Alien and Sedition Acts

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The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams. Proponents claimed the acts were designed to protect the United States from alien citizens of enemy powers and to prevent seditious attacks from weakening the government. The Democratic-Republicans, like later historians, denominated 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. They became a major political issue in the elections of 1798 and 1800.

Contents

Acts

There were actually four separate laws making up what is commonly referred to as the "Alien and Sedition Acts"

Constitutionality

Vice President Thomas Jefferson denounced the Sedition Act as invalid and a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights, which protected the right of free speech, and a violation of the Tenth Amendment,[1][2] arguing that:

Jefferson more strongly argued the Federal Government had overstepped its limits in the Alien and Sedition Acts by attempting to exercise unjust powers. Virginia and Kentucky passed resolutions (secretly penned by Jefferson and James Madison) openly denouncing the acts; Federalist-dominated state legislatures rejected Jefferson's position through resolutions either supporting the Acts or denying the ability of Virginia and Kentucky to circumvent them.[3]

The judicial redress for unconstitutional legislation under the doctrine of judicial review was not established until Marbury v. Madison in 1803. The Supreme Court in 1798 was composed entirely of Federalists, all appointed by Washington. Many of them, particularly Associate Justice Samuel Chase, were openly hostile to the Federalists' opponents. The Alien and Sedition Acts were not appealed to the Supreme Court for review, although individual Supreme Court Justices, sitting in circuit, heard many of the cases prosecuting opponents of the Federalists.

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