On July 14, 1798, President John Adams signed the Sedition Act, making it a crime to publicly criticize the U.S. government, president or federal officials.
The Sedition Act outlawed conspiracies “to oppose any measure or measures of the government.” It made “false, scandalous and malicious writing” against Congress or the president punishable by fine or imprisonment.
The Debate Over the Alien and Sedition Acts
Vice President Thomas Jefferson and other Democratic-Republicans opposing the Sedition Act claimed that it granted too much power to an already authoritative government. Jefferson claimed that the Sedition Act was unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment.
The Sedition Act Trials
At least 26 critics of the Adams administration were tried under the Sedition Act.
The Defeat of Adams
The Sedition Act trials, along with the Senate’s use of its contempt powers to suppress dissent, set off criticism against the Federalists and contributed to their defeat in the election of 1800. Jefferson opposed Adams in the election of 1800 and won with 61 percent of the vote. He repealed the Naturalization Act and allowed the Alien Friends Act and Sedition Act to expire, pardoning all those who had been prosecuted under the Sedition Act. The Alien Enemies remains as law.
Source: On This Day: Sedition Act of 1798 Becomes Law
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