Alien and Sedition Acts
Overview
 
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress
5th United States Congress
The Fifth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives...

 in the aftermath of the French Revolution's
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 reign of terror
Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror , also known simply as The Terror , was a period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of...

 and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War
Quasi-War
The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought mostly at sea between the United States and French Republic from 1798 to 1800. In the United States, the conflict was sometimes also referred to as the Franco-American War, the Pirate Wars, or the Half-War.-Background:The Kingdom of France had been a...

. They were signed into law by President John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

. Opposition to Federalists among Democratic-Republicans reached new heights at this time since the Democratic-Republicans had supported France. Some even seemed to want an event similar to the French Revolution to come to the United States to overthrow the Federalists.
Encyclopedia
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress
5th United States Congress
The Fifth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives...

 in the aftermath of the French Revolution's
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 reign of terror
Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror , also known simply as The Terror , was a period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of...

 and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War
Quasi-War
The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought mostly at sea between the United States and French Republic from 1798 to 1800. In the United States, the conflict was sometimes also referred to as the Franco-American War, the Pirate Wars, or the Half-War.-Background:The Kingdom of France had been a...

. They were signed into law by President John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

. Opposition to Federalists among Democratic-Republicans reached new heights at this time since the Democratic-Republicans had supported France. Some even seemed to want an event similar to the French Revolution to come to the United States to overthrow the Federalists. When Democratic-Republicans in some states refused to enforce federal laws, and even threatened possible rebellion, Federalists threatened to send in an army and force them to capitulate. As the paranoia sweeping Europe was bleeding over into the United States, calls for secession reached unparalleled heights, and the fledgling nation seemed ready to rip itself apart. Some of this was seen by Federalists as having been caused by French and French-sympathizing immigrants. The acts were thus meant to guard against this real threat of anarchy. Democratic-Republicans denounced them as being both unconstitutional and designed to stifle criticism of the administration, and as infringing on the right of the states to act in these areas, though they did use them after the 1800 election against Federalists. They became a major political issue in the elections of 1798 and 1800. They were very controversial in their own day, as they remain to the present day. Opposition to them resulted in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves, authored by Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 and James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

, which were foundational to the states rights theory that helped lead to the Civil War.

Acts

Four separate laws constituted what is commonly referred to as the "Alien and Sedition Acts"
  1. The Naturalization Act
    Naturalization Act of 1798
    The Naturalization Act, passed by Congress on June 18, 1798, increased the amount of time necessary for immigrants to become naturalized citizens in the United States from five to fourteen years...

    (officially An act supplementary to, and to amend the act to establish a uniform rule of naturalization; and to repeal the act heretofore passed on that subject; ch. 54) repealed and replaced the Naturalization Act of 1795
    Naturalization Act of 1795
    The United States Naturalization Act of January 29, 1795 repealed and replaced the Naturalization Act of 1790. The 1795 Act differed from the 1790 Act by increasing the period of required residence from two to five years in the United States, by introducing the Declaration of Intention...

     to extend the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens of the United States from five years to fourteen years.
  2. The Alien Act (officially An Act Concerning Aliens; ch. 58) authorized the president to deport any resident alien considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." It was activated June 25, 1798, with a two year expiration date.
  3. The Alien Enemies Act (officially An Act Respecting Alien Enemies; ch. 66) authorized the president to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States of America. Enacted July 6, 1798, and providing no sunset provision
    Sunset provision
    In public policy, a sunset provision or clause is a measure within a statute, regulation or other law that provides that the law shall cease to have effect after a specific date, unless further legislative action is taken to extend the law...

    , the act remains intact today as . At the time, war was considered likely between the U.S. and France.
  4. The Sedition Act (officially An Act in Addition to the Act Entitled "An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States"; ch. 74) made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or certain officials. It was enacted July 14, 1798, with an expiration date of March 3, 1801 (the day before Adams' presidential term was to end).

Prosecutions

Republican editors, a member of Congress, and private individuals were targets of prosecution under the Sedition Act. Twenty-five people were arrested. Of them, eleven were tried, one died awaiting trial, and ten were convicted of sedition, often in trials before openly partisan Federalist judges.

Journalists

Benjamin Franklin Bache
Benjamin Franklin Bache (Journalist)
Benjamin Franklin Bache , son of Richard and Sarah Bache and the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, was an American journalist. He headed the openly Jeffersonian publication, the Philadelphia Aurora, which is notable for being some of the impulse behind the Alien and Sedition Acts...

, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, was editor of the Aurora
Philadelphia Aurora
The Philadelphia Aurora was a triweekly newspaper published in Philadelphia from 1794 to 1824. The paper was founded by Benjamin Franklin Bache, who served as editor until his death in 1798. It is sometimes referred to as the Aurora General Advertiser...

, a Republican newspaper. Bache had accused George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 of incompetence and financial irregularities, and "the blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous ADAMS" of nepotism and monarchical ambition. The Adams administration did not wait for the passage of the Sedition Act but arrested Bache on common law libel charges on June 27, 1798, two weeks before the Act was signed by the President. Bache died of yellow fever in 1798 while awaiting trial.

James Thomson Callender, a Scottish citizen, had been expelled from Great Britain for his political writings. Living first in Philadelphia, then seeking refuge close to Jefferson in Republican Virginia, he wrote a book entitled "The Prospect Before Us" (read and approved by Jefferson before publication) in which he called the Adams administration a "continual tempest of malignant passions" and the President a repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor". Callender, already residing in Virginia and writing for the Richmond Examiner, was indicted under the Sedition Act. Justice Samuel Chase of the Supreme Court presided at Callender's trial. Callender's counsel attempted to argue the unconstitutionality of the Sedition law, but Chase refused to permit the jury to determine the constitutionality of a federal statute. Callender was convicted, and Chase fined him $200 and sentenced him to nine months in jail. Jefferson pardoned Callender when he became President, as he did the others convicted under the Sedition Act, and also gave him fifty dollars towards his fine, the last in a series of payments he made to support the journalist. Callender however, enraged by what he perceived as a slight by the new President, wrote a series of attacks on Jefferson similar to those earlier launched against Adams, and which included the assertion that Jefferson had fathered children by a slave woman.

Anthony Haswell
Anthony Haswell (printer)
Anthony Haswell was an English immigrant to New England, where he became a newspaper, almanac and book publisher, the Postmaster General of Vermont and one of the Jeffersonian printers imprisoned under the Sedition Act of 1798.-Immigration and Revolution:Anthony Haswell was born in Portsmouth,...

 was an English immigrant and Jeffersonian printer in Vermont
Vermont
Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state ranks 43rd in land area, , and 45th in total area. Its population according to the 2010 census, 630,337, is the second smallest in the country, larger only than Wyoming. It is the only New England...

. Haswell called for a lottery to raise the money required to pay the fines of Congressman Lyon, while speaking ill of Federalist marshal Jabez Fitch, calling him a "hard-hearted savage". Haswell also often reprinted parts of the Aurora, including Bache's claim that the federal government had employed Tories. Haswell was found guilty of seditious libel by judge William Paterson, and sentenced to a two month imprisonment and a $200 fine.

A member of Congress

Matthew Lyon
Matthew Lyon
Matthew Lyon , father of Chittenden Lyon and great-grandfather of William Peters Hepburn, was a printer, farmer, soldier and politician, serving as a United States Representative from both Vermont and Kentucky....

, born in Ireland, was a Democratic-Republican congressman from Vermont. He was indicted under the Sedition Act for an essay he had written in the Vermont Journal accusing the administration of "ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice". While awaiting trial, Lyon commenced publication of Lyon's Republican Magazine, subtitled "The Scourge of Aristocracy". Supreme Court justice Paterson presiding at trial, denied Lyon's defense of unconstitutionality of the statute, fined Lyon $1,000 and sentenced him to four months in prison. While in prison, Lyon continued to write, and also won re-election. After his release, he returned to Congress.

Private individuals

Luther Baldwin, a private citizen, was indicted for a comment he made during a visit by President Adams to Newark, New Jersey. The President was greeted by a crowd and by a committee that saluted him by firing a cannon. A bystander said, "There goes the President and they are firing at his ass." Baldwin replied that he did not care "if they fired through his ass." He was convicted in the federal court for speaking "seditious words tending to defame the President and Government of the United States" and fined $100.

In November 1798, David Brown led a group in Dedham, Massachusetts in setting up a liberty pole
Liberty pole
A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, which may be surmounted by an ensign or a liberty cap. They are associated with the Atlantic Revolutions of the late 18th century.-American Revolution:...

 with the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President". Brown was arrested in Andover, Massachusetts, but because he could not afford the $4,000 bail, he was taken to Salem for trial. Brown was tried in June 1799. Brown pled guilty but Justice Samuel Chase asked him to name others who had assisted him. Brown refused, was fined $480, and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, the most severe sentence ever imposed under the Sedition Act.

Political nature of the prosecutions

The Republican prediction that the Sedition Act would be used as a tool to assure the primacy of the Federalists was confirmed by the fact that no Federalist editor was indicted for equally rough language towards Republicans. John C. Miller writes that "the Sedition Act was not construed to mean that the Federalists were to cease maligning and whipping Jefferson", who was, among numerous other assertions, called a "vain author, false prophet, and thorough-bred Frenchman". It has been said that the Alien Acts were aimed at Albert Gallatin
Albert Gallatin
Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was a Swiss-American ethnologist, linguist, politician, diplomat, congressman, and the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 1831, he founded the University of the City of New York...

, the Jeffersonian from Geneva
Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

; and the Sedition Act
Sedition Act
Sedition Act may refer to:*Alien and Sedition Acts, including the Sedition Act of 1798, laws passed by the United States Congress*Sedition Act 1661, an English statute that largely relates to treason...

 aimed at Benjamin Franklin Bache's Aurora.

Consequences of the Alien Act

While government authorities prepared lists of aliens for deportation, many aliens fled the country during the debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Adams never signed a deportation order.

Constitutionality and Aftermath

The Democratic-Republicans used the Alien and Sedition Acts as one of their principal issues in the 1800 election
United States presidential election, 1800
In the United States Presidential election of 1800, sometimes referred to as the "Revolution of 1800," Vice-President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams. The election was a realigning election that ushered in a generation of Democratic-Republican Party rule and the eventual demise of...

, in which Federalists at all levels, were turned out of power. Thomas Jefferson, upon assuming the Presidency, pardoned all of those still serving sentences under the Sedition Act though he also used the acts to prosecute some of his own critics before the acts expired. In 1832, the House Judiciary Committee
Judiciary Committee
Judiciary Committee may refer to:* United States House Committee on the Judiciary* United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary...

 denounced the Sedition Act as unconstitutional, permitting the refund of fines which had been paid under it.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were, however, never appealed to the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

, whose right of judicial review was not established until Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

in 1803. The Court in 1798 was composed entirely of Federalists, all appointed by Washington. Many of them, particularly Associate Justice
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States...

 Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and earlier was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Maryland. Early in life, Chase was a "firebrand" states-righter and revolutionary...

, were openly hostile to the Federalists' opponents. Individual Supreme Court Justices, particularly Chase, sitting in circuit
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

, heard many of the cases prosecuting opponents of the Federalists. Subsequent mentions in Supreme Court opinions have assumed that it was unconstitutional. In the seminal free speech case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 , was a United States Supreme Court case which established the actual malice standard which has to be met before press reports about public officials or public figures can be considered to be defamation and libel; and hence allowed free reporting of the...

, the Court declared, "Although the Sedition Act was never tested in this Court, the attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history." 376 U.S. 254, 276 (1964). In a concurring opinion
Concurring opinion
In law, a concurring opinion is a written opinion by one or more judges of a court which agrees with the decision made by the majority of the court, but states different reasons as the basis for his or her decision...

 in Watts v. United States, which involved an alleged threat against President Lyndon Johnson, William O. Douglas
William O. Douglas
William Orville Douglas was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. With a term lasting 36 years and 209 days, he is the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court...

 noted, "The Alien and Sedition Laws constituted one of our sorriest chapters; and I had thought we had done with them forever ... Suppression of speech as an effective police measure is an old, old device, outlawed by our Constitution." The Alien Enemies Act remained in force and was used as a basis for the internment of Japanese citizens
Japanese American internment
Japanese-American internment was the relocation and internment by the United States government in 1942 of approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese who lived along the Pacific coast of the United States to camps called "War Relocation Camps," in the wake of Imperial Japan's attack on...

 during World War II.

Vice President Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 denounced the Sedition Act as invalid and a violation of the constitution.
Jefferson and James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

 also secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were political statements drafted in 1798 and 1799, in which the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures took the position that the federal Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional...

 denouncing the federal legislation, though state legislatures rejected these resolutions. Though the resolutions followed the "interposition
Interposition
Interposition is an asserted right of U.S. states to declare federal actions unconstitutional. Interposition has not been upheld by the courts. Rather, the courts have held that the power to declare federal laws unconstitutional lies with the federal judiciary, not with the states...

" approach of James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

, Jefferson advocated nullification
Nullification (U.S. Constitution)
Nullification is a legal theory that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional...

 and at one point drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede
Secession in the United States
Secession in the United States can refer to secession of a state from the United States, secession of part of a state from that state to form a new state, or secession of an area from a city or county....

. Jefferson's biographer Dumas Malone
Dumas Malone
Dumas Malone was an American historian, biographer, and editor noted for his six-volume biography on Thomas Jefferson, for which he received the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for history...

 argued that this might have gotten Jefferson impeached for treason, had his actions become known at the time. In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson warned that, "unless arrested at the threshold," the Alien and Sedition Acts would "necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood." Historian Ron Chernow says of this "he wasn't calling for peaceful protests or civil disobedience: he was calling for outright rebellion, if needed, against the federal government of which he was vice president." Jefferson "thus set forth a radical doctrine of states' rights that effectively undermined the constitution."

Chernow argues that neither Jefferson nor Madison sensed that they had sponsored measures as inimical as the Alien and Sedition Acts themselves. Historian Garry Wills
Garry Wills
Garry Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and prolific author, journalist, and historian, specializing in American politics, American political history and ideology and the Roman Catholic Church. Classically trained at a Jesuit high school and two universities, he is proficient in Greek and Latin...

 argued "Their nullification effort, if others had picked it up, would have been a greater threat to freedom than the misguided [alien and sedition] laws, which were soon rendered feckless by ridicule and electoral pressure" The theoretical damage of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions was "deep and lasting, and was a recipe for disunion". George Washington was so appalled by them that he told Patrick Henry that if "systematically and pertinaciously pursued", they would "dissolve the union or produce coercion". The influence of Jefferson's doctrine of states' rights reverberated right up to the Civil War and beyond. Future president James Garfield
James Garfield
James Abram Garfield served as the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive...

, at the close of the Civil War, said that Jefferson's Kentucky Resolution "contained the germ of nullification and secession, and we are today reaping the fruits".

See also

  • Alien Act of 1705
    Alien Act of 1705
    The Alien Act was a law passed by the Parliament of England in 1705, as a response to the Parliament of Scotland's Act of Security of 1704, which in turn was partially a response to the English Act of Settlement 1701....

     in England
  • Alien Registration Act
    Smith Act
    The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 is a United States federal statute that set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S...

     of 1940
  • Sedition Act of 1918
    Sedition Act of 1918
    The Sedition Act of 1918 was an Act of the United States Congress that extended the Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds...

  • Logan Act
    Logan Act
    The Logan Act is a United States federal law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. It was passed in 1799 and last amended in 1994...

  • Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007
    Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007
    The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 was a bill sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman in the 110th United States Congress...

  • Nullification Crisis
    Nullification Crisis
    The Nullification Crisis was a sectional crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson created by South Carolina's 1832 Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared by the power of the State that the federal Tariff of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within...

  • Espionage Act of 1917
    Espionage Act of 1917
    The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years. It was originally found in Title 50 of the U.S. Code but is now found under Title 18, Crime...


Primary sources


External links

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