WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:o Washington") to Secretary of State Colonel Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), Mount Vernon, 16 April 1798.
1 full page, 4to, verso silked at an early date, loose in an elaborately gilt-tooled brown morocco folding case, by Leon Gruel (the noted Parisian binder).
"THE MEASURE OF INFAMY IS FILLED": WASHINGTON CONDEMNS FRANCE'S "PROFLIGACY" AND "CORRUPTION" IN THE "X, Y, Z" AFFAIR
HE REGRETS THAT IT WILL "PRODUCE NO CHANGE" IN THE OPINIONS OF THE OPPOSITION PARTY (JEFFERSONIAN DEMOCRATS) AT HOME. A superb letter voicing his disgust and anger over the infamous "X, Y, Z Affair" and its repercussions. In retribution for the signing of Jay's Treaty with Great Britain, France issued unprecedented decrees which declared any ship carrying English goods to be a lawful prize of war and banned ships that had landed in Britain from using any port under French control. President Adams appointed John Marshall, Elbridge Gerry and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to Paris to negotiate the repeal of these draconian measures. When they arrived, in October 1797, the Directoire had seized power, and Charles Tallyrand had been named foreign minister. While the ministers waited without success to present their case to the Directoire, they were approached by three unofficial representatives--claiming to speak for Talleyrand--who suggested they pay a "gratuity" of $250,000 to Tallyrand, agree to loan money to France and to repudiate certain anti-French statements made by President Adams. "Suddenly it was obvious to the three Americans what the real grievance was; they had not come bearing money or offers of money" (Freeman, p.500). The Americans did not rise to the bait. They aborted their mission and sent a full account of the sordid affair to the Secretary of State. On 3 April, President Adams placed the account before Congress, substituting for the unofficial contacts the initials "X," "Y" and "Z." The sensational dispatches were immediately published, touching off a storm of patriotic resentment across the nation. Pickering took pains to furnish full transcripts of all the reports to Washington, who here voices his contempt for French diplomatic perfidy. "Your obliging favour of the 11th instant, enclosing copies of the Instructions to, and Dispatches from the Envoys...at Paris, was received with thankfulness..."
"One would think that the measure of Infamy was filled, and the profligacy of, & corruption in the system pursued by the French Directory, required no further disclosure of the principles by which it is actuated than what is contained in the above Despatches, to open the eyes of the blindest; and yet, I am persuaded that those communications will produce no change in the leaders of the opposition [Jefferson and the anti-Federalists]; unless there should appear a manifest desertion of their followers. There is sufficient evidence already, in the Aurora [the newspaper], of the turn [spin] they intend to give the business, and of the ground they mean to occupy, but I do not believe they will be able to maintain that, or any other much longer...."
Washington pointedly alludes here to the anti-Federalist "leaders" of the "opposition," who, he expected, were unlikely to alter their blindly pro-French stance, even in light of "X, Y, Z" revelations. (Jefferson, had in fact, suggested that Talleyrand, not the Directoire, should be held accountable for the attempted extortion). The Aurora had even editorialized that an annual tribute might be paid to France as in the case of the Barbary nations.
Published in Papers, Retirement Series, ed. Twohig, 2:242-243.