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THE ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS OF 1798
The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were a series of four laws passed by the Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolutionary War and during the Quasi War, the undeclared war between France and the United States. These four laws were The Naturalization Act [June 18, 1798], The Alien Act/The Alien Friends Act [June 25, 1798], The Alien Enemy Act [July 6, 1798] and The Sedition Act [July 14, 1798].
Here are more facts about The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 or alternatively download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
- The Naturalization Act [June 18, 1798], The Alien Act/The Alien Friends Act [June 25, 1798], The Alien Enemy Act [July 6, 1798] dealt the restrictions imposed on immigrants’ rights while The Sedition Act [July 14, 1798] tackled the restrictions on free speech.
- The laws were passed by the 5th United States Congress and were signed by John Adams, the second President of the United States. He signed them into law on July 14, 1798, the anniversary of the Bastille storming which started the French revolution.
- The 5th Congress was dominated by Federalists. The four laws were put in place, accordingly, for national security with the aim of making the nation safe for trade and for men of wealth. They were, as what John Adams termed them, “war measures” installed due to the deep concerns official felt about the violence of the French Revolution, the XYZ Affair humiliation and the Quasi War between the US and France which was fought mostly at sea.
- The Federalist political party – led by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris – believed that elected political leaders shouldn’t be publicly criticized. The laws, specifically The Sedition Act, were designed by the Federalists to limit the Republican Party’s powers as they were the Federalists’ greatest critics. Core supporters of the Republicans were also immigrants.
- The Republican Party, the rival political team of the Federalists, was the champion of the poorer Americans and the immigrants. With stricter policies regarding foreigners and free speech, Federalists hoped to deprive the Republicans of the support they get from immigrants [the laws made it harder for new immigrants to vote] as well as silence their criticisms against the government.
Individually the acts could be broken down as followed:
- The Naturalization Act of 1798 – Foreigners who wanted to be American citizens must have lived in the country for 14 years prior to the application. After applying for citizenship, they then have to wait for 5 years for it to be granted. In comparison, the old law stated that immigrants can apply for citizenship and vote after 5 years residence in the country.
- The Alien Act/The Alien Friends Act of 1798 – This law gave the President the right to order the deportation of any foreigners he deemed dangerous and under the suspicion of spying or treason. On the other hand, the President also had the power to grant foreigners he saw dangerous temporary residency in the country. US ships entering ports must also declare any foreigners that were on board.
- The Alien Enemy Act of 1798 – Any male foreigner aged 14 years and above that was from countries the United States was at war with was subject to imprisonment and deportation. He was regarded an “alien enemy”. Though the law wasn’t enforced until the War of 1812, it did cause several Frenchmen to return to France.
- The Sedition Act of 1798 – Writing, speaking, publishing and printing any “false, malicious and scandalous” writings against the United States government – the President or the House of Congress – with the intention of defaming or shaming were punishable under this law.
- Under the terms of The Sedition Act of 1798, more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and imprisoned. One of these was Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin and editor of the newspaper named Bache died awaiting his trial.
- The most prominent figure who got arrested and imprisoned for sedition under the sedition law was Republican Congressman and Vermon Representative Matthew Lyon. He was jailed for his censure-laden letter to President Adams which called attention to the man’s “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice”.
- His jail cell didn’t hold Lyon down, however. He conducted his campaign within its walls and got reelected to Congress in 1800.
- Many US citizens were outraged at the passing of The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The laws caused so much negative uproar that the government feared it would result to violent riots and uprising like what happened during the French Revolution. Many Federalist politicians – even John Adams himself – feared for their lives.
- Many believed that The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 violated the First Amendment which is part of the US Bill of Rights and protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
- The states of Kentucky and Virginia went as far as passing resolutions that declared the federal laws were invalid in their territories. They placed state rights above those of the federal government.
- What Virginia and Kentucky did, challenging the rights of the federal government with the strength of the state’s rights, seemed to point to an incoming internal conflict within the United States. Their action was used to justify the secession of the southern states from the Union during the American Civil War.
- The public’s disgust over the laws played a great part come election in 1800. Many Republicans won including the highest seat of the land. Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, replaced John Adams and became the 3rd President of the United States.
- Ten people were convicted under The Sedition Act. When Thomas Jefferson took his seat as president, he pardoned all who were convicted for crimes under The Alien Enemy Act and Sedition Acts of 1798. Enforcement of the laws also stopped when Jefferson took office. However, the sedition and incarceration provisions were used later on during wars like the War of 1812.
- The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 expired on March 3, 1801, John Adam’s last full day in office.
The Alien and Sedition Acts Worksheets
This bundle contains 11 ready-to-use Alien and Sedition Acts Worksheets that are perfect for students who want to learn more about Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which were a series of four laws passed by the Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolutionary War and during the Quasi War, the undeclared war between France and the United States.
Download includes the following worksheets:
- Alien? Word Study
- Sedition? Word Study
- John Adams
- The French Revolution
- The Alien and Sedition Acts.
- The Naturalization Act of 1798.
- The Alien Acts
- The Sedition Act of 1798
- Federalists vs Republicans
- History Repeats Itself
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