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1. To understand the provisions of the Alien and Sedition Acts within their political and constitutional contexts.

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The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 amid fears of ..

The Alien and Sedition Acts were a series of four laws enacted by Congress in 1798
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In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a debate has begun over augmented security and surveillance, versus safeguards for personal freedoms. This debate is certain to occupy our attention for several years. Students should relate these current concerns with the fierce debates that raged in the early national period. What are the parallels with the controversy over the Alien and Sedition Acts? Does understanding what happened in 1798 help us make informed decisions today?

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2. According to historical events and facts, what do you believe was the reasoning behind Adam’s approval of the Alien and Sedition Acts?
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Several sites provide texts and documents to prepare students for these assignments. The at Yale University contains the texts of the Alien Act, the Sedition Act, and Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. A useful feature of this site is that is allows a side-by-side comparison of draft and final versions of the resolutions, with changes highlighted. The , the full text of an 1850 publication by J. W. Randolph, has the full texts of the Alien Act and the Sedition Act. It also contains the debates and resolutions of the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures, as well as the counter-resolutions of Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Finally, it contains the Virginia Report of 1799, along with Madison’s report, instructions to Virginia senators, and letters written in the 1830s by Madison on the bank question and the 1798 resolution. The contains the text of the Naturalization Act. The website provides both original and modern versions of the acts. Direct your students also to the Library of Congress website with facsimiles of the so that students can read the contemporary debate over the Alien and Sedition laws, Alien Enemies, Seditious Practices, and Seditious Writers. The Annals are searchable. For an assignment, students might look at the of Albert Gallatin and Harrison Gray Otis in the , 5th Congress, 2d session, pp. 2107, 2109, 2156-60, 2162, 2145-48.

 

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3. Do you believe the provisions set forth in the Alien and Sedition Acts impede civil liberties? Defend your opinion.
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Finally, the National History Standards ask students to what extent the Alien and Sedition Acts were a violation of the Bill of Rights. Was the more important legacy of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that they vouchsafed individual rights or that they broached the issue of states’ rights? Ask them to compare and contrast these acts with the . Students might want to look at Freedom Papers No. 6, which deals with censorship, prior restraint, and seditious libel. For more on the free speech clause, students might visit and the ACLU Briefing Paper No. 10 on "

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The website has some limited resources for trials associated with the Alien and Sedition Acts, chiefly images of original versions of the acts in the Columbian Centinel, summaries of the cases brought under the acts, and identifications of major figures involved in the sedition trials.


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The National History standards expect students to be able to explain why the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed and to appraise their significance. Students should be able to explain the context of events and the constitutional theory that surrounded their passage. How did the Federalist party justify the need for the acts? Why did the Federalists feel the acts did not violate the Bill of rights? Students should be able to assess the arrest and imprisonment of critics of the Adams administration such as Benjamin Franklin Bache, Thomas Cooper, and Matthew Lyon. Were these violations of the First Amendment or were they justified by the crises confronting the new nation?

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3. To explore the ways in which the issues raised by the Alien and Sedition Acts were instrumental in antebellum political conflicts, as well as today’s issues.

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With the rise of political parties in the new nation, partisan conflict intensified over issues of economics, foreign policy, law, and domestic policy. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 amid fears of war with France exacerbated the growing rift between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. At the center were fundamental differences over the Constitution: whether its authority was based on broad, implied powers or limited in scope under strict interpretation. The prosecutions under the Alien and Sedition Acts brought these conflicts into the realm of everyday, practical—and increasingly partisan—politics. Democratic-Republicans charged that enforcement of the Sedition Act was intended to suppress the Republican opposition, and freedom of the press became an issue. The debate over the acts also bore the beginnings of the contest over federalism and states’ rights.