Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed on July 14, 1798 under the administration of President John Adams. They were supposed to protect the United States from "dangerous" aliens, but were used by the Federalists in an attempt to stop the growth of the Democratic-Republican Party.
There were actually four separate laws making up what is commonly referred to as the "Alien and Sedition Acts":
- The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to imprison or deport any alien associated with any nation the United States was fighting in a "declared war," during a war time.
- The Alien Act authorized the president to deport any alien considered dangerous, even in a peace time.
- The Naturalization Act extended the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens, nearly tripling it from five years to 14.
- The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against government or government officials.
Though the Acts were ostensibly written for security purposes, they were in reality a tool of the ruling Federalist party. Because most immigrants became Democratic-Republicans, the Naturalization Act's longer residency requirement meant that fewer of them could become citizens and vote against the Federalists. And if, under the Alien and Alien Enemies Acts, the president could deport any "dangerous" or "enemy" alien, potential Democratic-Republicans would never have the opportunity to vote against any Federalist.
Under the Sedition Act, anyone "opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States" could be imprisoned for up to two years. It was also illegal to "write, print, utter, or publish" anything that criticized the president or Congress. The Sedition Act, however it is looked at, was a direct violation of the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights, which granted the right of free speech. Although the Federalists hoped the Act would muffle the opposition, Democratic-Republicans still "wrote, printed, uttered and published" their criticisms of the Federalists.
Ultimately the Acts backfired against the Federalists; President Adams himself never supported or used them. Only one alien was actually deported, and only ten people were ever convicted of sedition. The Acts were all repealed or expired by 1802, and ultimately contributed to the Federalists' loss in the election of 1800.
Parallels to the "alien enemies" can be seen in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the ongoing dispute about the president's power to designate and imprison detainees and "unlawful combatants."
In another, less recent, parallel, a sedition law subsequent to the Act of 1798, the Sedition Act of 1918, is far more narrowly construed, taking effect only during wartime, and within the scope of military operations.
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