(1797–98) Diplomatic incident between the U.S. and France. Pres. John Adams sent special envoys Elbridge Gerry and John Marshall to France to help Charles C. Pinckney negotiate an agreement to protect U.S. shipping from French privateers. Before the three could meet with Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, they were approached by three of his agents—called X, Y, and Z in diplomatic correspondence to Adams—who suggested a bribe of $250,000 to Talleyrand and a loan of $10 million to France as preconditions for negotiations. Adams rejected the French demands and reported the mission had failed. When he was forced to reveal the correspondence, public outrage was followed by calls for war with France. The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed to restrict potential French sympathizers. The Convention of 1800 ended a period of undeclared naval warfare between the U.S. and France.
Learn more about XYZ Affair with a free trial on Britannica.com.
(1861) Incident in the American Civil War involving freedom of the seas. On Nov. 8, 1861, the Union frigate San Jacinto stopped the neutral British steamer Trent to seize Confederate commissioners John Slidell and James Murray Mason, who were en route to England and France to seek support for the Confederacy. Protests in Britain denounced the action and called for war. On December 26, William Seward admitted the Union's error in not bringing the ship into a U.S. port for adjudication, and the two men were soon released.
Learn more about Trent Affair with a free trial on Britannica.com.
(1934) French financial and political scandal. When bonds sold to working-class citizens by a credit organization run by the Russian-born swindler Serge A. Stavisky (1886–1934) were found to be worthless, Stavisky fled to Chamonix and allegedly committed suicide. Members of the right believed he had been murdered to cover up complicity with corrupt government officials. Demonstrations against the government by antirepublican groups, including the Action Française and the Croix de Feu, culminated in a riot on Feb. 6, 1934, which killed 15 people. Two successive prime ministers were forced to resign; a centrist coalition was eventually formed to restore confidence.
Learn more about Stavisky affair with a free trial on Britannica.com.
(1785) Scandal at the court of Louis XVI that discredited the French monarchy on the eve of the French Revolution. An adventuress, the countess de la Motte, schemed to acquire a valuable diamond necklace by duping cardinal de Rohan into believing that Queen Marie-Antoinette wanted to obtain it surreptitiously and that he could gain her favour by facilitating its purchase. When the plot came to light, Louis XVI had the cardinal arrested. Though acquitted, the arbitrary treatment of the cardinal deepened impressions of the autocratic nature of the king's government.
Learn more about Affair of the Diamond Necklace with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Affair has the same word origins as affect — an affair implies bonds of affection, but not necessarily so. Some affairs are premeditatively cold, exploitative or designed to extract information or to provide the basis for later blackmail or grounds for divorce.
In the most general sense, affair may be used to connote professional, personal, or public business. These include meetings or other functions, or tasks that need to be completed. For example, one might say, "I have other affairs to attend to at the moment." It may also refer to a particular business or private activity, as in family affair or private affair. An affair, in the political sense, typically refers to any kind of involvement in illicit business by any kind of public representatives, such as in the Watergate affair. Like the earlier definition this is not always the case — for example the British Government has a Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, which is a perfectly legitimate (and usually honorable) position.
Affair is not only used to describe cheating but may also describe part of an agreement referred to as open marriage, which sanctions some extramarital affairs and not others. When one of the non-sanctioned affairs occurs it is described as infidelity and often experienced as a betrayal both of trust and integrity.
Affairs are sometimes accompanied by scandal. When used in this context, "affair" usually implies sexual impropriety, but that is not necessarily the case. For example, in the classic film An Affair to Remember, the love affair in question might be considered acceptable from some moral standpoints. However, an emotional affair can be as devastating for the one who is excluded or betrayed by it as if a full sexual liaison had occurred. By contrast the film Dangerous Liaisons shows many sides to a culture of illicit affairs between the main characters. It explores the escalating costs of covert and immoral adventures.
The linkage of sex and romance with affair provides the basis for entertainment in advertising, art, literature, film, plays and in TV soaps. It can fuel crusades against monogamy or promoting the value of monogamy.