The Alien and Sedition Act 1798-Excerpts with Annotation
The Alien and Sedition Act 1798
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798, in preparation for an undeclared, and eventual war with France. –The event known as the Quasi-War-. It was signed by President John Adams. The law was meant to protect the citizens of alien powers, and to protect the government from seditious attacks from the outside. Historians declared this law as unconstitutional, as it infringed the state laws, regarding the protection of the citizens.
1. What justifications do the Alien and Sedition Acts contain for these measures aimed primarily at the press?
These acts provoked many debates between Republicans and Federalists, mostly over the freedom of the press, and speech. For instance, the Virginian legislator James Madison argued that the Sedition Act attacked the right of freely examining public characters, and the free communication among people. In the same way, other congress people challenged the ability of the government to gag the press and asked why he government had the power to punish speakers and the press for informing the voters.
2. On what basis does the Virginia Resolution argue that these Acts are unjust?
Virginia and Kentucky passed resolutions openly denouncing the acts. Both states passed laws denouncing the resolutions and its unconstitutionality, as they limited the acting power of the states. In the same way, the acts posed a threat to the states’ autonomy, and the ability the states might have to circumvent them.
3. Finally, while our instincts tell us that such measures as the Alien and Sedition Acts cannot be justified, are there certain circumstances where you could see a need for government to limit freedom of the press in this manner?
Of course, it is important for a government to exert some degree of control, but in the American society, we have historically understood that the free will and free speech are pivotal points in what has been called “The American Way”. In the same light, it is important to understand that in order to keep some liberties, at least a small amount of freedom must be handed in. This, by no means, means that we will accept dictatorships or autocratic decisions, on the contrary, by handing some of the power to the executive, we are making sure that it does not overextend and hinders us.
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