Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    [XYZ Affair]. George Washington Autograph Letter Signed "Go:Washington." One page, 7.75" x 9.75", Mount Vernon [Virginia], April 16, 1798, to his former Secretary of State Timothy Pickering (whom Washington addresses as Colonel Pickering), now secretary under the new president, John Adams, expressing his disapproval after learning the details of the XYZ affair are made public.

    While president, Washington held a pro-British policy due to the influence of his secretary of the treasury (and former aide-de-camp during the war), the Federalist Alexander Hamilton. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, relations with the former ally became more stressed. By 1798, with French vessels constantly harrying American ships, the two nations seemed headed for war.

    In the first year of his administration, the new president, John Adams, tasked three commissioners with securing an economic treaty with France in an effort to repair relations. The mission was a failure and President Adams ordered all merchant vessels armed for possible hostility. Thomas Jefferson and the pro-French, Democratic-Republicans called for the publication of the dispatches from the commissioners in an effort to undermine Adams, who they assumed was hiding from the citizens of the country the truth behind the "peace" mission. The dispatches, when released, revealed an attempt by the French (each of the French agents the U. S. delegation met had been given letter designations; "X" for Baron Jean-Conrad Hottinguer, "Y" for Pierre Bellamy, and "Z" for Lucien Hauteval, hence the XYZ Affair) to extort a large loan for the French government, upwards of $12 million, an apology from President Adams for remarks made during a speech in May, 1797, and a $250,000 bribe to French foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

    The Americans refused and countered with the same terms offered Great Britain in the Jay Treaty which France immediately rejected. France reacted by expelling two of the three American agents of the commission, Charles Pinckney and John Marshall, both Federalists. The release of the documents blew up in the faces of Jefferson and the Republicans, fueling the fires of anti-French feelings throughout the U. S. The breakdown in diplomatic talks led to the undeclared Quasi-War, fought almost entirely on the high seas between 1798 and 1800.

    Here, Washington writes to Pickering and expresses his disgust at the actions of the French and the Democratic-Republicans, in full:

    "Your obliging favour of the 11th instant, enclosing copies of the Instructions to, and Dispatches from the Envoys of the United States at Paris, was received with thankfulness, by the last Post.

    "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 Dispatches, 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; unless there should appear, a manifest desertion of their followers. There is sufficient evidence already, in the Aurora, of the turn they intend to give the business, and of the ground they meant to occupy, but I do not believe they will be able to maintain that, or any other much longer."

    Uppermost horizontal fold is weakened at the right edge causing minor separation. In the last few lines, near the right edge, the text shows slight smudging, but is still wholly legible. Washington's signature is bold and very bright. The entire letter has been silked on the verso for preservation purposes.

    This letter is found in full on pages 248 and 249 in The Writings of Washington, Vol. 36, August 1797-October 1798.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2012
    4th-5th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,801

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Sold on Oct 4, 2012 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2022 June 8 - 9 Books Signature® Auction .

    Learn about consigning with us

    We had a wonderful time in New York during the October 2013 Historical Manuscripts auction that featured my mother’s papers collected during her tenure as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s secretary. In fact, the entire experience from beginning to end has been a pleasure.
    Howard Ballou,
    Brandon, MS
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search