Alien and Sedition Acts

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Alien and Sedition Acts,

1798, four laws enacted by the Federalist-controlled U.S. Congress, allegedly in response to the hostile actions of the French Revolutionary government on the seas and in the councils of diplomacy (see XYZ AffairXYZ Affair,
name usually given to an incident (1797–98) in Franco-American diplomatic relations. The United States had in 1778 entered into an alliance with France, but after the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars was both unable and unwilling to lend aid.
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), but actually designed to destroy Thomas Jefferson's Republican party, which had openly expressed its sympathies for the French Revolutionaries. Depending on recent arrivals from Europe for much of their voting strength, the Republicans were adversely affected by the Naturalization Act, which postponed citizenship, and thus voting privileges, until the completion of 14 (rather than 5) years of residence, and by the Alien Act and the Alien Enemies Act, which gave the President the power to imprison or deport aliens suspected of activities posing a threat to the national government. President John Adams made no use of the alien acts. Most controversial, however, was the Sedition Act, devised to silence Republican criticism of the Federalists. Its broad proscription of spoken or written criticism of the government, the Congress, or the President virtually nullified the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press. Prominent Jeffersonians, most of them journalists, such as John Daly Burk, James T. Callender, Thomas CooperCooper, Thomas,
1759–1839, American scientist, educator, and political philosopher, b. London, educated at Oxford. His important works include Political Essays (1799); the appendixes to the Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley (2 vol.
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, William DuaneDuane, William,
1760–1835, American journalist, b. near Lake Champlain, N.Y., of Irish parentage. He learned the printer's trade in Ireland and in 1787 went to Calcutta (now Kolkata), where he edited the Indian World.
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 (1760–1835), and Matthew LyonLyon, Matthew,
1750–1822, American political leader and pioneer, b. Co. Wicklow, Ireland. He emigrated to America in 1765, settling eventually in Vermont. During the American Revolution he served with Ethan Allen. After the war he moved (1783) to the town of Fair Haven, Vt.
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 were tried, and some were convicted, in sedition proceedings. The Alien and Sedition Acts provoked the Kentucky and Virginia ResolutionsKentucky and Virginia Resolutions,
in U.S. history, resolutions passed in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were enacted by the Federalists in 1798. The Jeffersonian Republicans first replied in the Kentucky Resolutions, adopted by the Kentucky legislature in Nov.
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 and did much to unify the Republican party and to foster Republican victory in the election of 1800. The Republican-controlled Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802; the others were allowed to expire (1800–1801).


See J. C. Miller, Crisis in Freedom (1951, repr. 1964); J. M. Smith, Freedom's Fetters (1956); L. Levy, Legacy of Suppression (1960).

References in periodicals archive ?
The possibility of the foreign-born subverting the country from within in the impending war between America and France in 1798 led to the passing of the Alien Friends Act which allowed the President to deport any alien who was suspected of working against the government.
For example, in 1798, the Alien Friends Act made it lawful for the president of the United States "to order all such aliens, as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States.