Jefferson noted, "All these things are working on the public mind. They are getting back to the point where they were when the X. Y. Z. story was passed off on them. A wonderful and rapid change is taking place in Pennsylvania, Jersey, and New York. Congress is daily plied with petitions against the alien and sedition laws and standing armies."
Jefferson then turned to the need for the pamphleteers' materials to be widely distributed. "The materials now bearing on the public mind will infallibly restore it to its republican soundness in the course of the present summer," he wrote, "if the knowledge of facts can only be disseminated among the people. Under separate cover you will receive some pamphlets written by George Nicholas on the acts of the last session. These I would wish you to distribute...."
The pamphleteer - today he would have been called a blogger - was James Bradford, and he reprinted tens of thousands of copies of Nicholas' pamphlet and distributed it far and wide. Hand to hand, as Jefferson did with his by-courier letter to Stuart - was how what would be today's postings to progressive websites were distributed.
In the face of the pamphleteering and protests, the Federalists fought back with startling venom. Vicious personal attacks were launched in the Federalist press against Jefferson, Madison, and others, and President Adams and Vice President Jefferson were scarcely on speaking terms. Adams' goal was nothing short of the complete destruction of Jefferson's Democratic Party, and he had scared many of them into silence or submission.
"All [Democratic Republicans], therefore, retired," Jefferson wrote in his diary, "leaving Mr. Gallatin alone in the House of Representatives, and myself in the Senate, where I then presided as Vice-President. Remaining at our posts, and bidding defiance to the brow-beatings and insults by which they endeavored to drive us off also, we kept the mass of [Democratic] Republicans in phalanx together, until the legislature could be brought up to the charge; and nothing on earth is more certain, than that if myself particularly, placed by my office of Vice-President at the head of the [Democratic] Republicans, had given way and withdrawn from my post, the [Democratic] Republicans throughout the Union would have given up in despair; and the cause would have been lost forever."
But Jefferson and Gallatin held their posts, and fought back fiercely against Adams, thus saving - quite literally - American democracy. Jefferson and Madison also secretly helped legislators in Virginia and Kentucky submit resolutions in those states' legislatures decrying the Alien & Sedition Acts. The bill in Virginia, in particular, gained traction.
As Jefferson noted in his diary, "By holding on, we obtained time for the legislatures to come up with their weight; and those of Virginia and Kentucky particularly, but more especially the former, by their celebrated resolutions, saved the Constitution at its last gasp. No person who was not a witness of the scenes of that gloomy period, can form any idea of the afflicting persecutions and personal indignities we had to brook. They saved our country however. The spirits of the people were so much subdued and reduced to despair by the X Y Z imposture, and other stratagems and machinations, that they would have sunk into apathy and monarchy, as the only form of government which could maintain itself."
The efforts of average people like that century's Cindy Sheehans, and fearless politicians like today's Howard Dean, John Conyers, and Bernie Sanders, made great gains. As Jefferson noted in a February 14, 1799 letter to Virginia's Edmund Pendleton, "The violations of the Constitution, propensities to war, to expense, and to a particular foreign connection, which we have lately seen, are becoming evident to the people, and are dispelling that mist which X. Y. Z. had spread before their eyes. This State is coming forward with a boldness not yet seen. Even the German counties of York and Lancaster, hitherto the most devoted [to Adams], have come about, and by petitions with four thousand signers remonstrate against the alien and sedition laws, standing armies, and discretionary powers in the President."
Americans were so angry with Adams, Jefferson noted, that the challenge was to prevent people from taking up arms against Adams' Federalists.
"New York and Jersey are also getting into great agitation. In this State [of Pennsylvania], we fear that the ill-designing may produce insurrection. Nothing could be so fatal. Anything like force would check the progress of the public opinion and rally them round the government. This is not the kind of opposition the American people will permit."
Like Cindy Sheehan, Jefferson knew that peaceful protests had greater power than violence or threats.
"But keep away all show of force," he wrote to Pendleton, "and they will bear down the evil propensities of the government, by the constitutional means of election and petition. If we can keep quiet, therefore, the tide now turning will take a steady and proper direction."
A week later, February 21, 1799, Jefferson wrote to the great Polish general who had fought in the American Revolution, Thaddeus Kosciusko, a close friend who was then living in Russia. War was the great enemy of democracy, Jefferson noted, and peace was its champion. And the American people were increasingly siding with peace and rejecting Adams' call for war.
"The wonderful irritation produced in the minds of our citizens by the X. Y. Z. story, has in a great measure subsided," he noted. "They begin to suspect and to see it coolly in its true light."
But Adams was still President, and for him and his Federalist Party war would have helped tremendously with the upcoming election of 1800. In France some leaders wanted war with America for similar reasons.