The XYZ Affair Lesson for Kids

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michele Harkins

Michele has taught G.E.D. classes and has a Master's degree in history.

The XYZ Affair was an incident where three American diplomats sent to Paris were offered a bribe by three French secret agents: X, Y, and Z. Learn the impact of this event on the United State's relationship with the French in the later 1700s. Updated: 12/20/2021

XYZ Affair: Background

After the American Revolution, America was not doing well financially and needed to stay out of war. However, in 1793, Britain and France (who had always been competitors) were at war. Years earlier, during the American Revolution, France had helped America beat Britain and now expected America to help them in return. However, exhausted from war, America was going to stay neutral in the conflict.

Imagine that you had played a game of basketball for an hour straight. Once you got done, you'd want to rest, but instead of resting, your best friend wants you to play a soccer game. France wanting America to fight against the British was very similar to that.

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  • 0:04 XYZ Affair Background
  • 0:48 What Was the XYZ Affair?
  • 1:53 Quasi-War
  • 2:30 Lesson Summary
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What Was the XYZ Affair?

France felt that America was being an ally to, or supporting, Britain. Therefore, in 1797, France decided to get back at America. It seized American supply ships bound for Britain. U.S. President John Adams decided that he was going to try to avoid going to war with France. He sent three men to France to act as diplomats to keep the peace.

When the three men arrived in Paris, France, they were unable to meet with the French foreign minister, the Marquis de Talleyrand. Instead, they were approached by three French agents. The names of the agents were kept secret in legal communication and were simply called agents X, Y, and Z.

The X, Y, and Z agents refused to work with the three American men unless they paid them a large amount of money. Luckily, the three American men turned down the French agents' bribe and reported everything to the U.S. Congress. The incident of the three diplomats having bribes offered to them became known as the XYZ Affair.

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