The alien and sedition acts



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AP United States History

THE ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS
Read the summaries of the Alien and Sedition Acts below and then answer the questions that follow.
THE NATURALIZATION ACT (June 18, 1798)

No alien shall be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, or of any state, unless ... he shall have declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, five years, at least, before his admission, and shall, at the time of his application to be admitted, declare and prove, to the satisfaction of the court having jurisdiction in the case, that he has resided within the United States fourteen years...



THE ALIEN ACT (June 25, 1798)

It shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time during the continuance of this Act, to order all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States....



THE ALIEN ENEMIES ACT (July 6, 1798)

Whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion shall be perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States, by any foreign nation or government ... all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained and removed, as alien enemies....



THE SEDITION ACT (July 14, 1798)

If any person shall write, print, utter, or publish . . . scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of Congress of the United States or the President of the United States, with intent to defame ... or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute ... then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.


I. Why do you think the above acts were passed?

II. Based on the information below, why do you think the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed?

1. The Federalist Party was in power in 1798 when these acts were passed.

2. The party not in power frequently criticizes the party in power.

3. Citizens can vote; non-citizens cannot vote.

4. The United States was on the verge of war with France in 1798.

5. The Federalist Alexander Hamilton did not like the federalist John Adams.

6. The party not in power in 1798 was the Republican Party.

7. Federalists believed that most immigrants voted for the Republicans.
III. Which of the pieces of information in Part II seems least relevant to (that is, has the least connection to) the Alien and Sedition Acts?

IV. Read the following passage and decide whether it supports or refutes the inference you made in part II above.

In 1798 when anger against the French had become the most violent, the Federalists took advantage of the situation. They passed a series of laws to suppress Republican opposition and insure power for their own party. But, in fact, they misjudged the temper of the nation. Their oppressive measures outraged many Americans and helped lead to the downfall of the Federalist Party.

Leading Federalists believed-or pretended to believe-that most foreigners who came to the United States joined the Republicans. In the Naturalization Act, then, they extended the time it took to become a citizen from 5 to 14 years. In the Alien Act they gave the President at once the power to deport any alien he thought dangerous to the nation's security and then, in time of war, the power to deport or arrest all aliens who came from an enemy nation.



The Sedition Act was especially harsh. It provided a heavy fine and a jail term for any person found guilty of "combining and conspiring to oppose the execution of the laws, or publishing false, scandalous, or malicious writings against the President, Congress, or the government of the United States:" These words were so vague and general that the Federalists could use the law to stop public criticism of the government by their opponents. This would spell the end of free representative government.

Some Federalist leaders, including Hamilton, actually disapproved of these laws that were pushed through Congress by extremist members of their party. John Adams had not promoted the measures, but on the other hand he did not veto them or prevent their use against the Republicans. Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, A History of the United States (Lexington, Mass.: Ginn and Company, 1986), p. 133.

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