Alien and Sedition Acts (United States) (1798)

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The Alien and Sedition Acts is the collective name given to four laws enacted by the U.S. Congress in the midst of its undeclared naval war with France known as the Quasi War (1798–1800). The laws were ostensibly a reaction to French diplomacy and depredations on the high seas but were mainly aimed at undermining the growing strength of Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party. With Irish, French, and other newly arrived immigrants strongly supporting the Republican Party, Federalists were intent on neutralizing the potential political value of “new” Americans.
The Naturalization Law extended the residency qualification for full citizenship—and thus the right to vote— from five to 14 years. The Alien Enemies Law gave the president wartime powers to deport citizens of countries with whom the United States was at war, and the Alien Law empowered the executive to expel any foreigner “suspected” of treasonous activity, though its tenure was limited to two years. The Sedition Law proscribed criticism of the government, directly threatening First Amendment guarantees regarding freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The alien laws were not used by Federalist president John Adams, but a number of prominent Jeffersonian journalists were prosecuted for sedition. The main result of the Alien and Sedition Acts was to unify the Republican Party. After Jefferson’s election as president in 1800, the Naturalization Law was repealed, and the others measures were allowed to expire (1800–1801). A new Naturalization Act was passed in 1802.
See also Naturalization Acts.