Example Of The Crisis Of 1798: Sedition Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Law, Politics, United States, Government, People, Aliens, America, Nation

Pages: 2

Words: 550

Published: 2020/11/01

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Enacted in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts were instituted by a Federalist Congress and placed into law by President John Adams. It was his way of answering what he and others in government perceived as a French menace. The Acts severely restricted freedoms that most Americans had previously enjoyed. For example, government protests were outlawed, immigration policy was seriously curtailed and freedom of the press was limited. These regulations also enabled policies to return foreigners to their native land and made it much more difficult for immigrants that had not resided in the United States for very long to vote. Prior to the Acts an immigrant would have to live in the country for five years before he or she could vote and these laws increased that time period to 14 years. The purpose of these laws was to protect Americans from foreign influence. The government felt this could endanger national security.
The most contentious of these regulations was allowing a government to firmly manage how people behaved through the Sedition Act. Essentially, this law banned any type of organization that spoke out against the government. People could be jailed over this and were. There were nearly two dozen newspaper editors that were dealt that fate including Mathew Lyon, who hailed from the state of Vermont. He published a letter openly denouncing the president and was actually reelected by this peers while serving his sentence.
Obviously the Sedition Act was in direct opposition to the privileges assigned from the First Amendment. The real problem with this, besides the restriction on civil liberties, was that judicial review had not been established. Judicial review is the concept where the Supreme Court determines if a law is legal and at this time, all the people sitting on the nation’s highest court staunchly supported Adams. At this juncture, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson lent their voices to the struggle with Adams. These men battled these acts through the state government system. As a result Virginia and Kentucky enacted legislation that nullified the Acts within their borders. This was a strong stand against the national government and intimated the Union might not remain as one unit.
Throughout that decade, many Federalists felt their party must endure in order the United States to continue as is. This thought process spurred the reactionary legislation they produced. It was to protect themselves, but they viewed it as protecting the American people. The Acts actually transformed Madison’s position on the strength of a central government to a view of states’ rights. The Acts also established the foundation for what the South would enact when it seceded from the Union to commence the Civil War.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were viewed as a method to barrage Jefferson’s Republicanism movement. The regulations consisted of four specific acts. The first was the Naturalization Act, which dealt with the immigration restrictions. It actually targeted the Irish and French individuals living in America or hoping too. This was the result of these people tending to be involved in Republican politics. The second law was the Alien Act. This allowed immigrants that were not legal to be classified as enemies and returned to their countries even if the nation was not at war. The third Act was the Alien Enemies Act. This laid the foundation for jailing or removing aliens when the nation was at war. No part of this Act was ever enforced, but it did serve as the motivation for many French immigrants to leave America. The final Act was the Sedition Act, which as mentioned above enacted jail time and fines for people who spoke out against the government.
So what was the real reason these Acts were created and passed into law? Certainly it was an attempt to rein in Jefferson and his followers. This was largely the result of great fear from what transpired in the French Revolution. Many Federalists felt the United States would engage in a war with France now that the monarchy had been overthrown. In fact, there was a unannounced naval war with France, that was referred to as the Quasi-War. Jefferson and his followers drew Adams’ and other political actors’ ire because they tended to support the behavior and efforts of the French.
In addition to the events in France, the United States was not exactly on firm ground. There were many people in this nation that felt they could use another revolution and criticized government policies. One such instance was the outrage over the Whiskey Tax in 1791. This was the first tax levied on the citizens by the government and needless to say it did not go over well.
The Acts were a major component of the election of 1800. When Jefferson assumed the Oval Office, he pardoned every one that had been arrested in violation of the Sedition Act, as the other Acts were never enforced and returned the fees they had paid for fines. In fact, Adams never signed any orders, laws or legislation in regard to exporting what the Acts considered as aliens. Most immigrants left the United States of their own accord. Also, it is widely held as an accepted viewpoint the Alien and Sedition Acts would be considered unconstitutional today and struck down as such.
Overall, the Alien and Sedition Acts were a response from the more conservative individuals in power to harness Jefferson, protect themselves from France and safe the country from anarchy. Clearly, these Acts were not constitutional and extremely repressive, as they removed many of the freedoms that were a central component of the country’s governing documents. Although Adams and his followers had their hearts in the right place, as far as protecting their nation, they acted in the wrong way by curbing freedom. It is easy for us to review what they did as hindsight is 20/20, but it is interesting to see how people that had just fought in recent decades for their freedom, cast that out the window for others when they felt threatened. It is intriguing how swiftly the mind forgets what was recently so exceptionally important and the American people had every right to be outraged about the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Works Cited

Roark, Johnson, et al. "The American Promise: A History of the United States", Vol. I: To 1877.
5th Edition.

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Example Of The Crisis Of 1798: Sedition Essay. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-the-crisis-of-1798-sedition-essay/. Published Nov 01, 2020. Accessed August 02, 2021.
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