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Alien and Sedition laws,

Up to 1798 the greater part of the emiigrants to the United States since the adoption of the national Constitution had been either Frenchmen, driven into exile by political troubles at home, or Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen, who had espoused ultra-republican principles, and who, flying from the severe measures of repression adopted against them at home, brought to America a fierce hatred of the government of Great Britain, and warm admiration of republican France. Among these were some men of pure lives and noble aims, but many were desperate political intriguers, ready to engage in any scheme of mischief. It was estimated that at the beginning of 1798 there were 30,000 Frenchmen in the United States organized in clubs, and at least fifty thousand who had been subjects of Great Britain. These were regarded as dangerous to the commonwealth, and in 1798, when war with France seemed inevitable, Congress passed acts for the security of the government against internal foes. By an act (June 18, 1798), the naturalization laws were made more stringent, and alien enemies could not become citizens at all. By a second act (June 25), which was limited to two years, the President was authorized to order out of the country all aliens whom he might judge to be dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. By a third act (July 6), in case of war declared against the United States, or an actual invasion, all resident aliens, natives or citizens of the hostile nation, might, upon proclamation of the President, issued according to his discretion, be apprehended and secured or removed. These were known as Alien Laws. The President never had occasion to put then in force, but several prominent Frenchmen, who felt that the laws were aimed at them, speedily left the United States. Among these was M. Volney. who, in the preface of his work, A view of the soil and climate of the United States, complained bitterly of “the public and violent attacks made upon his character, with the connivance or instigation of a certain eminent personage,” meaning President Adams.

On July 14, 1798, an act was passed for the punishment of sedition. It made it a hill misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $5,000, imprisonment from six months to five years, and binding to good behavior at the discretion of the court, for any person unlawfully to combine in opposing measures of the government properly directed by authority, or attempting to prevent government officers executing their trusts, or inciting to riot and insurrection. It also provided for the fining and imprisoning of any person guilty of printing or publishing “any false, scandalous, and malicious writings against the government of the United States, or either House of (Congress, or the President, with intent to defame them, or to bring them into contempt or disrepute.” This was called the Sedition Law. These laws were assailed with great vigor by the Opposition, and were deplored by some of the best friends of the administration. Hamilton deprecated them. He wrote a hurried note of warning against the Sedition Act (June 29, 1798) to Wolcott, while the bill was pending, saying: “Let us not establish a tyranny. Energy is a very different thing from violence. If we take no false step, we shall be essentially united; but if we push things to the extreme, we shall then give to parties body and solidity.” Nothing contributed more powerfully to the defeat of the Federal party two years later than these extreme measures. See Naturalization.

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