XYZ Affair IN: Columbian Centinel, Extraordinary (April 16, 1798)

Charles PINCKNEY   |   John ADAMS

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ADAMS, John and PINCKNEY, Charles. Letters of Credence and Full Powers to the Envoys. IN: Columbian Centinel, Extraordinary. Monday, April 16, 1798. [Boston: Benjamin Russell], 1798. Single sheet of laid stock in tabloid format, measuring 12 by 20 inches folded.

mportant newspaper publication of the infamous “XYZ” dispatches, informing President Adams of “indirect suggestions of loans and bribes to France” by Talleyrand’s representatives (referred in the dispatches as X, Y, and Z) and the failure of the U.S. peace commission to end French aggression at sea by diplomatic means.

In 1797, President Adams took measures to defuse growing tensions with France over mercantile commerce by sending two additional diplomats, John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry, to join the U.S. Minister to France Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in Paris. They were to serve as a peace commission. “This three-man commission was immediately confronted by the refusal of French foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand to receive it officially. Indirect suggestions of loans and bribes to France were made to the commissioners through Mme de Villette, a friend of Talleyrand. Negotiations were carried on through her with Jean Conrad Hottinguer and Lucien Hauteval, both Swiss, and a Mr. Bellamy, an American banker in Hamburg; the three were designated X, Y, and Z in the mission’s dispatches to the United States. The proposal that the Americans pay Talleyrand about $250,000 before the French government would even deal with them created an uproar when it was released in the United States, where the pro-British party welcomed the chance to worsen Franco-American relations. The U.S. representatives made no progress and the mission broke up… Meanwhile, an undeclared naval war ensued between France and the United States… The XYZ Affair contributed to American patriotic legend in the reply Pinckney is supposed to have made to the French request for money, ‘Millions for defense, sir, but not one cent for tribute.’ This reply was certainly not made, but a better case can be made for the alternate version, ‘No, no, not a sixpence” (William Stinchcombe). When Marshall and Pinckney returned to America and reported the incident, the Democratic Republicans suspected a Federalist plot to instigate war with France and challenged Adams to prove the allegations. In response, Adams released the XYZ dispatches to Congress on April 3, 1798— to general American outrage— declaring: “I will never send another Minister to France without assurance that he will be received, respected, and honored, as the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent nation.” This account of the entire affair, based upon those official dispatches, was published by the leading Federalist newspaper, Boston’s Columbian Centinel, in an “extra” dated Monday, April 16, 1798 (here offered)— just two weeks after Adams turned the correspondence over to Congress.

Short split to horizontal fold (affecting a few words), several shallow chips to margins. Near-fine condition.

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