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Primary Documents in American History

Alien and Sedition Acts

John Adams, second President of the United States
John Adams, second President of the United States.
lithograph. [1828(?)]
Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-13002

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 Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the other acts were allowed to expire.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

The full-text of the Alien and Sedition Acts can be found in the United States Statutes at Large:

Elliot's 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.

Search this collection on the words "alien sedition" for additional Congressional information on the Alien and Sedition Acts, including debate in the Annals of Congress.

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

Contains a copy of a petition submitted to Congress in 1798 objecting to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Search this collection to locate additional broadsides and printed ephemera related to this topic.

The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820

Representative John Breckinridge introduced the Kentucky Resolution to the Kentucky Legislature in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The James Madison Papers

On May 20, 1798, James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the "Alien bill proposed in the Senate is a monster that must forever disgrace its parents."

The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress

The 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. The text in the first column is from the rough draft, and that in the second from a fair copy. The facsimile is the text actually adopted by the Kentucky legislature and sent to the other state legislatures.

Search Jefferson's Papers for additional documents related to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Exhibitions

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.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

The Alien and Sedition Acts, Avalon Project at Yale Law School 

Teaching with Documents: United States v. Thomas Cooper - A Violation of the Sedition Law, National Archives and Records Administration

Our Documents, Alien and Sedition Acts, National Archives and Records Administration

Treasures of Congress - The Formation of Political Parties: The Alien and Sedition Acts, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. [Catalog Record]

Miller, John Chester. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts. Boston: Little Brown, 1951. [Catalog Record]

Smith, James Morton. Freedom's Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1956. [Catalog Record]

Watkins, William J., Jr. Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. [Catalog Record]

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  September 24, 2014
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