Testing the Constitution: The Alien and Sedition Acts
Overview: By 1798 the United States had been independent for two decades, but the nation's political character was still evolving. The Constitution could not anticipate every historical circumstance. The Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, guarantees freedom of speech. But in 1798 laws known as the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed limiting that right. The essay examines what those laws were like, why they were passed, and what effect they had on American democracy. In this case it seemed that Americans must sacrifice either free speech or political unity. The Adam's administration chose the latter, provoking a nationwide debate about American institutions and inadvertently encouraging the growth of free speech and a two-party political system.
1. Defining sedition: President John Adams, national capital, Abigail Adams, Newark, "Behold the chief who now commands," Luther Baldwin, Federalists.
2. Political conflict leading to the Alien and Sedition Acts: Sedition, Alien and Sedition Acts, First Amendment, Alexander Hamilton, Hamiltonian program, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton-Jefferson opposition, Phillip Freneau's National Gazette, Republicans, Marquis de Lafayette, French Revolution, Jay's Treaty, John Jay, electoral college, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity," Reign of Terror, John Marshall, Talleyrand, XYZ Affair, patriotic fervor, "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," Fisher Ames, "French Party," Benjamin Franklin Bache, Philadelphia Aurora, "Lightening Rod Junior," renewed information, Constellation, Constitution, United States, "High or Ultra" Federalist, Quasi War, Croyable, Delaware, Retaliation, nativism, Harrison Gray Otis.
3. The Alien and Sedition Acts in Practice: Naturalization Act, Alien Enemies Act, James Lloyd, treason, British Treasonable Practices Act of 1795, common law, John Allen, Roger Griswold, Matthew Lyon, The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political Truths, a Vermont jail in winter, Justice William Paterson, U.S. Supreme Court, martyr, Virginia and Kentucky Resolves, the Convention of 1800, freedom of speech.