Today, July 14, 1798: Infamous Alien and Sedition Acts

The American Revolutionary War began in April 1776 in Lexington, Massachusetts. At the time, no other nation officially recognized the United States of America as an independent nation.

In October, 1777, American patriotic forces defeated British General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. When word reached US diplomat to France Benjamin Franklin and the French government, relations changed between the US and France and Franklin was successful in persuading France to help the struggling colonies in their war against Great Britain.

On February 6, 1778, Franklin and French leaders signed two treaties that helped turn the tide on the war with the British. The first treaty was the Treaty of Alliance in which the French formally recognized the independence of America. This treaty also established a military alliance against a common enemy, the British, and that there would be no peace until the British stop the fighting and recognize America’s independence. Some historians believe that America would not have won the Revolutionary War without the help they received from France.

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The American Revolution officially ended on September 3, 1783. Approximately 6 years later in 1789, revolution broke out in France and lasted until 1799.

In 1798, before the end of the French Revolution, the new America was being divided by two political parties, much like America of today. They were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, supported the French Revolution and believed that is was partially spawned by the American Revolution. The Federalists, led by then President John Adams, supported the French government who had helped America in our time of need.

In the Spring of 1798, John Quincy Adams persuaded his father, President John Adams, that the French were planning on invading the western wilderness areas of America. It was estimated that nearly 100,000 people in America would side with the French if they invaded America. Some experts of the day believed that an invasion would start in the southern states where there were more French immigrants and sympathizers. Congress even went so far as to contact George Washington and request he take command of the American Army in case of a possible French invasion.

On June 18, 1798, Congress passes the first of the Alien and Sedition Acts in response to the threat of a French invasion with the support of French sympathizers already in the US. The Acts consisted of four laws. One law, the Naturalization Act, changed the time of residence for naturalization from five years to fourteen years.

On June 25, 1798, Congress passes another of the Alien and Sedition Acts – the Alien Act – which authorized the president to deport or expel any foreigners deemed to be a danger to the safety and peace of America. The president also was given the authority to expel anyone whom he believed to be treasonous or acting in secret to pose a threat to the US.

On July 6, 1798, Congress passes another of the Alien and Sedition Acts – the Alien Enemy Act – which gave the president the authority to arrest, expel or imprison any alien from a country that they US had declared war against.

On this day, July 14, 1798, the fourth and most controversial and powerful of the Alien and Sedition Acts – the Sedition Act – became federal law.

“The Sedition Act made it a high misdemeanor, punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both, for citizens or aliens (1) to oppose the execution of federal laws; (2) to prevent a federal officer from performing his or her duties; (3) to aid ‘any insurrection, riot, Unlawful Assembly, or combination’; or (4) to make any defamatory statement about the federal government or the president (1 Stat. 596).”

At the time, many believed that the Sedition Act was passed more to oppose Jefferson and the Federalists than it was to preserve national security. It served to further divide the partisan politics in Congress.

By the end of 1798, 14 people were arrested for violating the Sedition Act. Ten of the fourteen were convicted, with most being sentenced to prison.

When Jefferson won the presidency in 1800, the Federalists also gained control and Congress and it wasn’t long before the Alien and Sedition Acts were replaced with other pieces of legislation.



Sources for the above includes: Franco-American Treaties Helped America Gain Independence, Signed Today in 1778; Alien and Sedition Acts; Sedition Act Becomes Federal Law; The Alien and Sedition Acts; Alien and Sedition Acts; Alien and Sedition Acts; Adams Passes First of Alien and Sedition Acts; The Alien and Sedition Acts: Defining American Freedom;


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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