The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were actually four bills that were passed in Congress. They were supposed to protect the United States of America from people who weren’t from our country that we were at war, or were hostile with. The acts were passed into law in 1798, but were the subject of the elections of 1798 and 1800. Let’s look at the Acts a little more.
The four different Acts were the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, The Alien Enemies Act, and the Sedition Act. They each had their own part to play.
The Naturalization Act made aliens who wanted to become citizens live in the United States for at least fourteen years. They couldn’t become a citizen unless they were a resident for at least fourteen years. They still had to do other things to become a citizen, but it was one of the things that was made longer.
The Alien Friends Act allowed the President to arrest and deport any person in the United States that was seen as a threat. It included people who were sympathetic to the wars abroad or who would harm or seem to harm the peace and safety of the United States. It was a very powerful law and if a person wasn’t careful, they could be seen as sympathetic and would be thrown in jail or kicked out of the country.
The Alien Enemies Act allowed the President of the United States to arrest and deport anyone who was living in the United States that was from another country that we were at war with. If you were from France and we were at war with France, then you would probably have been deported.
The Sedition Act was a law that made it illegal for anyone to write anything bad about the government or anyone who had a government position. It was a lot like the laws that the King of England had made for the colonists.
Most people were upset by the laws. They seemed unfair and not like what the new United States of America was supposed to be. The people claimed that the laws violated the First Amendment and also the tenth Amendment.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought hard to get the laws repealed. They didn’t want the laws to be enacted or put into place. The laws were hurting the United States of America. John Adams didn’t want to go to war with France and so he enacted these laws to help preserve our country and keep it from being torn apart. He didn’t want our country at war on the same side as another foreign country who was battling England, the country that the United States had just defeated.
Thomas Jefferson won the Presidential election of 1800. Many people think it was because he had been so opposed to the Alien and Sedition Acts. The laws were each declared unconstitutional and everyone who had been convicted of any of the acts were pardoned and let go.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and were what the colonists had been fighting against. They wanted to have their own freedom from oppression and they felt oppression under these news laws. Because of the Founding Fathers and their wonderful job at creating an excellent constitution, we have a country that will not allow one branch of the government to become too powerful. We will be protected from laws that make life unfair for the American people, as long as someone is willing to stand up and declare it unconstitutional.
Learn more with these John Adams websites.