The Sedition and Alien Acts: A Push Towards Political Parties A huge amount of domestic turmoil and international crisis existed in America during June and July of 1798. This domestic turmoil and international crisis began with the outbreak of the French Revolution and continued on until Congress passed four bills, known as the Sedition and Alien Acts, which caused much controversy and debate. There was much disputation in 1798 about how much Freedom of Speech should be given to American colonists and the meaning of the First Amendment. In 1791, the Bill of Rights was adopted, as promised by the Federalists. The First Amendment guaranteed certain rights to American colonists, especially the Anti-Federalists who had been hesitant to adopt the Constitution at first and had refused to support it, until a Bill of Rights was promised.
This essay was originally written in 2003 and published in four parts on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! The essay earned over 14,000 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time. Mid-1798 was the culmination of a development of heated antagonisms which had entangled the United States on both the domestic and the foreign scenes. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in June and July of that year was met with a myriad of responses by various influential individuals and political movements within the country, thus adding fuel to a multifaceted dispute. Key areas of intense disagreement included relations with European powers, the nature of acceptable political dissent, and the distinction between loyalty to the Constitution and the present wielders of power.
As one Federalist in Congress declared, there was no need to "invite hordes of Wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all the world, to come here with a basic view to distract our tranquillity." Not coincidentally, non-English ethnic groups had been among the core supporters of the Democratic-Republicans in 1796. A series of laws known collectively as the Clearly, the Federalists saw foreigners as a deep threat to American security. The strong steps that Adams took in response to the French foreign threat also included severe repression of domestic protest. Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War? It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The most controversial of the new laws permitting strong government control over individual actions was the .
For the first few years of Constitutional government, under the leadership of George Washington, there was a unity, commonly called Federalism that even James Madison (the future architect of the Republican Party) acknowledged in describing the Republican form of government-- " And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists." Although legislators had serious differences of opinions, political unity was considered absolutely essential for the stability of the nation. Political parties or factions were considered evil as "Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority..." Public perception of factions were related to British excesses and thought to be "the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished." James Madison wrote in Federalist Papers #10, "By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." He went on to explain that faction is part of human nature; "that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS." The significant point Madison was to make in this essay was that the Union was a safeguard against factions in that even if "the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, [they will be] unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States." What caused men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to defy tradition and public perceptions against factions and build an opposition party? Did they finally agree with Edmund Burkes' famous aphorism: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle? " Did the answer lie in their opposition with the agenda of Alexander Hamilton and the increases of power both to the executive branch as well as the legislative branch of government? Hamilton pushed for The Bank of , a large standing Army raised by the President (Congress was to raise and support armies,) a Department of Navy, funding and excise taxes, and, in foreign policy, a neutrality that was sympathetic to British interest to the detriment of .
Signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress as America prepared for war with France. These acts increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" and restricted speech critical of the government. These laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party. Negative reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped contribute to the Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 elections. Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the other acts were allowed to expire.
It is impossible to conceal from ourselves or the world what has been before observed, that endeavors have been employed to foster and establish a division between the Government and people of the United States. To investigate the causes which have encouraged this attempt is not necessary; but to repel, by decided and united councils, insinuations so derogatory to the honor and aggressions so dangerous to the Constitution, union, and even independence of the nation is an indispensable duty. As the end of the 18th century drew near, relations between the United States and France were deteriorating. President John Adams wanted to preserve American neutrality in conflicts between Britain and France. President Adams then addressed a joint session of Congress on May 16, 1797, expressing his concern about the possibility of war with France and dissension at home caused by France and its supporters. In October, three commissioners appointed by Adams arrived in Paris in hopes of "restoring mutual confidence" between the countries. is often described as being in an undeclared war with France following the XYZ affair.
Introduction Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 In the New Nation under the new Constitution, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were adopted by the Federalists. The Alien Law prevented immigrants from becoming a citizen until they had lived in the United States for 14 years. Two other such laws were passed later, authorizing the president to deport any aliens considered dangerous and to detain any enemy aliens in time of war. The Sedition Act made it illegal for newspapers editors to criticize either the president or Congress and imposed heavy penalties for editors who violated the law. The debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts revealed bitter controversies on a number of issues, most notably the issue of nullification, and the hostile reaction toward foreigners, especially the French.
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In 1798 the United States stood on the brink of war with France. The Federalists believed that Democratic-Republican criticism of Federalist policies was disloyal and feared that aliens living in the United States would sympathize with the French during a war. As a result, a Federalist-controlled Congress passed four laws, known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws raised the residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, authorized the President to deport aliens and permitted their arrest, imprisonment, and deportation during wartime. any false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about the Government. The Sedition Act made it a crime for American citizens to "print, utter, or publish . The laws were directed against Democratic-Republicans, the party typically favored by new citizens, and the only journalists prosecuted under the Sedition Act were editors of Democratic-Republican newspapers.