The XYZ Affair was a diplomatic incident between French and United States diplomats that resulted in a limited, undeclared war known as the Quasi-War.
In 1793, France went to war with Great Britain while America remained neutral. Late the following year, the United States and Britain signed the Jay Treaty, which resolved several longstanding issues between those two nations.
The French were infuriated by Jay’s Treaty, believing it violated earlier treaties between the United States and France; as a result, they went on to seize a substantial number of American merchant ships. When President George Washington sent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as the U.S. minister to France in 1796, the government there refused to receive him.
After John Adams became president in March 1797, he dispatched a three-member delegation to Paris later that same year in an effort to restore peace between the two countries. Once the diplomats—Pinckney along with John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry—arrived overseas they tried to meet with France’s foreign minister, Charles de Talleyrand.
After some members of Congress asked to see the diplomats’ reports regarding what had transpired in France, Adams handed them over with the names of the French agents replaced with the letters X, Y and Z; thus the name XYZ Affair.