Alien and Sedition Acts

The Alien and Sedition Acts were four laws passed by the United States Congress in 1798 and signed into law by President John Adams to protect the United States from citizens of enemy powers during the turmoil following the French Revolution and to stop radical groups from weakening the government of the new republic.

The public was outraged against the laws. Thomas Jefferson, who defeated John Adams in the election of 1800, claimed the acts were unconstitutional. President Jefferson pardoned everyone who had been convicted of violating them. Most of the acts expired or were repealed by 1802, although the Alien Enemies Act remains in effect and has been enforced in wartime.

The repeal of the Alien and Sedition Acts showed the importance Americans placed on the freedoms gained after the revolution and of the capacity of the government to protect civil liberties.

Component Acts

There were four separate laws making up what is commonly referred to as the

Naturalization Act: extended the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens, from five years to fourteen. It restricted recent immigrants—notably French refugees who sided with the Jefferson Republicans—from voting in upcoming elections. Enacted June 18, 1798, with no expiration date, it was repealed in 1802.

Alien Friends Act: authorized the president to deport any resident alien considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." It targeted recent French arrivals. Enacted June 25, 1798, with a two-year expiration date.

Alien Enemies Act: authorized the president to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States. Enacted July 6, 1798, with no expiration date; it remains in effect today.

Sedition Act: made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. This act applied to American citizens who criticized the president or Congress. This act was very unpopular with the American public. Enacted July 14, 1798, with an expiration date of March 3, 1801.


In 1798 the United States was being drawn into the conflict between Great Britain and France. Some Americans saw France as a natural ally, since it championed republican values and had supported the new country during the American Revolution. Many others worried that the turmoil and violence in France following the French Revolution could spread to America. In an attempt to isolate pro-French Republicans in the United States, the Federalist party passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Source: Alien and Sedition Acts
New World Encyclopedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0

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