Alien and Sedition Acts
Signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien
and Sedition Acts consisted of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled
Congress as America prepared for war with France. These acts
increased the residency requirement for American citizenship
from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to
imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the
peace and safety of the United States" and restricted
speech critical of the government. These laws were designed
to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party. Negative
reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped contribute
to the Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 elections.
Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the
other acts were allowed to expire.
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Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation
This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.
The full-text of the Alien and Sedition Acts can be found
in the United
States Statutes at Large:
Debates contains a section on the response to the
Alien and Sedition Acts, including the text of the Virginia
Resolution, responses to the Virginia Resolution from
other states, the Kentucky Resolution, and James Madison's
report on the Virginia Resolution.
this collection on the words "alien sedition"
for additional Congressional information on the Alien
and Sedition Acts, including debate in the Annals
American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and
Other Printed Ephemera
The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history.
A selection of items related to the Alien and Sedition Acts includes:
- The awful crisis which has arrived must be felt by us all, however, we may differ as to the causes which have produced it, or the measures which may avert its calamity ... [Richmond, Printed by T. Nicolson, 1799].
- The Committee to whom was referred the bill" to define more particularly the crime of treason, and to define and punish the crime of sedition, [are of opinion, that the said bill ought to pass, with the following amendment.
- Fifth congress of the United States: at the second session, begun and held at the city of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, on Monday, the thirteenth of November, one thousand, seven hundred and -seven. An act concerning aliens.
- In the House of representatives. November 29. 1799. Resolved, that 150 copies of the Governor's message No. 2, with the papers accompanying the same be printed. for the use of the Legislature...
- Legislature of Kentucky. House of Representatives. Wednesday Nov. 7, 1798. Mr. Brackenridge gave notice that he would on tomorrow move the house to go into Committee of the whole on the state of the commonwealth...
- Legislature of Kentucky. In the House of representatives November 10th, 1798. The House according to the standing order of the day, resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the state of the Commonwealth ...
- To the Senate and Representatives of the United States, in Congress assembled. It is equally foreign from our wishes and intentions to criminate the motives of the national legislatures ... [Regarding the alien and sedition laws.]
- To the Senate and House of representatives of the United States. We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being citizens of the county of Albermarle in the state of Virginia, are urged by consideration which we cannot resist to remonstrate as follows [A protest against the alien and sedition acts] [Virginia 1798].
- Virginia to wit. In the House of Delegates Friday, December 21st, 1798. Resolved that the General Assembly of Virginia doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the constitution of the United States...
First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820
The collection consists of 15,000 pages of original historical material documenting the land, peoples, exploration, and transformation of the trans-Appalachian West from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. The collection is drawn from the holdings of the University of Chicago Library and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky.
- Copy of the Kentucky Resolutions. In 1798 and 1799, the Kentucky and Virginia assemblies passed resolutions condemning the federal laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Representative John Breckinridge introduced Kentucky's version of the declaration, a document he had received from his friend Thomas Jefferson and which he had slightly modified. James Madison authored Virginia's decree and neither his nor Jefferson's role in creating the documents was revealed until many years later.
James Madison Papers
The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items, spanning the period 1723-1859, captured in some 72,000 digital images.
Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress
The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.
Jefferson's Papers for additional documents related
to the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Kentucky Resolution was secretly authored by Thomas
Jefferson in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Along with the Virginia Resolution, which was written
by James Madison, the Kentucky Resolution argued that
state legislatures had the right to nullify Federal statutes.
Creating the United States
This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country.
Alien and Sedition Acts, Avalon Project at Yale Law
with Documents: United States v. Thomas Cooper - A Violation
of the Sedition Law, National Archives and Records Administration
Documents, Alien and Sedition Acts, National Archives
and Records Administration
The Sedition Act Trials, Federal Judicial Center
of Congress - The Formation of Political Parties: The Alien
and Sedition Acts, National Archives and Records Administration
Resolutions of Virginia and Kentucky, Penned by Madison and Jefferson, in Relation to the Alien and Sedition Laws; and the Debates and Proceedings in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the Same, in December, 1798. Richmond: R.I. Smith, 1835. [Catalog
Record] [Full Text]
The Virginia Report of 1799-1800, Touching the Alien and Sedition Laws; Together with the Virginia Resolutions of December 21, 1798, the Debate and Proceedings Thereon in the House of Delegates of Virginia, and Several Other Documents Illustrative of the Report and Resolutions. Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1850. [Catalog
Record] [Full Text]
Bird, Wendell R. Press and Speech Under Assault: The Early Supreme Court Justices and the Sedition Act of 1798, and the Campaign Against Dissent. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. [Catalog
Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick. The
Age of Federalism.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. [Catalog
Halperin, Terri Diane. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: When a Congressional Majority Assaulted Immigrants and Civil Liberties. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. [Catalog Record]
Miller, John Chester. Crisis in Freedom:
The Alien and Sedition Acts. Boston: Little Brown,
Slack, Charles. Liberty's First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015. [Catalog Record]
Smith, James Morton. Freedom's Fetters:
The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1956. [Catalog
Watkins, William J., Jr. Reclaiming
the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
and Their Legacy.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. [Catalog