alphabet being substituted for them. The principal agents were M. Hottinguer (designated as X), M. Bellamy, a Hamburgh merchant (Y), and M. Hauteval, formerly resident in Boston (Z); and from these the whole transaction took its popular name of the "X Y Z mission." Their appearance had been heralded by information, through Talleyrand's secretary, that the directory were greatly exasperated by some passages in the president's message, that persons would be appointed to conduct the negotiations, and that they would report to him (the secretary). Oct. 18, X called on Pinckney with a message from Talleyrand: it would be necessary, in order to calm the exasperation of the directory, that a bribe of 1,200,000 livres (£50,000) should first be given them. Pinckney refused to discuss the matter without his colleagues, and X the next day laid written propositions before the envoys. The bribe to the directory was now supplemented by the demand of a "loan" to the French republic: if both were agreed to, the directory would restore the treaty of 1778, and submit American claims for damages to arbitration, provided also that the American government would "advance" money to pay any damages awarded against France. Within the next few days, Y and Z appeared, and the proposed form of the loan was explained. France had extorted from her "sister republic" of Holland, and still held, shares of stock amounting to 32,000,000 florins (£2,560,000), worth about half their par value. The United States envoys were to offer to buy these at par; and, as Holland was certain to pay them at par after the war, the whole transaction would really be only a loan. But Y put the whole negotiation into a nutshell thus: "I will not disguise from you that, this satisfaction being made, the essential part of the treaty remains to be adjusted: il faul de Vargent, il faut beaucoup d'argent—you must pay money, you must pay a great deal of money." They informed the envoys that nothing could be done in Paris without money; that one of the directory was in the pay of the privateers-men who had been plundering American commerce; that Hamburg and other European states had been compelled to buy a peace; and that the United States must do the same. The envoys nursed the negotiation very skillfully, proposing to send one of their number home for instructions, to suspend French captures in the meantime, and to do various inadmissible things, until they had accumulated a most unsavory mass of "diplomatic" matter. Oct. 27, X became impatient. "Said he: Gentlemen, you do not speak to the point; it is money it is expected that you will offer money. We said that we had spoken to that point very explicitly: we had given an answer. No, said he: you have not; what is your answer? We replied. It is no; no; no; not a sixpence." This plain, manly and simple answer is probably the one which was distorted into the more bombastic form, much more popular in America: "Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute."

III.325.9

—The next day Talleyrand himself had an interview with Gerry, Z acting as interpreter. He informed Gerry that unless the envoys "assumed powers, and made a loan" within a week, the directory would issue a decree demanding an explanation of objectionable passages in Adams' message. On Gerry's report, the envoys unitedly sent word to Talleyrand that they would assume no such powers, and that he need not delay the decree on their account. On the following day X became still more urgent. He offered to allow the envoys to remain in Paris and communicate with their government as to the "loan," provided the bribe to the directory was paid; but, in default of this condition, threatened the expulsion of the envoys from France, and a declaration of war against the United States. This the envoys answered by flatly declining any further negotiations with unofficial agents, and here their mission really ended. The remainder of their six months in Paris was spent in preparing memorials to Talleyrand, writing dispatches to their own government, and repulsing the continued efforts of X, Y and Z to renew their negotiations. It was not until April 3, 1798, that Talleyrand dismissed Pinckney and Marshall, and then only by a letter to Gerry stating that he supposed they had "thought it useful and proper," by this time, to quit the territories of the republic. Marshall sailed for home April 16, but Pinckney was detained for several months by the illness of a daughter.

III.325.10

—The powers given to the envoys had been joint and several, and Talleyrand, ever since the preceding December, had tried to persuade Gerry to use his own power and make a treaty. Now, on dismissing Pinckney and Marshall, he expressed his desire that Gerry should remain so emphatically that Gerry obeyed, fearing a declaration of war if he should depart unauthorized. At the same time he informed Talleyrand that he would only confer informally and unaccredited. He remained in Paris until early in August, when he at last received a passport, and obeyed the imperative directions of his government to return at once. Before his departure news arrived of the explosion which the dispatches of the envoys had caused in America, whereupon Talleyrand indignantly denied all knowledge of the X Y Z negotiations, and called upon Gerry to give him the names of the "wretched intriguers" who had taken advantage of the envoys. This indignation blinded no one; and Y, who had taken refuge in Hamburgh, made a counter-declaration that he had never taken a step in the negotiations without Talleyrand's knowledge and direction.

III.325.11

—The effect of the dispatches upon the democrats in congress was increased by the persistence with which both Talleyrand and his agents had returned to the assertion that their friends in America would believe and trust them rather than the federalist commissioners. They had so far mistaken the party, said Jefferson, "as to suppose their first passion to be attachment to France and hatred of the federal party, and not love of their country." At any rate, the allegation made the democrats (or republicans) for the time a highly unpopular party. A flame of warlike feeling burst out from the country at large, and war meetings, processions and addresses to the president, volunteering, and private subscriptions of money and war vessels for government use, became the order of the day. The black cockade, the revolutionary badge, was generally worn; two new patriotic songs, "Hail Columbia" and "Adams and Liberty," became highly popular; and the president, careering at the head of the storm, felt for once that he liked the people and that the people liked him. In the only doubtful portion of congress, the house of representatives, all the doubtful members, and many of the democrats, fell instantly into line with the federalists. The senate bills for increasing the navy and purchasing foundries were passed at once, and the necessary appropriations were made. The navy, hitherto under control of the secretary of war, was made a separate department (April 30). The president was authorized to enlist 10,000 regular troops, and 10,000 volunteers, if any foreign power should invade or declare war against the United States within three years (May 28). American vessels of war were authorized to capture any "armed vessels, sailing under authority or pretense of authority from the republic of France," which should commit depredations on American commerce (May 28). American merchant vessels were authorized to resist capture by French vessels (June 25); and American war vessels and privateers were finally authorized (July 9) to capture armed French vessels of every description. Commercial intercourse between the United States and France and her dependencies was suspended (June 13); and a brief act of July 9 declared the treaties with France no longer binding upon the United States, since France had repeatedly violated them, refused reparation, and "repelled with indignity" all attempts to negotiate. Acts were also passed for the imposition of a direct tax, for a loan upon the credit of the direct tax, and for a general loan of $5,000,000.

III.325.12

—In strong contrast to the vulgar notion of the belligerency of democracies, the American republic has always aimed at peace. Nevertheless, its people have always been proud of its potential weight in war, and have been fond of looking forward to the day when its irresistible growth in power should reduce to an evident littleness the high-sounding international wars of the continent of their forefathers. In any such point of view the little history of the nation's first defiance to an equal member of the family of nations, of the quasi war of 1798 against France, and of the scattered sea battles in which the little navy acquitted itself so brilliantly, must always be an interesting point of departure. Had the dominant party stopped with the preparations above detailed, even its opponents must have acknowledged the vigor and success of its administration. But the time was one of political passion more intense than can well be conceived now. Each party had inherited many of the practices, and still more of the apprehensions, arising from previous party conflict in the mother country, where parties had not hesitated to assail one another, if not by force, at least by a forcible wrenching of the laws from their proper purposes. To the democrats, the provisional army, officered almost exclusively by federalists, seemed to be not only a means to provide salaries for their opponents, but a possible weapon of offense in party warfare. The step was defended by the federalists on the ground of the danger of an invasion of the southern states by a force of negro soldiers from the French West India islands, who would excite a slave insurrection. For the more flagrant measures, the alien and sedition laws (see that title), little defense could be offered. They were distinctly partisan. Under the operation of the sedition law, Hamilton published with impunity a pamphlet attack on the president, holding up to view his "disgusting egotism, distempered jealousy, and ungovernable indiscretion," and styling him an "arrogant pretender to superior and exclusive merit" while democratic politicians were arrested and tried for even circulating petitions against the sedition law, or for expressing a wish that the wadding of a cannon might strike the president in the broadest part of his person. Supposing the next congress should prevent the embarrassing feature of a democratic majority in the house of representatives, was the majority to be removed by a series of arrests under the sedition law, supported by the provisional army? The counter-movement of the democratic leader is elsewhere given. (See KENTUCKY RESOLUTIONS, NULLIFICATION.) Whatever its objects may have been, it need only be said here that the apprehensions which led to it were unfounded, and that the federalists attempted no such use of the sedition law.

III.325.13

—Even before Gerry's departure, Talleyrand had received news of the stir which the dispatches of the envoys had excited in the United States, and the effect was instant. The directory protested their desire for peace, and in August issued several decrees, releasing American prisoners, raising the embargo on American ships, and cautioning French vessels to do no injury to legitimate American vessels. They even drew a veil over the language of President Adams' messages, for which they had formerly demanded satisfaction, but which had now grown into an indictment of the directory's principles, practices and manners, of a warmth unheard of elsewhere at the time; and they semi-officially offered to receive a new American minister. But Adams, in his message of June 21, 1798, announcing Marshall's arrival, had declared that he "would never send another minister to France without assurances that he would be received, respected and honored as the representative of a great, free, powerful and independent nation." And in his annual message of Dec. 8, 1798, his language rose to concert pitch: he declined to send another minister to France without more determinate assurances, left it to France to take the requisite steps to accommodation, and gave that country "deliberate and solemn" warning that, "whether we negotiate with her or not, vigorous preparations for war will be alike indispensable." Meanwhile Talleyrand had been casting about for a channel through which to convey the assurances necessary; and had found it in William Vans Murray, the American minister to Holland. Nor was Adams unwilling to receive the assurances, for he had already found that war with France involved the elevation of Hamilton, whom he cordially detested. Washington had accepted the position of lieutenant general, conferred upon him at the previous session, on condition that he should be allowed to name his subordinates. As the three next in rank to himself he had named Hamilton, C. C. Pinckney and Knox, who were confirmed; but the president insisted on making Knox the senior, on the ground of his superior revolutionary rank, and only yielded before Washington's threat of a resignation of his own commission. Hamilton was thus to be practically commander-in-chief of the provisional army. He had already become commander-in-chief of the president's cabinet, which had been inherited from Washington; its members maintained a close and confidential intercourse with him, in striking contrast to the increasing contempt which their correspondence expressed for their nominal chief. To refuse Talleyrand's overtures in order to put Hamilton at the head of an army for the invasion of Florida and Louisiana, perhaps to make him a conquering hero and a popular candidate for the presidency, was more than could be expected from Adams. He could not trust his cabinet; and, without giving its members any hint of his intention, he nominated Murray as minister to France, Feb. 18, 1799, and a week afterward added Chief Justice Ellsworth and Patrick Henry to the commission. Henry declined, and Gov. William R. Davis, of North Carolina, was named in his place. The blow confounded the president's party. Every influence was unsuccessfully brought to bear on the president and on the senate to balk the nominations. The cabinet officers lost their heads: instead of either resigning or keeping silence, they protested against the step, and thus finally lost the president's confidence. The federal party, which had begun the year in high and united confidence, was now convulsed by sudden feud, the president stigmatizing his federalist opponents as a British faction; and the latter equally dreading, distrusting and disliking the president. The new mission to France had not only dissolved the provisional army; it had thrown the whole federal policy into the air. It is in itself a condemnation of the party that its policy should have been reduced by this time to a single card—the continuance of the hostile attitude toward France; when this was gone, the fire of the party was out.

III.325.14

—At first everything seemed to promise quick success to the new mission. Murray had been informed of his appointment, with the reservation that the other two members would not set sail until full assurances had been received as to their reception. Talleyrand hastened to give such assurances in the amplest terms Before the instructions for the envoys had been completed, the face of affairs in Europe had been so changed as to give the federalists some fresh courage. Disasters to the French arms had been steadily growing more serious; Napoleon, the directory's genius, was blocked up in Egypt or Syria; and in June, 1799, a new revolution displaced all but one of the directory. The government which had given the assurances of a kindly reception of the envoys was no longer in power, and the federalists urged the president to stop their embarkation until new assurances should be given. It may be that the revived federalist spirit was also due to the ascertained fact that the new house of representatives (1799-1801) would be federalist as well as the senate, a southern reenforcement having established a party majority there. Oct. 16, the president again chilled his party by directing, without consulting his cabinet, the immediate embarkation of Ellsworth and Davis. This step was attributed at the time to the president's frantic jealousy of Hamilton, who had inopportunely made his appearance in Trenton (then the temporary seat of government) at the same time with the cabinet and envoys, as if for consultation with them. It is now well settled that Adams' motive was mainly the pacific policy which has been the almost invariable rule with American presidents (see EXECUTIVE, III.): and that his action in this case differed from Washington's action on Jay's treaty only in the difference of mode due to the different characters of the two men. Nevertheless, this new reason for distrusting the president, together with the impossibility of ignoring in the approaching election the representative of New England, the section from which most of the federalist electoral votes were to come, left the party leaders in a quandary. Their only apparent road of escape was in the effort to make C. C. Pinckney president and Adams vice-president, and this road led straight to the overthrow of the party in 1800-1. (See CAUCUS, CONGRESSIONAL, I.; FEDERAL PARTY, I.)

III.325.15

—The envoys found, that, by the new revolution of Nov. 9, 1799, Napoleon, who had suddenly returned from Egypt the preceding month, had become first consul. Three commissioners were appointed to treat with them, and a convention was signed Sept. 30, 1800. It secured safety for American commerce for the future, until England and France in turn began to violate international decency in their attacks on neutral commerce (see EMBARGO); but Napoleon was ingenious enough to obtain a mutual abandonment of claims for damages, by reason of the declaration of congress in 1798, that the treaties with France were no longer in force. In this form it was finally ratified by both parties, and declared in force Dec. 21, 1801.

III.325.16

—See 1 Tucker's United States, 597 foll.; 2 ibid. (table of contents); 5 Hildreth's United States (table of contents); 1 von Holst's United States, 138 foll.; 1 Schouler's United States, 373; 2 Marshall's Life of Washington, 424; Monroe's View of the Conduct of the Executive, 34; Hamilton's Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq., 12; 2 Benton's Debates of Congress, 225 foll. (see index under FRANCE): 2 Wait's State Papers (2d edit.), 187-499 (complaints of France and of the United States); 3 ibid., 456-499, and 4 ibid., 1-137 (X Y Z dispatches in full); 1 Statesman's Manual. 116, 117 (messages of March 19 and Dec. 8, 1798); 1 Stat. at Large, 552 foll. (war acts of 1798); 1 Lyman's Diplomacy of the United States; Trescott's Diplomatic History of the Administrations of Washington and Adams, 158 foll.; 8 Stat. at Large, 178 (convention of 1800.) The democratic version of affairs will be found in 1 Randall's Life of Jefferson, 387 foll.; 3 Jefferson's Works (edit. 1830), 384-422; the Adams version in 8 John Adams' Works, 546-681, 9 ib., 10-307, and the numerous notes and references appended thereto: and the version of the federalists opposed to Adams in 2 Gibbs' Administrations of Washington and Adams, 15 foll. See also authorities under the respective parties, and under articles referred to.

ALEXANDER JOHNSTON.

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