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 The Republican-controlled Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802; the others were allowed to expire (1800–1801).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 ?
The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were, most historians agree, among the most heinous and cynical laws a U.S.
The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: Testing the Constitution
Napolitano starts with the early republic, including John Adams's suppression of free speech to mute his political opponents by using the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 during the Quasi-War with France.
At one point, for example, he concludes that "from the era of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the wars of the courts over the soldiers in the Civil War, constitutional history was more concerned with power than with individual liberty" (199).
It "flourished during the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Palmer Raids after World War I, and many other periods that violated constitutional liberties" (p.
Such constitutional controversies as debates over the constitutionality of Alexander Hamilton's Bank of the United States, the federal assumption of state debts, and federal authority to enact the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 go almost completely unmentioned in her account.