Government 22 October 2012 Alien and Sedition Acts In 1798 the United States was involved in an undeclared war with France. “The United States again stood on the brink of war with a major European power, only this time instead of Great Britain the hostile nation was France. ”(Hay 141) Later on the Federalist Party passed a series of four laws which were called the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Federalists saw foreigners as a deep threat to American security.
There were a series of four acts that were adopted to alienate aliens. The first of these acts was the Naturalization Act which was passed by Congress on June 18. This act required that aliens be residents for 14 years instead of 5 years before they become eligible for United States citizenship. The second major act was the Alien Act which authorized the President to deport aliens who were dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States during peacetime.
Furthermore the third act was the Alien Enemies Act which allowed wartime arrest, imprisonment and deportation of any alien from an enemy power. The last of these acts was the Sedition Act which consisted of, if there was any treasonable activity, including publication of any false or scandalous writing was wrong and punishable by fine or imprisonment. These acts helped to assist the government’s sense of security for the United States. Although the government accepted the acts, people like James Madison were against for what the acts stood for.
To protest the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were written to show that the acts were unconstitutional in the since that any acts of Congress that were not authorized by the Constitution and violated on the reserved powers of the states. Stating that the federal government can’t create new powers for itself and it must be approved by the states of the people. The second major act that was approved was the Alien Act and it’s stated in Section 1, “That whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory ncursion 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 there from; 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” (Finkelman 368). The act stated that in time of war, the President of the United States has the right to take action against any person who was a citizen of the country the United States was at war with.
The President was given the power to act against the citizens of that country who were at war with the United States, as long as the person was a male, not a citizen of the United States, and at least fourteen years old. The Sedition Act was approved by Congress on July 14, 1798. It differed from the Alien Act; the Alien Act affected all United States citizens and not only the aliens. The Alien Act was also clearer that if a person is being convicted of any crime against the United States. Furthermore, the Sedition Act was designed to protect the Federalist and the President from “false” and “malicious” statements with the power of speaking. It didn’t protect the Vice President Thomas Jefferson or the Republicans.
The act stated in Section 1 of the Sedition Act, “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”(Finkelman 369).
Furthermore in Section 2 of the Sedition Act states, “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…. 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” (Finkelman 369). The Federalist Party used the Sedition Act to prosecute Jefferson supporters, journalists, congressman, and other critics of the Federalist Party.
The act clearly states that any treason towards the United States will not be tolerated, and the person responsible for the crime will be punished. In addition, Section 2 of the Sedition Act states anything written or negatively published material that is intended towards the United States is a crime, fined, and will be punished by the court. An example of a violation of the Sedition Act was a Matthew Lyon who was a Representative of Vermont. His letter criticized President Adam; “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice” (“Sedition Act Trials”) which caused Matthew Lyon to be imprisoned. The Federalists sent Mr. Lyon to prison for his opinions and was later reelected by his constituents for Congress while he was still currently still in prison. If then freedom of speech, means in the Constitution, the privilege of speaking any thing without controul, the words freedom of press, which form a part of the privilege of printing any thing without controul. ” (Hay 143) Matthew Lyon was accused of speaking without control through the press. It clearly violates the first amendment in infringing on the freedom of the press and abridging the freedom of speech. Many followed and argued that it violated the Bill of Rights prohibition against laws “abridging freedom of speech or of press”. In Section 3 of the Sedition Act, “That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the dependant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defense, the truth of the matter contained in Republication 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. “(Finkelman 369) This section states the courts roll in providing the guidelines of a fair trial or investigation. The Sedition Act was a product of the government’s fear of the situation the United States was in. The government needed to protect the United States from inside the Nation while they were still at war with France. The Sedition Act was very influential because it restricted the First Amendment right to criticize the President and Congress and criticism of government policy and government officials.
Obviously the Sedition Act was clearly violating the individual protections and freedom of speech under the first amendment of the Constitution. The Alien and Sedition Acts were not a complete success with the United States as a whole. It had sparked the first extensive debate in American History on the meaning of the First Amendment and of freedom of speech and press. Thomas Jefferson called the Alien and Sedition Acts “an experiment on the American mind to see how far it will bear all avowed violation of the Constitution. ” Thomas Jefferson and James Madison helped draft the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions which both protested the acts through the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this State, against every aggression either foreign or domestic, and that they will support the government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former. That this assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the Union of the States, to maintain which it pledges all its powers; and that for this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a faithful observance of them, can alone secure its existence and the public happiness…” (Encyclopedia of American History Documents 454) The Virginia Resolution used the idea of “interposition” by the states.
Resolution stated that when the government acts beyond their limits of the Constitution, the states have the rights to take action and appeal it. The first Kentucky Resolution, which was passed by the state legislatures in November of 1798, stating that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it. If the federal government took on such powers, its acts could be declared unconstitutional by the states. Passed by the Senate, Virginia sent their resolution in December of 1798. The Virginia Resolution was carefully written document stating Virginia’s difference with addition of the Alien and Sedition Acts that they are unconstitutional and clearly Virginia did not support either of the two acts.
One year later Kentucky sent their second resolution protesting the Alien and Sedition Act. Approved by the Senate in December of 1799, Kentucky stated, “The representatives of the good people of this commonwealth in general assembly convened, having maturely considered the answers of sundry states in the Union, to their resolutions passed at the last session, respecting certain unconstitutional laws of Congress, commonly called the alien and sedition laws, would be faithless indeed to themselves, and to those they represent, were they silently to acquiesce in principles and doctrines attempted to be maintained in all those answers, that of Virginia only excepted.
To again enter the field of argument and attempt more fully or forcibly to expose the unconstitutionality of those obnoxious laws, would, it is apprehended be as unnecessary as unavailing. We cannot however but lament, that in the discussion of those interesting subjects, by sundry of the legislatures of our sister states, unfounded suggestions, and unhanded insinuations, derogatory of the true character and principles of the good people of this commonwealth, have been substituted in place of fair reasoning and sound argument. Our opinions of those alarming measures of the general government, together with our reasons for those opinions, were detailed with decency and with temper, and submitted to the discussion and judgment of our fellow citizens throughout the Union.
Whether the decency and temper have been observed in the answers of most of those states that have denied or attempted to obviate the great truths contained in those resolutions, we have now only to submit to a candid world. Faithful to the true principles of the federal union, unconscious of any designs to disturb the harmony of that Union, and anxious only to escape the fangs of despotism, the good people of this commonwealth are regardless of censure or calumniation…” (Encyclopedia of American History Documents 457) The Kentucky Resolution claims the right of nullification, that nullification was described as an action to be taken by several states that formed the Constitution. The Kentucky document was a follow up to the Virginia document; Virginia joined Kentucky in the protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The Kentucky Resolution served as a more serious protest against the acts, as the Virginia Resolution served the purpose of showing the government that the public did not agree with the acts. The acts were unaffected by the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the acts were still enforced. A modern day example of the Alien and Sedition Acts would be after September 11, 2001. The government used the acts to contain possible foreign criminals or men thought to be a part of the terrorist group that committed the crime. The acts were used when the United States held the men from the Boston hotel on suspicion that they were a part of the tragedy.
After the two men were arrested and contained by the F. B. I. , they were given a fair trial and found guilty by the evidence against them. In the events that followed the terrorist act the government had to take fast action in bringing the culprits to justice; the Alien and Sedition Acts played a part in helping the government of the United States reach some of their objectives. Even till this day people criticize or assume foreigners such as Middle-Eastern people as a threat to society especially in terms of them being in the United States. People cringe when they see Middle-Eastern people. I know I do. You just don’t know if they have a bomb or a weapon on them and it scares you.
Ever since 9/11, people worry about getting on planes with Middle-Easterners or even being near them makes you cringe and become scared because you don’t want that incident to happen to you or to the society. It’s scary to think about, but to the extremes that the Alien and Sedition Acts were enforced is beyond severe. But, if you feel as though there is an eminent threat to your country or to people it is your job or priority to take action. If the person is a possible foreign criminal or thought to be in a terrorist group based on suspicion, etc. Give them a fair trial and if they’re guilty or not guilty at least you were being aware and trying to make this country a safer place to live. This was a very controversial debate during the time of John Adams presidency and the Federalist Party.
In my opinion the Alien and Sedition Acts are abridging the freedom of speech. These were radical decisions that were made by John Adams and were very harshly enforced on the aliens. The Alien and Sedition Acts were a threat to foreigners coming into the United States and stood no chance of staying in the nation for long with these acts being enforced, which is both malicious and lack apathy on immigrants. Even with the Alien and Sedition Acts being appealed we still have certain requirements for foreigners moving into the United States and we as a nation still have suspicion and still express a since of the Alien and Sedition Acts of foreigners after the devastation on 9/11.
Works Cited Bender, David. et al. Opposing Viewpoints: In American History. Vol. 1. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Print. Finkelman, Paul. et al. Milestone Documents In American History. Vol. 1. Dallas: Schlager-Custom, 2008. Print. Hay, George. “The Sedition Act Violates the Bill of Rights. ” 1799. Bender. 141-144. Print. 5th United States Congress. Alien and Sedition Acts. Philadelphia: John Adams, 1798. Print. Rosenfeld, Susan. Encyclopedia of American Historical Documents. Vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc. 2004. Print. “Sedition Act Trials. ” American Eras. Vol. 4: Development of a Nation, 1783-1815. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 267-270. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.