15. THE ALIEN AND SEDITION LAWS. Alien and Sedition Laws, in the po litical history of the United States, were four laws passed by the Federalist party in Congress, June and July 1798, during President Adams' administration. These laws gave rise to the first nullification proceedings in the South, namely, the Kentucky Resolutions (q.v.), passed in November 1798, and the Virginia Resolutions (q.v.), passed in December 1798, and resulted in the final defeat of the Federal ist party. The Federalists, who had controlled the government from its very inception, re sented all hostile criticism of their conduct of national affairs and spurned the charge made by the Republicans that the Federalists were strongly inclined toward England and were try ing to embroil the American nation in a war with France. Especially obnoxious to them were the embittered exiles who had been flock ing to the shores of America from 1790. These exiles, who were French sympathizers, and, therefore, affiliated with the Republican party, attempted to create sentiment in favor of France, thus blocking the way of the Federal ists, who desired to punish France for her out rageous attacks on American commerce and for her hostile attitude to the United States after the conclusion of the Jay Treaty. More over, by obtaining control of journals here and there throughout the country, or by establishing sheets of their own, they would publish scur rilous and offensive attacks upon the ruling party of Federalists, which the latter felt very keenly.
In 1797 the Federalists had a majority in the Senate, but the House was Republican. Therefore, the measures for defense against French aggression, which the Federalists at tempted to pass, were all defeated by the Re publican majority in the House. But the timely publication of the Y. Z.D correspondence (q.v.) showing the scandalous conduct of Tal leyrand and the French Directory produced such an outburst of popular indignation against France throughout the entire country that the defenders of France were completely silenced, and even the moderates, who had sided with the Republicans, went immediately over to the support of the Federalists. The popular dem onstration appeared to furnish a complete vindication of the course of the Federalists, who gained control of both houses and now were supreme. No sooner had they secured entire control of the reins of government than they began to carry out their party program of suppressing all hostile criticism of the Fed eral administration, even at the risk of stifling liberty and freedom of speech.
Accordingly, in 1798, the Federalists en acted three laws concerning aliens: (1) The new Naturalization Act, passed 18 June; (2) the Alien Acts, passed 25 June; (3) the Sedi tion Act, passed 6 July. The new Naturalization Act prolonged the requisite term of residence. before naturalization from 5 to 14 years and the term after declaration of intentions from three to five years; denied alien enemies naturaliza tion and required all white aliens to be regis tered on arrival, under penalty, and such regis try to be the only proof admitted on applica tion for naturalization. The Alien Act author ized the President, for the next two years, to order out of the country any aliens whom he thought dangerous or engaged in conspiracy. Any alien thus notified who should be found at large without the President's license might be imprisoned for three years and could never thereafter be admitted to citizenship. The Se
dition Act empowered the President to arrest or deport all resident aliens when war was de clared against the United States. As finally approved by the President, the first section of the Sedition Act made it a high misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $5,000 and five years' imprisonment, for persons unlawfully to com bine and conspire to oppose any measures of the government directed by proper authority or to interfere with the operation of any law of the United States or to intimidate any per son from accepting or holding Federal office, or to commit, advise or attempt any insurrec tion, riot or unlawful assembly. The second section prescribed that the writing, printing or publishing of any false, scandalous and ma licious writing against the government of the United States, or either house of Congress, or the President, with the intent to defame or bring any of them into contempt or disrepute, or to arouse against any of them the hatred of the good people of the United States or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combination for opposing or resisting any law or lawful executive act, should he punished, on conviction before the United States court having jurisdiction, by a fine not exceeding $2,000 and imprisonment not exceeding two years. The third section provided that the truth of the matter con tained in the publication might be given in evidence as a good defense, the law and fact under the court's direction to he determined by the jury. A clause added by Bayard of Dela ware limited the term of operation to 4 March 1801, so that it should expire with the Fed eralists if they should lose in the succeeding Presidential election and the Republicans should not have the credit of repealing it.
These acts were denounced by the Repub licans as being in opposition to the constitu tional rights of the States to permit such immi ration as they chose, up to the year 1808 (specifically applicable to slaves), as assuming national powers over persons under the juris diction of their States and as violating the general right of trial by jury. On these points the laws were attacked by the Kentucky and the Virginia resolutions, which Jefferson and Madison drew up, and which suggested nulli fication as the proper remedy.
The alien and sedition laws were obnoxious to the Republicans, not so much on the ground that they were inimical to civil liberty, but rather because they were regarded by that party as an encroachment upon the principle of States' rights. It is this aspect of the laws that gives them their chief interest and importance. The Alien Law, it is to be observed, was not 'enforced, nor would it have produced much dis turbance among the Republicans if it had been strictly enforced. But the Sedition Act, which cut very near the root of civil liberty and was contrary to the underlying principle of Amer ican institutions, was enforced, since at least six prosecutions took place under it and Judge Chase invoked its authority for his scandalous partisan decisions. Upon the accession of the Republicans to power, these odious laws either expired by limitation or were repealed.
Bibliography.— Bassett, J. S., The Fed eralist System' (pages 254-264, 1906) ; Mac Donald, W., Documents) (pages 137 148, 1898); McMaster, J. B., (History of the People of the United States) (Vol. II, pages 393-400, 466-471, 1885) ; 'United States Stat utes at (texts in Vol. I, pages 566-597).