Alien and Sedition Act of 1798

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Alien and Sedition Act 1798
Carrie Ostrander
HLS 300E: Administering Homeland Security
Steve MacMartin
9 April 2013

Many people believe the fight to secure our homeland began after 9/11 but this is not entirely true. Although this is partially true as there have been many improvements to homeland security, the fight began years ago with multiple acts being passed that, unbeknownst at the time, were in reality related to securing our homeland.

In 1798 Congress passed a series of four laws that aimed to control the activities of foreigners in the United States at the time of the impending French Revolutionary War. The four laws, which were collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts, included the: Naturalization Act, Alien Act, Alien Enemies Act and Sedition Act. The Naturalization Act focused on making a longer period of time of residency for someone seeking citizenship to the United States. This meant that instead of an alien being in the country four just a couple years before being allowed to apply for citizenship the new residency period would require anywhere from 5 to 14 years. The law was aimed at Irish and French immigrants.

The Alien Act made it possible for any aliens deemed dangerous during peaceful times in the United States to be expelled. This made it easier for government to remove someone they thought could be dangerous but it only applied to peaceful times not war times which is where the Alien Enemies Act came in. The act made it possible for the not only the expulsion but the imprisonment of aliens who were deemed dangerous during wartime. These people would be considered terrorists today and these acts were the first step in combatting any attack whether it is during peaceful times or war times. Although these three acts were never enforced they did prompt numerous Frenchmen to return home thus proving the dangers that were present in our country before these acts were instated. The Alien Act was very vague in that it did not say that any foreign nationals had to do anything illegal. The government did not have to prove they were a threat to national security to be subject to deportation.

The Sedition Act of 1798 was the only act of the four laws passed to be enforced. This act made it illegal for an individual to criticize the government in speech or print. The penalty for such acts was a fine or possible imprisonment. It was also vague in that it was aimed toward foreign nationals but included anyone from advocating for a cause of a hostile nation. It also made it a crime to oppose any measure of the government of the United States. It was said this act was to prevent riots, uprisings or unlawful assemblies. The act even made it illegal to say anything bad against the act itself or call for its repeal. Although these acts were controversial and a threat to freedom of speech the reason for the acts being passed were to protect national security.

Many other acts were passed in the following years to combat terrorism. The Force Act and the Ku Klux Act were “the earliest examples of legislation in the United States to deal specifically with domestic terrorist groups” (Fagin, 2005). The acts gave the government the authority to use federal troops to enforce federal laws. It dealt with mainly the southern states and their fourteenth and fifteenth amendment rights. The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments are considered the reconstruction amendments because they were important in implementing the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. The amendments dealt with the rights of the former slaves. The fourteenth amendment secured rights for former slaves and provided a broad definition of national citizenship. The fifteenth amendment granted voting regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude, but excluded the right for women to vote. These acts were aimed specifically at defeating a particular domestic terrorist group of citizens known...
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