Study Guide

Alien and Sedition Acts Quotes

By Congress

  • Fear

    "And provided also, that no alien, who shall be a native, citizen, denizen or subject of any nation or state with whom the United States shall be at war, at the time of his application, shall be then admitted to become a citizen of the United States." (Naturalization.1)

    While this doesn't open with the actual words, "Aaaah! Foreigners!" the meaning could not be clearer. Why would you bar immigration from anyplace unless there was a threat? The intent is not to stoke fear, but give the impression of protection from the thing causing the fear in the first place. You'll note this is how lots of politicians get elected.

    "And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, whenever he may deem it necessary (for the public safety, to order to be removed out of the territory thereof, any alien who mayor shall be in prison in pursuance of this act; and to cause to be arrested and sent out of the United States such of those aliens as shall have been ordered to depart therefrom and shall not have obtained a license as aforesaid, in all cases where, in the opinion of the President, the public safety requires a speedy removal." (Friends.2)

    The key words here are "for the public safety." Whenever you see those words know that fear is the motivator. There might be a good reason for it, and it might actually be dangerous, but it is playing on fear.

    "And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the marshal of the district in which any alien enemy shall be apprehended, who by the President of the United States, or by order of any court, judge or justice, as aforesaid, shall be required to depart, and to be removed, as aforesaid, to provide therefor, and to execute such order, by himself or his deputy, or other discreet person or persons to be employed by him, by causing a removal of such alien out of the territory of the United States; and for such removal the marshal shall have the warrant of the President of the United States, or of the court, judge or justice ordering the same, as the case may be." (Enemies.3)

    Notice how the law refers casually to the "alien enemy." Now bear in mind, this sweeping judgment included people who had never done anything to the United States.

    "to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or no..." (Sedition.1)

    The important part with regards to fear is the list of scary language there in the middle: "insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly." You'll note that this is pretty nebulous language. Go on, define any one of them….and realize you can already think of exceptions. That's one of the big problems here.

    "And report, as aforesaid, shall be made in all cases of residence, within six months from and after the passing of this act, and in all after cases, within forty-eight hours after the first arrival or coming into the territory of the United States, and shall ascertain the sex, place- of birth, age, nation, place of allegiance or citizenship, condition or occupation, and place of actual or intended residence within the United States, of the alien or aliens reported, and by whom the report is made..." (Naturalization.4)

    That's a lot of information that supposedly needs to be tracked…especially when we're talking about people who haven't committed any crime.

  • Prejudice

    "...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, at least..." (Naturalization.1)

    Fourteen years. Why would it take so long? The implication is that this weeds out people who would do something illegal. Why fourteen years? Why is that the magic number? Do people with bad intentions stick it out for thirteen and just give up?

    "That 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," (Friends.1)

    That's prejudice, right there. The president pre-judges these people are dangerous. There's no trial or anything. So the Alien Friends Act enshrines the concept of prejudice as fine and legal.

    "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, secured and removed, as alien enemies." (Enemies.1)

    That's pre-judging every man over the age of fourteen. That's a lot of people.

    "And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases." (Sedition.3)

    Thank goodness, a mention of a jury. Although, you could look at this cynically: the one act of the bunch that applies to native-born citizens is the only one guaranteeing that trial by jury promised in the 6th Amendment.

    "And be it further enacted, That every master or commander of any ship or vessel which shall come into any port of the United States after the first day of July next, shall immediately on his arrival make report in writing to the collector or other chief officer of the customs of such port, of all aliens, if any, on board his vessel, specifying their names, age, the place of nativity, the country from which they shall have come, the nation to which they belong and owe allegiance, their occupation and a description of their persons..." (Friends.2)

    That's a lot of information on these people. It's almost like they're being judged before they've done anything.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    "That all white persons, aliens, (accredited foreign ministers, consuls, or agents, their families and domestics, excepted) who, after the passing of this act, shall continue to reside, or who shall arrive, or come to reside in any port or place within the territory of the United States, shall be reported..." (Naturalization.4)

    "All white persons." That's not even trying to hide racism. This is a wonderful example of tyranny in action, as it specifically refers to white people to be treated differently under the law.

    "That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, whenever he may deem it necessary..." (Friends.2)

    Whenever the president deems it necessary. That's tyranny in a nutshell, and exactly the kind of unilateral power the colonists revolted against and designed the Constitution to prevent.

    "the President of the United States shall make public proclamation of the event, 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, secured and removed, as alien enemies." (Enemies.1)

    Hmm. Throwing people out, some as young as fourteen, without even the pretense of a jury trial? That's a little suspect.

    "That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor..." (Sedition.1)

    Let us translate for you here. This is saying that anyone organizing against the government in any way is guilty of a crime. This is the shaky edge of what's tyranny and what's not. Should people be allowed to do this? Would a just government have any cause to fear its citizens? Where is the line drawn?

    "That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished..." (Sedition.2)

    This is textbook tyranny. It's like Adams looked the word up and was like, "This. Let's do this." Here, this is anything spoken against the President or Congress (but not the Vice President because that's Jefferson and who cares) is illegal. You might notice that's exactly the kind of speech the First Amendment is there to protect. You don't need a law to protect you from the government for speaking stuff they like. No one is worried about the ramifications of being like, "The President is a handsome man." This law is an attempt to strip the purpose from the First Amendment.

  • Politics

    "...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, at least..." (Naturalization.1)

    The important thing to remember is that at the time this was signed into law, the United States was ten. In four years, Adams would either be in his second term or out (he was out), so he's playing a little politics with this time limit. He's putting a rule in place and either his successor can change it, or he can keep it going.

    "That 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" (Friends.1)

    There's a gray area here. If the government is composed entirely of Federalists, is espousing Democratic-Republican beliefs "treasonable"? It depends, but it's not off the table.

    "That 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, secured and removed, as alien enemies." (Enemies.1)

    That's a lot of leeway. Whenever the President judges that a foreign government was threatening, he can throw out all the immigrants from that country. Whether or not this was intended as a political move (and it was at least partially), there's a huge opportunity for abuse.

    "And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President..." (Sedition.2)

    This makes it super obvious how much political calculation was going on. Notice that it's only a crime to defame the President and Congress, who, if you recall, are Federalists. The Democratic-Republican Vice President, Thomas Jefferson? It's totally fine to say whatever you like about that guy.

    "Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force." (Sedition.4)

    Even though the law expired, if you violated it, you still have to do the time. This was Adams reaching beyond his first term and as it turned out, his presidency as a whole. Jefferson could play politics too; when the Sedition Act expired in 1801, Jefferson pardoned everyone convicted under it.