Empire of Liberty: The XYZ Affair

Excerpt from Dr. Jack Bankston’s “The Founding Years”, University of New South Wales Press, 2017.

Needless to say, Americans watched the French Revolution with great interest. Republicans and the majority of Americans wanted to see republican ideals translate to their old allies. The Francophone states were especially hopefully that the old country would embrace liberty. One Quebecoise colonel from the Revolutionary War went as far as to publish an op-ed calling for the merger of the two countries. The Washington Administration and the Federalists however wanted to take a more neutral stance and refused to become entangled as the revolution turned into a bloody mess coupled to yet another general European war.

In the early stages of the revolution, and its subsequent war, the Washington Administration agreed on a position of neutrality. No one believed the U.S. had the military capacity to join a general European war. Washington’s Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, did believe, however, that while neutrality was a sine qua non, an official proclamation was unnecessary [1]. Ultimately, Washington overruled Jefferson (one of the reasons for Jefferson’s eventual resignation) and issued the following declaration:

“By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands of the one part and France on the other, and the duty and interest of the United States require that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers:

I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid toward those powers respectively, and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.

And I do hereby also make known that whosoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations by committing, aiding, or abetting hostilities against any of the said powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States against such punishment or forfeiture; and further, that I have given instructions to those officers to whom it belongs to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the law of nations with respect to the powers at war, or any of them.

In testimony whereof I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia, the 22d day of April, 1793, and of the Independence of the United States of America the seventeenth.

By the President:

 G. Washington [2]”

That said, American leaders had a mixed personal reaction to the bloodshed in France.

Washington, in his role as president, took an almost businesslike approach to the revolution. His first letter to France after the events began was to Louis XVI, not to discuss politics, but to express condolences to the French king for the loss of a son. In a letter to Lafayette after the storming of the Bastille:

“The revolution, which has taken place with you, is of such magnitude and of so momentous a nature that we hardly yet dare to form a conjecture about it. We however trust, and fervently pray that its consequences may prove happy to a nation, in whose fate we have so much cause to be interested and that its influence may be felt with pleasure by future generations. [3]”

John Adams, anonymously publishing a series of letters titled “Discourses on Davila” in 1790 and 1791, always appeared against the revolution. What began as a as direct translation of Enrico Caterino Davila’s 1631 work, “Historia delle guerre civili di Francia” regarding the sixteenth-century French Wars of Religion, evolved into commentary on Davila and French history, with a particular emphasis on the excesses of the revolution and their influence on America. For example:

“The increase and dissemination of knowledge, instead of rendering unnecessary the checks of emulation and the balances of rivalry in the orders of society and constitution of government, augment the necessity of both. It becomes the more indispensable that every man should know his place, and be made to keep it. Bad men increase in knowledge as fast as good men; and science, arts, taste, sense, and letters, are employed for the purposes of injustice and tyranny, as well as those of law and liberty; for corruption, as well as for virtue.

Frenchmen! Act and think like yourselves! confessing human nature, be magnanimous and wise. Acknowledging and boasting yourselves to be men, avow the feelings of men. The affectation of being exempted from passions is inhuman. The grave pretension to such singularity is solemn hypocrisy. Both are unworthy of your frank and generous natures. Consider that government is intended to set bounds to passions which nature has not limited; and to assist reason, conscience, justice, and truth, in controlling interests, which, without it, would be as unjust as uncontrollable.

Americans! Rejoice, that from experience you have learned wisdom; and instead of whimsical and fantastical projects, you have adopted a promising essay towards a well-ordered government. Instead of following any foreign example, to return to the legislation of confusion, contemplate the means of restoring decency, honesty, and order in society, by preserving and completing, if any thing should be found necessary to complete the balance of your government. In a well-balanced government, reason, conscience, truth, and virtue, must be respected by all parties, and exerted for the public good. [4]”

Opposite of Adams stood Thomas Jefferson, the great ally of France and an ardent republican. As the American experiment continued over the years, Jefferson grew increasingly suspicious of monarchists, whom he titled “monocrats”. In his mind’s eye, men like Hamilton, Adams and even the illustrious George Washington himself, too often verged on monarchists. Ever paranoid, Jefferson constantly worried and lamented the possibility of a coup that would place Washington in an independent executive position for life. His fears were not limited to an American monarchy. Correspondence throughout his life displayed concerns that distant oceanic states, such as Newfoundland or Barbados, were a few series of unfortunate events away from crawling back to London. When the French rose against Louis XVI, Jefferson, then a minister to France, applauded their efforts. From then on, his support never wavered, even when the revolution took bloodier paths that turned off many supporters.

For example, he wrote in 1795 to Tench Coxe, a Philadelphia merchant and Pennsylvanian politician, after the fall of the Dutch Republic:

“I congratulate you on the successes of our two allies. Those of the Hollanders are new, and therefore pleasing. It proves there is a god in heaven, and that he will not slumber without end on the iniquities of tyrants, or would-be tyrants, as their Stadtholder. This ball of liberty, I believe most piously, is now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe, at least the enlightened part of it, for light & liberty go together. It is our glory that we first put it into motion, & our happiness that being foremost we had no bad examples to follow. What a tremendous obstacle to the future attempts at liberty will be the atrocities of Robespierre! [5]”

Thankfully, even Jefferson had the wherewithal to condemn Robespierre’s excesses. Yet, he still looked favorably on what was, at its core, a French invasion of the Dutch Republic and viewed it as the domino that the American Revolution initially tipped and would therefore tip revolutions across the globe. Of course, we know Jefferson was largely correct, but written support of the revolution in the immediate aftermath of its bloodiest phase is certainly eye opening, especially given the reactions of that day.

Jefferson’s fellow republican (though this label is often disputed), Quebecoise Governor Guy Carleton, had an interesting perspective given the moods of his state. In a 1792 letter to Aaron Burr:

“The city [Quebec City] speaks of nothing but the events in France. I have scarcely seen a front page of one of the local papers featuring a story of anything other than the events in that country. Every week, new ships arrive carrying emigres from such disparate places as Paris, Caen, Toulon and Nantes. Some arrive with great riches and servants, ready to establish estates along the river [St. Lawrence]. Some poor wretches arrive with the clothes on their backs and little else. A sad sight indeed to see such learned people cast so low. We should praise the Almighty that our own revolution was such a clean affair. [6]”

Unlike much of the United States, francophone states received the bulk of French migrants, often-wealthy individuals from the upper and middle classes fleeing persecution and confiscation of (mobile) property. The influx of such migrants tended to flip places like Quebec and Dominica from pro-revolution states to ardently anti-revolution states.

Perhaps a more laymans opinion comes from a diary entry from Federalist Congressman Arnold Meredith of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Meredith, writing in 1796, expressed the following:

“More reports arrived today. Papers from Spanish Town as well as a packet from Charleston. The situation in France remains chaotic. It astounds the mind how our allies and compatriots in the cause of liberty could stoop to such depravity. The desecration of churches from those who inspired freedom of faith. The executions without trial. I so often feared twenty years ago that, as the cause balanced on the edge of a sword, a slight push might tip us back towards monarchism. Perhaps I should have worried more that a slight push one way would have led us back to monarchism and a slight push the opposite would have stripped of us of our very civilization. [7]”

In public, the nascent political factions of the day, Jefferson’s republicans and Hamilton’s federalists, engaged in yet another spirited editorial debate. Hamilton and James Madison (reluctantly writing at the request of Jefferson) squared off in the Pacificus-Helvidius debates. Hamilton, writing under the pseudonym Pacificus, published seven essays in support of the neutrality proclamation. Madison, writing as Helvidius at Jefferson’s request, rebutted Hamilton in his own series of essays. Interestingly, the debates dealt less with foreign affairs and more with the role of executive authority in intercountry relations.

For example, Hamilton wrote:

“The Legislative Department is not the organ of intercourse between the United States and foreign Nations. It is charged neither with making nor interpreting Treaties. It is therefore not naturally that Organ of the Government, which is to pronounce the existing condition of the Nation, with regard to foreign Powers, or to admonish the Citizens of their obligations and duties as founded upon that condition of things. Still less is it charged with execution and observance of those obligations and those duties.

It is equally obvious that the act in question is foreign to the Judiciary Department of Government. The province of that Department is to decide litigations in particular cases. It is indeed charged with the interpretation of treaties; but it exercises this function only in the litigated cases; that is where contending parties bring before it a specific controversy. It has no concern with pronouncing upon the external political relations of Treaties between Government and Government. This position is too plain to need being insisted upon.

It must then of necessity belong to the Executive Department to exercise the function in Question—when a proper case for the exercise of it occurs.

It appears to be connected with that department in various capacities, as the organ of intercourse between the Nation and foreign Nations—as the interpreter of the National Treaties, in those cases in which the Judiciary is not competent, that is in the cases between Government and Government—as the power, which is charged with the Execution of the Laws, of which Treaties form a part—as that Power which is charged with the command and application of the Public Force.

This view of the subject is so natural and obvious—so analogous to general theory and practice—that no doubt can be entertained of its justness, unless such doubt can be deduced from particular provisions of the Constitution of the UStates….

The general doctrine of our Constitution is that the EXECUTIVE POWER of the Nation is vested in the President; subject only to the exceptions and qu[a]lifications which are expressed in the instrument.

Two of these have been already noticed—the participation of the Senate in the appointment of Officers and in the making of Treaties. A third remains to be mentioned: the right of the Legislature “to declare war and grant letters of marque and reprisal.”

With these exceptions the EXECUTIVE POWER of the Union is completely lodged in the President. This mode of construing the Constitution has indeed been recognized by Congress in formal acts, upon full consideratioin and debate. The power of removal from office is an inportant instance. [8]”

To which Madison, as Helvidius, replied:

“The natural province of the executive magistrate is to execute laws, as that of the legislature is to make laws. All his acts therefore, properly executive, must presuppose the existence of the laws to be executed. A treaty is not an execution of laws: it does not pre-suppose the existence of laws. It is, on the contrary, to have itself the force of a law, and to be carried into execution, like all other laws, by the executive magistrate. To say then that the power of making treaties which are confessedly laws, belongs naturally to the department which is to execute laws, is to say, that the executive department naturally includes a legislative power. In theory, this is an absurdity—in practice a tyranny. [9]”

The debates were the Federalist Papers reborn, this time Madison and Hamilton squaring off against each other to debate their interpretations of the constitution rather than working together in an attempt to sell the document itself.

Fascinatingly, years later when Adams and Jefferson thawed their icy relationship and resumed correspondence, a series of letters appears to reveal their true concerns. In an 1813 letter from Adams to Jefferson:

“The first time, that you and I differed in Opinion on any material Question; was after your arrival from Europe; and that point was the french Revolution.

you was well persuaded in your own mind that the Nation would Succeed in establishing a free Republican Goverment: I was as well persuaded, in mine, that a project of Such a Government, over five and twenty millions people, when four and twenty millions and five hundred thousands of them could neither write nor read: was as unnatural irrational and impracticable; as it would be over the Elephants Lions Tigers Panthers Wolves and Bears in the Royal Menagerie, at Versailles. Napoleon has lately invented a Word, which perfectly expresses my opinion at that time and ever Since. He calls the Project Ideology. And John Randolph, tho he was 14 years ago, as wild an Enthusiast for Equality and Fraternity, as any of them; appears to be now a regenerated Proselite to Napoleons opinion and mine, that it was all madness. [10]”

We have no record of a potential Jeffersonian response, if there ever was one (Adams wrote to Jefferson far more than Jefferson wrote to Adams), but we do have an 1815 paragraph from Jefferson that might lend some details:

“I have thus stated my opinion on a point on which we differ, not with a view to controversy, for we are both too old to change opinions which are the result of a long life of enquiry and reflection; but on the suggestion of a former letter of yours that we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other. we acted in perfect harmony thro’ a long and perilous contest for our liberty and independance. a constitution has been acquired which, tho neither of us think perfect, yet both consider as competent to render our fellow-citizens the happiest and the securest on whom the sun has ever shone. if we do not think exactly alike as to it’s imperfections, it matters little to our country which, after devoting to it long lives of disinterested labor, we have delivered over to our successors in life, who will be able to take care of it, and of themselves. [11]”

From what we can tell, Adams wished (and often attempted) to steer their correspondence into political topics that had once split their friendship. Jefferson, politely declining, essentially steered Adams from such while attesting, even in 1815, that they would have to, essentially, agree to disagree.

As the revolution pressed on and became more radical, the revolutionaries began to feel betrayed by their American allies. To many, the American Revolution, not their own, had been the first step in what they hoped would be a global revolt against the oppressive forces of nobility (recall Jefferson’s earlier point in his letter to Coxe). For the Americans to abandon them, especially during the War of the First Coalition, such a thing would have been unimaginable before it actually happened.

To add insult to injury, two events occurred in the Washington Administration that especially insulted Paris.

The first was the signing of Jay’s Treaty, which resolved many lingering issues from the American Revolutionary War. John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington all pushed the treaty that normalized trade, resolved property issues, and compensated for merchant and warships that both the Americans and the British confiscated during the war. The treaty was unpopular with republicans. Jefferson, in a letter to Madison in 1795 wrote:

“Mr. Jay’s treaty has at length been made public. So general a burst of dissatisfaction never before appeared against any transaction. Those who understand the particular articles of it, condemn these articles. Those who do not understand them minutely, condemn it generally as wearing a hostile face to France. This last is the must numerous class, comprehending the whole body of the people, who have taken a greater interest in this transaction than they were ever known to do in any other. It has in my opinion completely demolished the monarchial party here. [12]”

While Jefferson seems hardly a biased source, events of the day seem to corroborate his claims. Due to their “aye” votes on the treaty, mobs attacked Pennsylvania Senator William Bingham’s home in Philadelphia and burned Kentucky Senator Humphrey Marshall’s effigy. In Frankfort, the Kentucky State Legislature passed resolutions demanding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to recall federally elected officials [13].

Conversely, many hailed the treaty as a great accomplishment, especially in those regions of the country dependent on trade with Britain such as New England and the Caribbean. Senator Stanley MacMahon of Newfoundland, a state reliant on fishing and the exportation of cod to Europe, primarily Britain, wrote to Washington in 1795:

“I must congratulate you sir upon the conclusion of a fine treaty with the English. You will be glad to know that you and Mr. Jay are the toast of St. Johns as the accords bring relief to the considerable anxieties of our people. Already talk abounds of increased profits and trade across the Atlantic in all manner of goods including dried fish, lamp oil, salts, and metalworks and timbers. [14]”

The Virgin Islands House of Assembly, one of the rare unicameral state chambers in the young United States, passed a resolution proclaiming Jay to be an honorary citizen.

Yet, while Washington’s endorsement ensured narrow passage but the opposition made it clear, not even Washington’s midas touch could entirely assure the passage of certain noxious legislation.

The second insult was Congress’ refusal to continue paying its war debts to France. Congress, struggling to pay down the state debts it was assuming, argued that the execution of the king meant that the revolutionary government was not the government it had worked with just a decade before. Because France had a new government, the United States owed nothing to it as the government it did have obligations towards no longer existed.

The twin betrayals rocked Paris. The French blasted Jay’s Treaty and hyperbolized it as an alliance between Britain and the United States. The refusal to pay debts became a knife to the back of all France. As Paul Barras, at the time President of the Directory, wrote in 1796:

“The Americans are a pack of rats! They speak of liberty and freedom from one side of their mouths while they negotiate with the enemies of such with the other. [15]”

In retribution, the Directory informed the privateers in its employ that American merchants were no longer neutral parties to avoid. Throughout the end of 1796 and throughout 1797, French privateers had a field day seizing surprised American merchants across the Atlantic and even into the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The sudden attack on American shipping supplanted all other issues as the hot button topic of the 1797 presidential campaign.

Everyone in the know was aware that Washington would step down into retirement. Back in 1793, many leaders practically had to beg Washington to run for a second term before he finally consented.

Despite this, the alarming proximity of the growing global conflict nearly convinced Washington that duty called for a third term. An excerpt from an April 1797 letter to Carleton:

“I must say, the concerns of the hour are great. War with France could either galvanize the states like it did against the British or it could split our populace in two. The divides are great and the number of men capable of holding this ship together are few. Perhaps confined to the author and recipient of this letter. [16]”

The concerns were great. After all, by 1797 Britain had snuck back in the Caribbean basin, war raged in Hispaniola and the French had all but declared war on the United States. A number of secret meetings occurred in Philadelphia that summer to determine the best way forward. Even today, we are uncertain as to the extent of those discussions but it seems leaders floated a number of compromise tickets out for the campaign.

Ideas discussed seemed to include a third Washington-Adams term, a Washington-Jefferson ticket, an Adams-Jefferson ticket, a Carleton-Washington ticket and even a Carleton-Briggs ticket. In the end, an Adams-Briggs ticket emerged with the understanding that Carleton would become Secretary of War and Jefferson would become Secretary of State. Washington, despite being desperate to return to Mount Vernon, wisely read the domestic and intercountry situation, and decided to remain in Philadelphia. Throughout the summer and early fall of 1797 attempts were made by the Washington Administration to come to an accord with Paris but all attempts went nowhere. As the election neared and the reality of the compromise ticket seemed to dawn on everyone, news arrived from France that set the country ablaze. The French Foreign Minister had received American diplomats in Paris but negotiations would not start until a bribe was paid and a sizeable loan given. The conveyors of these illicit demands had their names redacted in the message the diplomats sent back to Philadelphia as Messrs. X, Y and Z.

The scandalous letter insulted American honor. New Jersey Congressman Jonathan Dayton, the Speaker of the House, read the letter aloud in Congress to numerous boos and jeers. Washington sent out a message to all Americans ordering the country to:

“Adopt with promptitude, decision, and unanimity [measures to protect] our seafaring and commercial citizens, for the defense of any exposed portions of our territory, to defend the interests and integrity of our island regions, for replenishing our arsenals, establishing foundries, and military manufactures, and to provide such efficient revenue as will be necessary to defray extraordinary expenses and supply the deficiencies which may be occasioned by depredations on our commerce.[17]”

The XYZ Affair all but confirmed everyone’s worst fears about an imminent war. The compromise ticket would have to go through, as the new president would preside over either the start, or opening stages, of a new major war.

Politically, the compromise seemed to have rankled Jefferson who expected a victory over Adams in the coming election but, for an unknown reason, he appeared uncharacteristically quiet about the affair. A letter to Madison reflects a possible hint at his mindset:

“This unity agreement is a scandal, but will be praised as great men setting aside egos for the good of the country. I fear a monocratist scheme and hope mine, Carleton’s and Brigg’s presence might limit any damage or conspiracy. We must be on guard the next several years. War, intrigue and politics will all follow Washington’s exit. I shall not be shocked if the Federal Party make an attempt on the constitution, either at the low point of the coming war or at the end. We are both aware of the dangers these men might present. Protest now will only make us out to be French agents and dampen our cause. Only caution and vigilance can rule the day. [18]”

Jefferson still led the most organized political party in the country and at some point, the nation would allow Washington to leave the political arena, and Jefferson would be first in line to make a proper campaign for the executive office. Until then, the national crisis demanded unity. He also knew that to oppose Washington, Carleton, Briggs and Adams while at the brink of war would be to invite political suicide for any future efforts.


Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The History of the Order of Freedom”, unpublished internal work, 1913

One of the great questions I sought to answer in writing this history regard the lead up to the Franco-American War. We celebrate the unity of the American government and of the founding fathers in the lead up to the war instead of what should have been a nasty election between Jefferson and Adams. Any student of history would know that political unity like this simply does not happen. Occasionally great men can make great decisions, which is why we venerate Cincinnatus and Washington. Nevertheless, groups of great men rarely make great decisions like the one made in 1797.

Coming into the writing of this history, I had a hypothesis that the needs of the Order trumped the politics of the day, which allowed for the unity ticket. After pouring over the secretaries notes and minutes from those days it would appear this hypothesis is correct in its assumptions. The debates that never occurred in public did occur in private. Five separate meetings throughout 1797 occurred where the discussion of expansion into French territory, the threat of Britain, the threat of revolution, the issue of Haiti, and the need for political unity all dominated. Three occurred at Monticello, another at Mount Vernon and the last at Palmhook [19]. The public honors the founders for their farsightedness and patriotism during this time but they do not know that, in actuality, the debate stretched the Order to its breaking point.

Jefferson dug in his heels to prevent Order manipulation of domestic politics and elections. On the outside, he argued that closed-door Order determination of political events flew in the face of the spirit of the charter and the revolution. We can see that he had a strong argument but the fact that everyone in those meetings knew that Jefferson stood to gain the most from an uninfluenced election undercut this. Furthermore, I’ve gleaned just enough from Jefferson’s personal notes, which he submitted to the Order in his old age for posterity, to understand his rationale. It is in vogue for many historians to present Jefferson as simultaneous power-hungry partisan and a republican idealist. Often he comes across as the foil to the illustrious Washington and his pragmatic political son Hamilton. It appears that Jefferson’s protests to the Order’s decision in 1797 had less to do with tabling his political ambitions and more to do with the fear that Adams might not give the presidency back.

It appears that Jefferson had true paranoia about a conservative coup that would upend the new constitutional framework and supplant it with either a monarchy, or a president for life. This also fits the narrative provided by the single public letter we have on the record which Jefferson sent to Madison. Jefferson believed that there existed a monarchist movement within the Federalist Party and that the tail was wagging the dog. Before the Order, no less, he cited a failed conservative attempt after Daniel Shay’s Rebellion to present Washington with a crown if he would support the overthrow of the government. He further cited the minutes from a meeting in 1784 and a meeting in 1793 where John Adams posited that new territories could be added to the United States did not necessarily have to take the format of republican states whether they be original states like New York or new states like Vermont. It might not be that Jefferson coveted the presidency and threw a tantrum but rather he truly sought to prevent the recreation of an aristocratic state led by a secretive cabal of elites that could shape the destiny of nations at their personal whim.

Furthermore, the public letter from Jefferson to Madison almost hints at paranoia that a coup was brewing within the Order itself. The public tends to interpret the letter as a confirmation of Jefferson’s fear of a federalist coup within the system of party politics. We, as Order members, tend to have the benefit of understanding the true nature of the decisions made by leaders over the years. That letter seems very near a private warning from one Order member to another to be constantly vigilant of Adams teleporting into Monticello or Montpelier in the middle of the night with a knife in hand.

Of course, this is purely conjecture on behalf of this historian. Personal notes and writings regarding the true internal thoughts of our membership from the beginning until this moment have always been difficult to come by. We are methodical note takers in our meetings but most of the off the record debate and discussion occurs via the word of mouth alone.

I speculate that these are Jefferson’s motivations.

I am also keenly aware that his personal thoughts and correspondence that does exist for the general public show other more base motivations. I cite an 1801 letter from James Madison to Jefferson that states: “You must reconcile yourself to the secondary, as well as the primary, if that should be your lot. [20]” Perhaps Jefferson became obsessed with winning the presidency after enduring four years of the Adams administration. Perhaps Jefferson, a man of ambition and pride, always coveted the position.

These meetings were not just purely philosophical debates. Considerable discussion of foreign policy occurred with the founders debating the course of a potential war and the return of the British to the Americas. Already in 1797, the minutes reflect that men like Washington, Jefferson and Briggs were more than aware that a second war with Britain lay on the horizon. These meetings even discussed some of the more ludicrous propositions in Order history from what I can tell. At least one discussion occurred at Monticello about pushing the power of the technology to its limit and sending Jefferson, as Secretary of State, to Paris to gain the influence of a Franco-American merger. A successful republican merger could lead to conquests of the empires of Spain, Portugal, Austria, Russia, Britain and perhaps even the Ottomans. Of course, I can think of several members today, myself included, who would shout “bully!” at the idea that the entirety of the heavy lifting of global conquest being complete by 1820!

For the most part, once the Order reached the decision to influence the election of 1797, the debates quieted down. There is no record that the Order guaranteed Jefferson the presidency in the future, but some curious lines in the record hint at, perhaps, an unwritten understanding of the future. Much of the debate and discussion at the Mount Vernon meeting and the second Monticello meeting regarded the best construction of a unity ticket. The second Monticello meeting confirmed what we already know, that the unity ticket would comprise Adams and Briggs but a sacrificial opposition by the republicans would occur to save party face heading into the 19th century.

Perhaps the most intense, interesting and consequential debates occurred at the third Monticello meeting and the Palmhook meeting…


Excerpt from Dr. Jack Bankston’s “The Founding Years”, University of New South Wales Press, 2017.

The Democratic-Republicans offered a token resistance to the electors in the form of Elbridge Gerry and Aaron Burr. This would ensure that the Democratic-Republicans received at least some votes as the New York and Massachusetts electors would surely put their native sons on the ballots as their secondary selections. The vast majority of electors applauded the patriotic ticket and display of national unity. The election swept Adams and Briggs into office. They would formally assume their roles in March 1798 but immediately joined the Washington Administration in coordinating a national response to the French provocation.

1797 election

The election of 1797 saw the “Unity Ticket” of the Federalist John Adams and Democratic-Republican William Briggs win the presidency and vice presidency as war clouds gathered between the U.S. and France. 

There were some hopes that an outright declaration of war would be unnecessary. Any war would be mostly naval based, the new American warships built from the 1792 bonds were operational and at sea. And, obviously, the United States and France lacked a border. Any fighting would occur in the Caribbean and American officers seemed weary of picking up where the British had left off in disease-ridden Hispaniola. In the end though, the votes were there for a formal declaration of war. The shipping interests of the north combined with slave revolt fears in the south to force a declaration. On December 9, 1797, the United States formally declared war on the Republic of France.

——— Author’s Notes ——–

[1]: Latin for “an indispensable and essential action”

[2]: This is from our timeline.

[3]: Also our timeline

[4]: And yet again, from our timeline.

[5]: Our timeline

[6]: Obviously this is a made up letter but since this chapter contains so many quotes from our timeline and in this timeline, I’m specifying which is which.

[7]: An in-timeline quote

[8]: Our timeline

[9]: Also our timeline

[10]: Our timeline but I want to clarify something. I’ve decided to maintain the Jefferson-Adams falling out despite both men’s membership in the Order. This timelines historians, with access only to public record, believe that, like our timeline, Jefferson and Adams went years with minimal, to no, contact due to political differences. In this timeline, I don’t see any reason why Jefferson and Adams would not still have an icy relationship due to politics, they would just see each other a bit more for Order business. Even then its not like these Order meetings are cocktail parties and picnics, they tend to be businesslike affairs. I see Jefferson and Adams working, cordially, together within the Order but maintaining their frosty personal relationship and only thawing it on their own terms later on.

[11]: Our timeline

[12]: Our timeline

[13]: Surprisingly, our timeline events as well

[14]: In-timeline

[15]: I looked everywhere for a French resource of records about their reaction to Jay’s Treaty but couldn’t find any primary sources. So this is a made up in-timeline response from Barras.

[16]: In-timeline

[17]: This is actually an order from our timeline from the Adams administration in the lead up to the Quasi-War. I’ve edited it and repurposed it as a Washington order (drafted by Adams) with some minor changes to reflect the American possessions in the Caribbean for in-timeline use.

[18]: Our timeline

[19]: Palmhook is the fictional location of William Briggs’ Caribbean estate.

[20]: Roosevelt is quoting a letter that also occurred in our timeline.

Source Materials

“John Adams’ Discourses on Davila.” The Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress – Presidential Fellows Blog. March 20, 2012. Accessed January 14, 2018. https://presidentialfellows.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/john-adams-discourses-on-davila/.

“Online Library of Liberty.” The Works of John Adams, vol. 6 (Defence of the Constitutions Vol. III cont’d, Davila, Essays on the Constitution) – Online Library of Liberty. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/adams-the-works-of-john-adams-vol-6/simple#lf1431-06_head_009.

Garrity, Patrick. “The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates.” Claremont Review of Books. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-pacificus-helvidius-debates/.

Jefferson, Thomas . “Thomas Jefferson to Tench Coxe.” Thomas Jefferson to Tench Coxe – Thomas Jefferson | Exhibitions – Library of Congress. Accessed January 14, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/181.html.

Lebert, Katie. “French Revolution Archives.” The Washington Papers. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/tag/french-revolution/.

McMaster, John Bach. Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography. Vol. VI. 1900.

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: the art of power. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2013.

Washington, George. “George Washington: Proclamation 4—Neutrality of the United States in the War Involving Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands Against France – April 22, 1793.” The American Presidency Project. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65475&st=&st1=.

Next Chapter: The War of the Second Coalition

One thought on “Empire of Liberty: The XYZ Affair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.