Desk (courtesy Virginia Museum of History and Culture)

During the XYZ Affair, Marshall would have used this portable desk to dash off correspondence. Writing Desk (courtesy Preservation Virginia/John Marshall House)


In the 1790s, the nation was divided over its relations with warring Britain and France, and international hostilities continued into the Adams administration. When France severed diplomatic ties, John Adams, in search of peace, sent John Marshall as one of three envoys to Paris. These envoys became embroiled in what became known as the “XYZ Affair,” a scandal that inflamed anti-French opinion in the United States when American correspondence, drafted by Marshall, was widely published. Marshall’s handling of the affair made him popular with the American public.

In 1798, President Washington convinced Marshall to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Marshall was elected but served only a year. In 1800, President John Adams appointed him Secretary of State, and during that tenure, Marshall directed the negotiations of the Convention of 1800 that ended tensions with France and established a policy of neutrality that lasted almost a century.