Alien and Sedition Acts

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Alien and Sedition Acts

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 Affair), 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 Cooper, William Duane (1760–1835), and Matthew Lyon were tried, and some were convicted, in sedition proceedings. The Alien and Sedition Acts provoked the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions 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 The Republican-controlled Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802; the others were allowed to expire (1800–1801).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).

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References in periodicals archive ?
Most of those laws expired, although the Alien Enemies Act, which was used during World War II to create Japanese internment camps, still remains in effect.
The Alien Enemies Act established sweeping federal powers to imprison or forcibly deport noncitizens who hailed from any country with which the United States was in a declared state of war--a provision that potentially included long-term residents, who lost their naturalization status to the newly required fourteen-year waiting period.
The acts consisted of four laws: the Naturalization Act, increasing the residency requirement from five to 14 years; the Alien Friends Act, giving the president the power to jail and deport aliens suspected of dangerous or suspicious activities; the Alien Enemies Act, similar to the Alien Friends Act but effective in a formally declared war, both denying immigrants the right to a fair hearing and access to the judicial system; and the Sedition Act, prohibiting citizens from writing or speaking critically of the president, Congress, or government.