humbly conceive the spirit of American Liberty breathes a different
air, from this Law.
from Aliens Residing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, January
In 1798 the
United States stood on the brink of war with France. The Federalists
believed that Democratic-Republican criticism of Federalist policies
was disloyal and feared that aliens living in the United States
would sympathize with the French during a war. As a result, a Federalist-controlled
Congress passed four laws, known collectively as the Alien and Sedition
Acts. These laws raised the residency requirements for citizenship
from 5 to 14 years, authorized the President to deport aliens and
permitted their arrest, imprisonment, and deportation during wartime.
The Sedition Act made it a crime for American citizens to "print,
utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous, and malicious writing"
about the Government.
The laws were
directed against Democratic-Republicans, the party typically favored
by new citizens, and the only journalists prosecuted under the Sedition
Act were editors of Democratic-Republican newspapers. Sedition Act
trials, along with the Senates use of its contempt powers
to suppress dissent, set off a firestorm of criticism against the
Federalists and contributed to their defeat in the election of 1800,
after which the acts were repealed or allowed to expire. The controversies
surrounding them, however, provided for some of the first testings
of the limits on freedom of speech and press.