The XYZ affair was the downfall of the Republicans. In 1798, the American government sent a delegate of three to the French government to initiate talks and negotiate so that the French would stop harassing American ships. The three were asked for a bribe of 50,000 pounds by a trio of officials in the then French minister’s office, Talleyrand. Highly scandalized, the three Americans refused to give the bribe. Since the names of the three French men were never revealed it become known as the “XYZ Affair”.
In his book, “Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Act”, John. C. Miller clearly outlines the pros and cons that characterized the approach and reaction of both the Federalists and Republicans to the American Revolution and the quasi- French war (pg 49). Since the republicans were tolerant of the French, the XYZ Affair reflected badly on them and worsened their already weak state. Fisher Ames, an outspoken federalist, said of the republicans on the issue. The main danger that the “Jeffersonians” stood to the young state was that they were lenient towards the French.
This leniency could have stood Americans at a great loss since they were already in a weak position and would not have stood the pressure of a full fledged war against Bonaparte (pg 49). They also worked at sowing dissent and spreading panic amongst the public. They used violent language in their address to the Federal government and were rough in their demands. Though they would not have resorted to violence, the federalists worked it to their full advantage by portraying them in a negative light. According to Miller, the Republicans also wished only to preserve a constitutional and economical administration of the government.
They were not rooting for any real change to be made (pg 49). He further says that the Federalists felt that the Republicans failed to put the country in a state of defense. Also that they were working at renting the country asunder by setting the north against the south, merchants against farmers, executive against congress (pg 57). An outspoken federalist Fisher Ames was vehement in his stance against the republicans “the Jacobins were merely resting in their hiding places, like serpents in winter, the better to concoct their venom (pg 57).
The Federalists did not want the influence of the French governing system to be an influence on their own system. As one Federalist put succinctly put it “the cursed foul contagion of French principles has infected us…the sprit of French democracy is as active as it is wicked…” (pg 57). Miller says that though the Republicans were more tolerant of the French and even tried dialogue, the Federalists took a firm stand against them and anything that the French stood for.
The Federalists felt that the French would annihilate American democracy and commerce if given the slightest chance. The Federalists also felt that the republicans were not rooting for any real change, fixated with the old fashioned way of doing things. In the face of the Revolution, they felt that the Republicans were a stumbling block. As Stephen Higginson of Massachusetts put it “there is yet a wicked and a vile spirit in congress, which opposes everything energetic and dignified, but it must be subdued or expelled (pg 57). Federalists were a pessimistic lot.
They, in their panic at times blew out of proportion the actual threat that the French represented voicing their fears in themes such as ‘the burning of Boston” ‘the pillaging of Philadelphia’, the execution by guillotine of president Adams and his cabinet” (pg 50). Their strategy was not political but rather based on courage and an all consuming belief in the hopelessness of the revolution. From this rose their determination to fight it out to the bitter end, be it at the cost of lives. WHAT WERE THE CHIEF PROVISIONS OF THE POLITICAL OBJECTIVES OF THE FEDERALISTS SEDITION ACT OF 1797?
According to Miller the saving grace for the republicans on the XYZ Affair was the implementation of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The legislation was funded by the Federalists and was aimed to suppress any uprising that may have been intended by the Republicans. On the 18th of June 1798, the Naturalization Act was passed by congress. It required that Aliens be residents for 14 years instead of the originally stipulated period of five years before they became eligible for citizenship. On the 25th of June the Alien Act was passed.
This act authorized the president to deport aliens who were found to be dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States during peace time The third law, the Aliens’ Enemies Act was enacted by congress on July 6th and it allowed the wartime arrest, imprisonment and deportation of any alien subject to an enemy power. Finally, on the 14th of July 1798, the sedition act was passed that declared any treasonable activity, including the publication of any false, scandalous and malicious writing”, was considered a high misdemeanor. It was punishable by fine and imprisonment. CONCLUSION
The tension that was experienced during the American Revolution can be squarely blamed on neither the Federalists nor the Republicans. Both parties were acting in a totally human capacity. As Miller tells us, “the state of the mind of the Federalists leaders was that of a beleaguered garrison, surrounded by enemies and distrustful of the loyalty of half the population within the fortress itself…” ( pg 49). But looking back in history, we can say that though misjudgments and mistakes were made, America survived the crisis. WORKS CITED. Miller John Chester. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Act. London: Little Brown Co, 1951. Reference