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The three American commissioners arrived in Paris in October 1797. The Directory ruled the nation, but Talleyrand was the French foreign minister. To him, the envoys now brought their affairs, but his stay in America had not given him very pleasant notions of the people or of their government. He was closely associated with the rising power of Napoleon, who had begun to undermine the power of the Directory.

An overbearing policy towards the smaller states of Europe was already adopted, and the Directory, corrupt to the core, had established the practice of taking bribes from whatever state or private interest could be benefited by its action. Talleyrand, therefore, thought that the arrival of the Americans would afford another opportunity to fill his own coffers; and after that was done he was prepared to open the game of diplomatic fence which he knew so well how to conduct.

His first move accorded with this purpose. He delayed a formal reception of the commissioners, as he might well do under the pretext that it was necessary to determine what policy should be employed. In the meantime, three persons, designated later in the despatches as X, Y, and Z, called on the envoys as agents of the minister. They spoke of the difficulties to be overcome. The speech of Adams to Congress in May 1797, they said, must be explained, and France would expect a large loan for public use. Then they suggested that a gift of two hundred and forty thousand dollars to the Directory would facilitate negotiations. The reply of the commissioners was positive. They were not authorized or disposed to give a bribe. They put the proposition aside as unworthy and went on to discuss the other terms. The United States, they said, were determined to be neutral, and to lend France money at this time would be to take part in the war. Then the agents tried to play on the fears of the envoys — let them remember the fate of Venice; let them consider that French diplomacy could reach even to the internal affairs of America, where it could throw the French party on the British party and change the character of the government. To this, the reply was that France might possibly ravage our coasts, but that she could not destroy our nation as she had destroyed Venice. And thus with the bandying of words on each side, the conversations were carried on till one day the agents cried out: "Gentlemen, you do not speak to the point. It is money; it is expected that you will offer money." To which the envoys replied that they had already answered that. "No," said X, "you have not; what is your answer?" "It is," said the Americans, "No, no; not a sixpence."

On November 1, the envoys decided to deal no more with X, Y, and Z. They prepared a complete statement of our case against France and sent it to Talleyrand. The seizure of American ships, the embargo laid at Bordeaux, the operation of the Jay treaty on our treaties with France, and many more matters which we charged against that nation were all set down in the vigorous language of Marshall, who drew up the document. It made no impression on the Directory, but it served a good purpose when, a few months later, it was published in America.

Marshall's statement was submitted to Talleyrand on about January 17, 1798. Two months later the minister replied. He summed up the French contentions and added some expressions of contempt. He said that we had purposely prolonged the misunderstanding and that we selected envoys known to be prejudiced against France. Why, he asked, did we not do as well by the republic as we did by England when we sent Jay, a known partisan, to make a treaty? He had the hardihood to add, in closing his letter, that he desired to treat through Gerry alone. It was a vulgar way to dismiss the conferences, worthy of the crude but strong spirit of a government that knew little of the courtesy of that fine old French society which it had overwhelmed.

The commissioners now realized that all hope of success was gone. They protested that no one of them could take on himself to negotiate alone, and prepared to leave the country. Marshall's passports were given him grudgingly, and Pinckney, with some difficulty, got permission to remain for a while in southern France for the benefit of the health of his daughter.

Gerry was invited by Talleyrand to remain and continue communications, and disregarding the objections of his colleagues he accepted the invitation. He announced to the minister, however, that he would remain only as a private citizen. He was made to believe that France was about to declare war and that his influence might be useful to prevent such a step. He was honest and patriotic, but his decision was highly imprudent. It gave the French government ground to carry on its intrigue with the Republican party for influence and was calculated to make them believe that America was divided on the question before it. Nothing but a united stand was worthy of our representatives. In the United States, Gerry's action was severely condemned; even Adams lost patience with him and ordered him to come home as quickly as possible. He was able to convince the president that he had acted innocently, and posterity has been inclined to make allowances for him, but his conduct discredits him as a man of judgment.

Did the Directory desire war with America? All the evidence points to a negative answer; for war would merely deliver us into the arms of England, with our supplies of provisions and our active merchant marine. Talleyrand was not accustomed to muddle his diplomacy in order to gratify his prejudices. His real purpose was probably to frighten the Americans into a relinquishment of the newly formed connection with England, to help the Republicans get into power, and, by leaving the French privateers to continue their depredations on our commerce, to draw into his own hands a large supply of provisions. It did not displease him that the losses of Americans on this score would fall chiefly upon that part of the American people who were staunchly Federalist. For all her bluster, France took no step towards war.

In the meantime, public opinion in America awaited the results of the negotiations. Congress went languidly through the routine of the session. Measures of defense and money bills were contemplated, but nothing could be decided till news came from France. December passed without news, and then January came and went. With February men began to breathe more easily — no news, they said, was good news, for if the prospect were not favorable the envoys would have found some way of letting it be known. Then March came. On the 4th, Adams received despatches covering events up to the first of the year. A hasty examination showed that they were unfavorable. Without waiting for a full translation, he sent, on the next day, a message to Congress giving an indication of what might be expected.

Developments now strengthened in a striking manner in the hands of the war party. Pickering, at the head of the cabinet circle, wanted an immediate declaration and was only restrained by the argument that such a step would endanger the lives of our commissioners still in France. But Adams remained self-possessed. To ask for a bribe, and otherwise to insult our representatives, was highly humiliating, but it violated no interest in whose behalf a weak nation would be warranted in beginning a burdensome war. It was for us, and so Adams thought, to wait for France to declare the war, and to accept it as a brave people if she chose to bring it on. In the meantime, we ought to be preparing for hostilities. In these views, Adams was supported by Hamilton, who was in close touch with Pickering and Wolcott, and his views tended to moderate the spirit of the cabinet.

Congress and the country were deeply impressed by the turn affairs had taken. The Federalists pressed confidently for additions to the navy and army, and the Republicans were in terror lest in the excitement of the moment, the Federalists should get all they wanted. Jefferson proposed to adjourn till passions were cooled, but his voice was not heard above the commotion. Adams's recommendations he called an "insane message." Then the Republicans challenged the correctness of the message, and Congress asked to see the correspondence. Adams complied on April 3, withholding only the names of the agents who had dealt with the envoys, for which he substituted the letters X, Y, and Z. Even the Federalists, when all was revealed, were astonished at the insulting conduct of Talleyrand. They voted to publish the whole correspondence, and soon the country was in a flame of indignation comparable only to that which had greeted the Jay treaty. Adams had managed the affair with ability and temper, and the people recognized it. In one of his messages to Congress, he said, "I will never send another minister to France without assurances that he will be received, respected, and honored as the representative of a free, powerful, and independent nation." This sentiment exactly expressed the feelings of the country. In Congress, the moderates came to his support, and both Houses were safely committed to any policy of vigor which he would recommend. The Republicans became discouraged, and some of them went to their homes in order to do what they could to resist the tide of Federalism that was sweeping over the land.

Twenty acts were passed between March 27 and July 16, 1798, for strengthening the national defense. One of them established a navy department, at the head of which Benjamin Stoddert, of Maryland, was placed; others provided for equipping the three new frigates, and for purchasing or building twelve armed vessels and ten galleys. Adams had already removed the restriction on the arming of merchant vessels, and Congress now gave them the right to defend themselves and empowered the president to allow the national ships to take French vessels which interfered with our commerce. Under these rules, it was possible for United States ships to take French privateers and even vessels of war without a formal declaration of war. Congress also, to the great joy of many Federalists, on July 7, 1798, repealed the existing treaties with France. No longer were we bound by treaty in a defensive alliance with a European power.

Among measures of defense were bills to enlarge the army. A new regiment of artillery was authorized, and the president was given the authority to enlist for three years ten thousand volunteers. Hamilton had hoped that the number would be twenty thousand, but the antipathy for a permanent army was so great that his plans could not be realized.

The ships of the new navy were soon at sea. In December they numbered fourteen men of war properly armed, and eight converted merchant men. Some of them were small, but most of them were fast and well-manned. They were well able to deal with the French privateers; and the frigates, the pride of the fleet, showed that they could meet successfully ships of equal size from the French navy. Squadrons were stationed in the West Indies, where our commerce suffered most, with orders to seize privateers wherever found.

While on this service the Constellation, commanded by Captain Thomas Truxtun, fell in with the French frigate L'Insurgente on February 9, 1799. Truxtun gave chase boldly; the Frenchman tried to escape, but finding that impossible, came to, raised the tricolor, and offered battle. The Constellation outmaneuvered the L'Insurgente, kept her in an unfavorable position, and after a hot fight of an hour and a quarter forced her to surrender. The French captain was under orders not to fire on the American flag and had avoided the fight as long as possible. When he came aboard the Constellation he cried: "Why have you fired on the national flag? Our two nations are at peace." But Truxtun only replied, "You are my prisoner." The American people received the news with great satisfaction. The L'Insurgente had made many annoying seizures of American merchantmen, and it was good to think that vengeance had been satisfied.

Other engagements followed this. In February 1800, the Constellation fought a drawn battle with the French ship La Vengeance, of slightly superior size; in October 1800, the Boston captured the Berceau, and in the same year Lieutenant Isaac Hull daringly cut a handsome new privateer out of a port in Santo Domingo. This period of retaliation lasted for two and a half years and cost France eighty-four vessels, most of which were privateers. The part taken in it by our navy was very creditable. It aroused enthusiasm at home and won respect abroad. The patience with which France bore our sharp resistance shows how little she was inclined to war.

While the navy was winning honors at sea, the affairs of the new army were getting into a disgraceful muddle. Although it was voted for only three years, the Federalists hoped to make it a permanent thing, and Hamilton, who had persistently declined to re-enter civil office, did all he could to get high command in it. He was eminently qualified for the position; but if he held the views he was popularly supposed to hold about the weakness of a republic and the necessity for a strong government in the United States, his ambition assumes a sinister form. For commander-in-chief, all eyes turned to Washington. Adams was somewhat nettled because his own position as head of the army seemed to be ignored, but he made the nomination in good spirit.

Washington was too old to take an active part in campaigns; he accepted the command on the condition that he should not be called on for service till it was absolutely necessary. Hamilton's friends brought many arguments to bear on him on behalf of their plans. Hamilton himself urged that the administration had no policy and could not carry on the war of itself; McHenry, the secretary of war, and Pickering urged that the whole country wanted Hamilton for second place, and Washington, who had supreme confidence in Hamilton, agreed with them. All these matters were gone over in a long conversation with McHenry, the upshot of which was that Washington insisted that he should have the right to name his own staff. The determination suited the purposes of the cabinet exactly, and it was with satisfaction that they saw him send to Adams the names of Hamilton, Pinckney, and Knox for the three major generalships which came next to his own office. Adams duly forwarded the names to the Senate as he had received them, though he resented the pressure in favor of Hamilton, and they were confirmed. Immediately afterward the president went to his home in Massachusetts.

Knox and Pinckney had both outranked Hamilton in the old army, where the last-named was only a lieutenant colonel. Knox's friends and there were many of them in New England, began to say that he would rank in the new army according to his old standing. But the friends of Hamilton asserted in reply that the rank would be according to the order in which the names were sent to the Senate. The newspapers discussed the matter warmly, and Knox referred it to Adams, who decided that the old rank should be followed and sent orders to that effect to Philadelphia, where they produced consternation. Letters were immediately sent to Washington, who wrote a strong protest to Adams. In the face of this situation, Adams relented, and Hamilton became the second man in the army and was named inspector-general. Knox refused his commission, and thus another section of the Federalist Party was arrayed in opposition to the brilliant New Yorker. Adams was conscious of the intrigue which had gone on and wrote a sharp reprimand to McHenry for his part in it. It was already dividing the Federalist Party, and its effects were destined to be more serious as the months went by.

Hamilton's desire to get control of the army was but incident to a large plan of expansion which he had formed. "It is a pity, my dear sir," he wrote to McHenry, "and a reproach, that the administration has no general plan. Certainly, there ought to be one formed without delay. If the chief is too desultory, his ministers ought to be more united and steady." His own policy, he added, would be to maintain a regular army and navy, then to get possession of Louisiana and Florida, and all the time "to squint at South America." He was at that time deeply committed to the intrigues of Miranda on behalf of the freedom of the Spanish colonists.

But the easy-going McHenry stood in the way of this policy of expansion. Left to himself, it was a question of when the regiments would be ready for service. Hamilton, without the slightest hesitation, planned to supersede in part the functions of the secretary, and thus to secure administrative energy. "Scruples of delicacy," he wrote to McHenry, had long kept him from speaking, but he could delay no more. He saw that the work of the department was too heavy for one man. Part of it ought to be put upon the new major generals, and he would take the recruiting of the new regiments. To Washington, he wrote more plainly, and the commander-in-chief acknowledged McHenry's unfitness and promised to use his influence on behalf of Hamilton's scheme. But the secretary was not so dull that he was willing to admit a hand like Hamilton's to the workings of the department, and nothing came of the interference.

In November 1798, the staff met Washington in Philadelphia to select the officers for the new army. He was much annoyed by political recommendations, for he had his own ideas about the selection of his subordinates. They ought to be, he said, experienced Revolutionary officers of good present conduct, or gentlemen of character, education, and bravery; and all violent Republicans ought to be avoided because they would produce dissensions. If only Federalists had been given commissions, the war would have been a partisan affair from the beginning.

The indifference of the president to the raising of an army became more and more manifest as the weeks went by. He felt no desire to aid Hamilton's plans. The state of the finances and the increasing possibility that war could be avoided strengthened this inclination. When McHenry undertook to press the recruiting of soldiers, Adams exclaimed: "Regiments are costly articles everywhere, and more so in this country than in any other under the sun. And if this country sees a great army to maintain, without an enemy to fight, there may arise an enthusiasm that seems to be little foreseen."

After much delay, Hamilton got the recruiting underway in the spring of 1799, a full year after the reception of the X, Y, Z despatches. Enthusiasm was then gone and volunteers came so slowly that Troup could say, "The army is progressing like a wounded snake." The half-formed camps became scenes of discontent, desertion was common, sometimes the soldiers did not receive their pay promptly, the officers got furloughs with ease, and the general condition of the force was such that Washington was disgusted. All the time the Republicans let no opportunity escape to convince the country that no army was necessary, and in time many people became convinced that the great establishment was but a Federalist dream. "We are preparing for a war," said Monroe, "which does not exist, expending millions which will have no other effect than to bring it on us."

Long before a regiment was enlisted, information was received in America that France would not make war. King sent such news to Hamilton and Pickering, but they heeded it not. Gerry arrived in the autumn of 1798, bringing assurances from Talleyrand that war was not desired, but he was a discredited Republican and his words were lost. His report to Adams, which he counted on for his defense to the public, remained unpublished for months in the hands of Pickering, although the Republicans sarcastically called for its submission.

Then came the "mission" of Dr. Logan. He was a Philadelphia Quaker, a man of social influence, and a Republican. He went to Paris, as it seems, to endeavor to get the government to do something which should show that it was inclined to peace. Federalist papers announced that he had gone to give treasonable information to the French to be used in the coming war. He succeeded in securing the release of some American prisoners taken by privateers, and he made earnest efforts to show Talleyrand how disastrous the recent French policy had been for the interest of France in the United States. The minister received him with marked respect, and he returned to America with the conviction that his journey had been successful. The affair caused much bitter comment. It was looked upon as a partisan interference in foreign affairs, and in that sense, it was undoubtedly imprudent; but in a day when each party had its close foreign alignment, it was not so much to be condemned as later. The Federalists carried a law in the following session to forbid such interference in diplomacy by a citizen, and Washington gave Logan a plain evidence of his contempt, saying that it was singular that an unaccredited stranger could find out more of Talleyrand's intentions than three accredited ministers, and that if France really wanted peace, let her stop seizing our ships. But Adams received Logan more considerately and obtained from his report a definite impulse towards reconciliation with the French Republic.

In October 1798, Adams received official assurances that Talleyrand was willing to resume regular intercourse. That sagacious diplomat had already seen that he had gone too far. Through the French representative in Holland, he opened communications with William Vans Murray, minister at The Hague. Murray reported that he was assured that a minister would be received if one were sent. Adams received this information in Massachusetts, forwarded it to Pickering, secretary of state, and asked him to sound the cabinet on two questions: ought we to declare war on France if she did not declare it on us? and should a new minister be sent? But the conclave budged not and advised the president against sending a new minister. When his annual message to Congress was delivered, Adams showed that he had not taken this advice. Although he spoke in a firm tone of the situation with regard to France, he said that we ought not to close all avenues of peace.

The intriguers came to the Congress which met in December 1798, with a good heart. The newly-organized party caucus gave them strong control over the party majority in Congress. They hoped to strengthen their plans by creating the office of general of the army, which would reduce the military power of the president to a shadow. When Sedgwick announced this to Adams the latter cried: "What! are you going to appoint him general over the president? I have not been so blind that I have not seen a combined effort among those who call themselves the friends of government, to annihilate the essential powers given to the president."

For some months John Adams had been thrust into the background of his own administration. He now took matters into his own hands, and till the end of his presidency became the initiative force in its policies. On February 18, 1799, while measures of defense were being busily prepared and while the call for volunteers was being published to the country, he sent to the Senate the nomination of William Vans Murray to be minister to France. He announced that he had reasons to believe that a minister would be received, but that he would not allow him to go to Paris till he was assured by the French government that he would be received in a proper way.

This nomination fell on the FederaHst leaders like a thunderbolt. "Surprise, indignation, grief, and disgust," said Cabot, "followed each other in quick succession in the breast of every true friend of our country." Sedgwick said, "Had the foulest heart and the ablest head in the world been permitted to select the most embarrassing and ruinous measures, perhaps it would have been the one which has been adopted." "We have all been shocked and grieved," said Pickering; and Hamilton said that the message would astonish him, if anything from Adams could produce that effect. But the politicians were bagged; they must submit to the turn which affairs had now taken. They suggested that three commissioners be sent instead of one, and to this Adams consented. Ellsworth, Patrick Henry, and Murray were confirmed by the Senate for the proposed mission, but when the second refused to leave the country at his advanced age, W. R. Davie, of North Carolina, was appointed in his stead.

The abrupt method in which Adams announced his purpose to the world was justified by him on the ground that it was necessary in order to break the force of the intriguers. A calmer judgment, however, is that he would have done better to submit his plan to the cabinet in due course and then have done as he chose. That he shrank from such a plan is indicative of his whole course in regard to his advisers: he knew not how to master men or to withstand their arguments. Had he been otherwise, he might have taken a ruling attitude in the beginning; and this would have prevented much of the friction which the activity of outside influences was making. His action in February 1799, was the nervous up-flaring of courage on the part of one who had retreated for a long time before dangers which he was too timid to encounter with boldness.

In May 1799, word came that Talleyrand promised to receive the commissioners, and Adams ordered them to be despatched. But the conclave had not given up their purpose to delay, in the hope that war might yet be brought on. A change had just occurred in the French Directory, and Pickering affected to believe that this might alter their attitude toward the United States. He postponed the execution of the president's orders till Stoddert and Charles Lee, two members of the cabinet who had been gradually losing sympathy with Pickering, wrote to Adams in Massachusetts saying that his presence was needed. The latter grasped the situation and wrote that nothing was to be done about the French envoys till he arrived, and at once he started southward. Pickering received this information with satisfaction. He interpreted it to mean some change in the president's purpose to despatch the commissioners.

When Adams arrived, on October 10, he observed the confident tone of the conclave. He noticed, also, that Hamilton and Ellsworth had come on as if to be where their presence might be of most service to their plans. Once more he determined to teach his opponents a lesson. In a long cabinet meeting, he said nothing about postponing the mission; but he went over carefully and approved the instructions to be given to the commissioners and ordered Pickering to despatch them at once.

When the envoys met in Paris a change had occurred in the French government. The strong hand and wise head of Napoleon had replaced the corrupt and foolish Directory. The policy of nursing a French interest in America, which for seven years had been followed by Republican leaders in Paris, was now abandoned. The relations between the two nations were put upon the grounds of national dignity and national interests. No trouble was discovered in making such an agreement as secured neutrality and reasonable protection to commerce. When Davie returned late in 1800 with the completed treaty he was received with satisfaction. The Republicans were pleased because it brought assurances of peace with France. The Federalists found in it the consolation that the old treaties of 1778 were superseded. It was, in fact, a blessing that we had peace and that we were no longer bound to another nation by so embarrassing an arrangement as our old French alliance; but the repeal of the old treaty cost us the spoliation claims, for Napoleon insisted that both should stand or fall together. The Senate hesitated: it ratified for eight years and reserved our right to indemnity, but the matter was prolonged till the Federalists were out of office, and on December 19, 1801, the treaty was ratified with indemnity left out. The claims have never been paid by France.

As for Adams, he probably saved the country from war, and possibly from a train of internal dissensions through the machinations of Hamilton. He thought that this was his best public service, and long afterward said that he desired no other epitaph than this: "Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France in the year 1800."