Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolution and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams.
Opposition to Federalists among Democratic-Republicans reached new heights at this time since the Democratic-Republicans had supported France. Some appeared to desire an event similar to the French Revolution to come to the United States to overthrow the government. When Democratic-Republicans in some states refused to enforce federal laws, such as the Whiskey tax, and threatened to rebel, Federalists threatened to send the army to force them to capitulate. As the unrest 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 perceived threat of anarchy.
Democratic-Republicans denounced them, 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 highly controversial Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
Twenty-five people were arrested, eleven were tried, and ten were convicted.
- James Thomson Callender, a Scottish citizen, had been expelled from Great Britain for his political writings. Living first in Philadelphia, then seeking refuge close in Virginia, he wrote a book entitled The Prospect Before Us (read and approved by Vice President 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. Callender was convicted, fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail.
- Matthew Lyon, 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". At trial, he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in prison. After his release, he returned to Congress.
- Benjamin Franklin Bache was editor of the Aurora, a Republican newspaper. Bache had accused George Washington of incompetence and financial irregularities, and "the blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous ADAMS" of nepotism and monarchical ambition. He was arrested for his activities.
- Anthony Haswell was an English immigrant and a printer in Vermont. Among other activities, Haswell 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. Luther Baldwin was indicted, convicted, and fined $100 for an incident that occurred during a visit by President Adams to Newark, New Jersey.
- In November 1798, David Brown led a group in Dedham, Massachusetts in setting up a liberty pole 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.
The Alien Act and the Sedition Act were different acts.
Effect of the acts 
The Democratic-Republicans used the Alien and Sedition Acts as an important issue in the 1800 election. Thomas Jefferson, upon assuming the Presidency, pardoned those still serving sentences under the Sedition Act, though he also used the acts to prosecute several of his own critics before the acts expired. It has been said that the Alien Acts were aimed at Albert Gallatin; and the Sedition Act aimed at Benjamin Bache's Aurora. 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.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were, however, never appealed to the Supreme Court, whose right of judicial review was not established until Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Subsequent mentions in Supreme Court opinions beginning in the mid-20th century have assumed that the Sedition Act would today be found unconstitutional.
Jefferson and James Madison also secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions denouncing the federal legislation, though many other state legislatures strongly opposed these resolutions. Though the resolutions followed the "interposition" approach of James Madison, Jefferson advocated nullification and at one point drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede. Jefferson's biographer Dumas Malone 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 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, 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".
Text of the Acts 
An Act Concerning Aliens.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time during the continuance of this act, 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 Slates, within such time as shall be expressed in such order, which order shall be served on such alien by delivering him a copy thereof, or leaving the same at his usual abode, and returned to the office of the Secretary of State, by the marshal or other person to whom the same shall be directed. And in case any alien, so ordered to depart, shall be found at large within the United States after the time limited in such order for his departure, and not having obtained a license from the President to reside therein, or having obtained such license shall not have conformed thereto, every such alien shall, on conviction thereof, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three years, and shall never after be admitted to become a citizen of the United States. Provided always, and be it further enacted, that if any alien so ordered to depart shall prove to the satisfaction of the President, by evidence to be taken before such person or persons as the President shall direct, who are for that purpose hereby authorized to administer oaths, that no injury or danger to the United Slates will arise from suffering such alien to reside therein, the President may grant a license to such alien to remain within the United States for such time as he shall judge proper, and at such place as he may designate. And the President may also require of such alien to enter into a bond to the United States, in such penal sum as he may direct, with one or more sufficient sureties to the satisfaction of the per- son authorized by the President to take the same, conditioned for the good behavior of such alien during his residence in the United States, and not violating his license, which license the President may revoke, whenever he shall think proper .
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, whenever he may deem it necessary (for the public safety, to order to be removed out of the territory thereof, any alien who mayor shall be in prison in pursuance of this act; and to cause to be arrested and sent out of the United States such of those aliens as shall have been ordered to depart therefrom and shall not have obtained a license as aforesaid, in all cases where, in the opinion of the President, the public safety requires a speedy removal. And if any alien so removed or sent out of the United Slates by the President shall voluntarily return thereto, unless by permission of the President of the United States, such alien on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned so long as, in the opinion of the President, the public safety may require.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That every master or commander of any ship or vessel which shall come into any port of the United States after the first day of July next, shall immediately on his arrival make report in writing to the collector or other chief officer of the customs of such port, of all aliens, if any, on board his vessel, specifying their names, age, the place of nativity, the country from which they shall have come, the nation to which they belong and owe allegiance, their occupation and a description of their persons, as far as he shall be informed thereof, and on failure, every such master and commander shall forfeit and pay three hundred dollars, for the payment whereof on default of such master or commander, such vessel shall also be holden, and may by such collector or other officer of the customs be detained. And it shall be the duty of such collector or other officer of the customs, forthwith to transmit to the office of the department of state true copies of all such returns.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That the circuit and district courts of the United States, shall respectively have cognizance of all crimes and offences against this act. And all marshals and other officers of the United States are required to execute all precepts and orders of the President of the United States issued in pursuance or by virtue of this act.
SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for any alien who may be ordered to be removed from the United States, by virtue of this act, to take with him such part of his goods, chattels, or other property, as he may find convenient; and all property left in the United States by any alien, who may be removed, as aforesaid, shall be, and re- main subject to his order and disposal, in the same manner as if this act had not been passed.
SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force for and during the term of two years from the passing thereof.
Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I Certify that this Act did originate in the Sentate.
APPROVED, June 25, 1798.
An Act Respecting Alien Enemies
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion shall be perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States, by any foreign nation or government, and the President of the United States shall make public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed, as alien enemies. And the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized, in any event, as aforesaid, by his proclamation thereof, or other public act, to direct the conduct to be observed, on the part of the United States, towards the aliens who shall become liable, as aforesaid; the manner and degree of the restraint to which they shall be subject, and in what cases, and upon what security their residence shall be permitted, and to provide for the removal of those, who, not being permitted to reside within the United States, shall refuse or neglect to depart therefrom; and to establish any other regulations which shall be found necessary in the premises and for the public safety: Provided, that aliens resident within the United States, who shall become liable as enemies, in the manner aforesaid, and who shall not be chargeable with actual hostility, or other crime against the public safety, shall be allowed, for the recovery, disposal, and removal of their goods and effects, and for their departure, the full time which is, or shall be stipulated by any treaty, where any shall have been between the United States, and the hostile nation or government, of which they shall be natives, citizens, denizens or subjects: and where no such treaty shall have existed, the President of the United States may ascertain and declare such reasonable time as may be consistent with the public safety, and according to the dictates of humanity and national hospitality.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That after any proclamation shall be made as aforesaid, it shall be the duty of the several courts of the United States, and of each state, having criminal jurisdiction, and of the several judges and justices of the courts of the United States, and they shall be, and are hereby respectively, authorized upon complaint, against any alien or alien enemies, as aforesaid, who shall be resident and at large within such jurisdiction or district, to the danger of the public peace or safety, and contrary to the tenor or intent of such proclamation, or other regulations which the President of the United States shall and may establish in the premises, to cause such alien or aliens to be duly apprehended and convened before such court, judge or justice; and after a full examination and hearing on such complaint. and sufficient cause therefor appearing, shall and may order such alien or aliens to be removed out of the territory of the United States, or to give sureties of their good behaviour, or to be otherwise restrained, conformably to the proclamation or regulations which shall and may be established as aforesaid, and may imprison, or otherwise secure such alien or aliens, until the order which shall and may be made, as aforesaid, shall be performed.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the marshal of the district in which any alien enemy shall be apprehended, who by the President of the United States, or by order of any court, judge or justice, as aforesaid, shall be required to depart, and to be removed, as aforesaid, to provide therefor, and to execute such order, by himself or his deputy, or other discreet person or persons to be employed by him, by causing a removal of such alien out of the territory of the United States; and for such removal the marshal shall have the warrant of the President of the United States, or of the court, judge or justice ordering the same, as the case may be.
APPROVED, July 6, 1798.
An Act in Addition to the Act, Entitled "An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes Against the United States."
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be holden to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.
SEC. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in publication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.
Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I Certify that this Act did originate in the Senate.
APPROVED, July 14, 1798
See also 
- Alien Act of 1705 in England
- Alien Registration Act of 1940
- Espionage Act of 1917
- Logan Act
- Nullification Crisis
- Sedition Act of 1918
- Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007
- Letter to William Smith, November 13, 1787
- Knott. "Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth". p48
- Chernow, Ron. "Alexander Hamilton". 2004. p668. Penguin Press.
- Miller, John C. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (New York: Little Brown and Company 1951) pp. 211-220.
- Foner, Eric (2008). Give Me Liberty!. W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 282–283. ISBN 978-0-393-93257-7.
- Miller, John C. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (New York: Little Brown and Company 1951) pp. 102-108.
- Miller, John C. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (New York: Little Brown and Company 1951) pp. 27–29, 65, 96.
- Anthony Haswell, editor of the Vermont Gazette, jailed for violation of the Alien and Sedition Acts | Bennington Museum - Come and Explore
- Francis Wharton, State Trials of the United States during the Administrations of Washington and Adams. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1849, pp. 684–687.
- Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, pp. 63–64.
- Smith, J. (1956), Freedom's Fetters, pp. 270–274
- Miller, John C. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (New York: Little Brown and Company 1951) pp. 112-114.
- Stone, Geoffrey R. (2004). Perilous times: free speech in wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the war on terrorism. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-393-05880-2.
- Tise, Larry E. (1998). The American counterrevolution: a retreat from liberty, 1783-1800. Stackpole Books. p. 420. ISBN 978-0-8117-0100-6.
- Curtis, Michael Kent (2000). Free speech, "the people's darling privilege": struggles for freedom of expression in American history. Duke University Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-8223-2529-1.
- Tise, Larry E. (1998). The American counterrevolution: a retreat from liberty, 1783-1800. Stackpole Books. p. 421. ISBN 978-0-8117-0100-6.
- Simon, James F. (2003). What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States. Simon and Schuster. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-684-84871-6.
- Miller, John C. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (New York: Little Brown and Company 1951) p. 231.
- Mott, Frank L., Jefferson and the Press (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press 1943), p. 37.
- What States Rights Really Mean by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. LewRockwell.com.
- The Alien & Sedition Act Trials
- Miller, John C. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (New York: Little Brown and Company 1951) p. 187-193.
- In the seminal free speech case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 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 in Watts v. United States, which involved an alleged threat against President Lyndon Johnson, William O. Douglas 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."
- Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705
- Portal:Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
- "The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798".
- Reed, Ishmael (Jul 05, 2004). "Thomas Jefferson: The Patriot Act of the 18th Century". Time.
- Jefferson's draft said: "where powers are assumed [by the federal government] which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, (casus non fœderis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits." See Jefferson's draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
- Chernow, Ron. "Alexander Hamilton". 2004. p586. Penguin Press.
- Chernow, Ron. "Alexander Hamilton". 2004. p587. Penguin Press.
- Wills, Gary. "James Madison". p49
- Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1995).
- Bill Ong Hing, Anthony D. Romero, Defining America Through Immigration Policy (Temple University Press, 2004), 17-19
- Jenkins, David. The Sedition Act of 1798 and the Incorporation of Seditious Libel into First Amendment Jurisprudence. The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 154–213.
- Martin, James P. "When Repression Is Democratic and Constitutional: The Federalist Theory of Representation and the Sedition Act of 1798." University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Winter, 1999), pp. 117–182
- Miller, John Chester. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1951)
- Rehnquist, William H. Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson (1994). Chase was impeached and acquitted for his conduct of a trial under the Sedition act.
- Rosenfeld, Richard N. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns: The Suppressed History of Our Nation's Beginnings and the Heroic Newspaper That Tried to Report It (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).
- Smith, James Morton. Freedom's Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties (1967)
- Stone, Geoffrey R.Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from The Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)
- Alan Taylor, "The Alien and Sedition Acts" in Julian E. Zelizer, ed., The American Congress (2004), 63–76
- Wright, Barry. "Migration, Radicalism, and State Security: Legislative Initiatives in the Canada and the United States c. 1794–1804" in Studies in American Political Development, Volume 16, Issue 1, April 2002, 48–60
Primary sources 
- Randolph, J.W. The Virginia Report of 1799–1800, Touching the Alien and Sedition Laws; together with the Virginia Resolutions of December 21, 1798, the Debate and Proceedings thereon in the House of Delegates of Virginia, and several other documents illustrative of the report and resolutions
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|