Portrait of John Adams.

John Adams was President when the Alien & Sedition Acts were enacted.

Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) External Links

1798

External Links for Alien and Sedition Acts

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Alien and Sedition Acts

The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798. They were signed into law by President John Adams, and the Federalists in the United States Congress—who were waging an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. Proponents claimed the acts were designed to protect the United States from alien citizens of enemy powers and to stop seditious attacks from weakening the government. The Democratic-Republicans, like later historians, attacked them as being both unconstitutional and designed to stifle criticism of the administration, and as infringing on the right of the states to act in these areas.

Acts, Bills, and Laws, 1798: The Alien and Sedition Acts

In 1798, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed a series of laws which, on the surface, were designed to control the activities of foreigners in the United States during a time of impending war. Beneath the surface, however, the real intent of these laws was to destroy Jeffersonian Republicanism. In 1798, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed a series of laws which, on the surface, were designed to control the activities of foreigners in the United States during a time of impending war. Beneath the surface, however, the real intent of these laws was to destroy Jeffersonian Republicanism.

Passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts

On July 4, 1798, the citizens of the capital city of Philadelphia turned out in large numbers to celebrate the nation's independence day. While militia companies marched through the streets, church bells rang, and artillery units fired salutes, members of the United States Senate were trying to conduct a debate on a critical bill. One senator noted ‘the military parade so attracted the attention of the majority that much the greater part of them stood with their bodies out of the windows and could not be kept to order.' Once they resumed their deliberations, however, the Federalist majority succeeded in gaining passage of an implausible bill, one quickly approved by the House of Representatives and signed on July 14 by President John Adams.

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

Under the threat of war with France, Congress in 1798 passed four laws in an effort to strengthen the Federal government. Known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts, the legislation sponsored by the Federalists was also intended to quell any political opposition from the Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson.

Alien and Sedition Acts

Alien and Sedition Acts, 1798, four laws enacted by the Federalist-controlled U.S. Congress, allegedly in response to the hostile actions of the French Revolutionary government on the seas and in the councils of diplomacy (see XYZ Affair), but actually designed to destroy Thomas Jefferson's Republican party, which had openly expressed its sympathies for the French Revolutionaries.

The Alien and Sedition Acts: A Federalist Attempt at Suppression

As the second President of the United States, John Adams, worked to further protect and define the fledgling nation. Not surprisingly Adams faced myriad domestic and foreign problems during his tenure. The French and English had been acting against American shipping interests impressing sailors and seizing cargos. To solve the dilemma the Jay treaty was signed with Great Britain but left the French frustrated. They responded to the new agreement, with a quasi-war on the seas. War fever ran high but Adams hesitated to lead the country into a conflict they were ill prepared for.

Alien and Sedition Acts

In American political history, four laws passed in 1798. The Naturalization Act, raising from 5 to 14 the number of years of U.S. residence required for naturalization, was repealed in 1802. The Alien Act, empowering the president to arrest and deport any alien considered dangerous, expired in 1800. The Alien Enemies Act, which expired in 1801, provided for the arrest and deportation of subjects of foreign powers at war with the U.S. The Sedition Act made it a criminal offense to print or publish false, malicious, or scandalous statements directed against the U.S. government, the president, or Congress; to foster opposition to the lawful acts of Congress; or to aid a foreign power in plotting against the U.S. Although the Sedition Act enacted some reforms in the existing law of seditious libel—evidence of the truth of the alleged libel could be pleaded in justification—its penalties were severe: imprisonment for up to five years and fines up to $5000.

The Alien and Sedition Acts

No protesting the government? No immigrants allowed in? No freedom of the press. Lawmakers jailed? Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War? No. It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The Alien and Sedition Acts

Transcripts of the Alien Act of 1798 and the Sedition Act of 1798

Primary Documents in American History: Alien and Sedition Acts

Signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress as America prepared for war with France. These acts increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" and restricted speech critical of the government. These laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party. Negative reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped contribute to the Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 elections. Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the other acts were allowed to expire.

Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)

Passed in preparation for an anticipated war with France, the Alien and Sedition Acts tightened restrictions on foreign-born Americans and limited speech critical of the Government.

The Formation of Political Parties: The Alien and Sedition Acts

In 1798 the United States stood on the brink of war with France. The Federalists believed that Democratic-Republican criticism of Federalist policies was disloyal and feared that aliens living in the United States would sympathize with the French during a war. As a result, a Federalist-controlled Congress passed four laws, known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws raised the residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, authorized the President to deport aliens and permitted their arrest, imprisonment, and deportation during wartime. The Sedition Act made it a crime for American citizens to "print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about the Government.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Alien and Sedition Acts External Links
  • Coverage 1798
  • Author
  • Keywords alien and sedition acts
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date January 18, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 11, 2021
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