The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were four laws that were passed by the predominantly Federalist Congress and signed by John Adams to strengthen the national security of the United States. These acts not only restricted the ability of an immigrant to become a citizen, but made it easier to deport non-citizens who were either deemed dangerous or were citizens of hostile countries. Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the new laws criminalized the printing or speaking allegedly false statements about the federal government. Not surprisingly, these laws were incredibly controversial and strongly opposed by Thomas Jefferson’s opposition Democratic-Republican party.
Terri Halperin’s new book The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 published by Johns Hopkins University Press lays bear the deep divisions in the United States that potentially threatened the survival of the young nation. She examines the passage and strident debate that around these laws along with their problematic an uneven enforcement. Her book is excellent introduction to both the immigration laws of the new country and its interpretation of freedom of speech.
Terri Halperin is a member of the University of Richmond History Department and an adjunct professor of the James Madison Memorial Foundation Summer Institute. She is an United States historian and her focus is on the Early Republic.