History 101 essays on historical documents you will be required to submit two (2)

Download 113.67 Kb.
Size113.67 Kb.
  1   2   3
l camino college
You will be required to submit two (2) minimum four page typewritten essays (double-spaced) during the semester, based on your reading and interpretation of historic primary and secondary source documents. Essays less than the minimum four pages will receive a lower grade.

The first involves analyzing and comparing and contrasting primary source documents and placing them within an historical context, using both the textbook and class lectures to support your work.

The second requires you to support a thesis based on relevant primary and secondary source documents, including the textbook and class lectures.
You may also consult other sources beside the textbook and class lectures if you feel it necessary. If you do, please be sure and cite them in the body of your essay.
Essays will be submitted to turnitin.com (Please read syllabus for more detailed information).

Your essays should be written clearly and concisely, and developed logically.

Assistance with the mechanics of writing your essay may be found on a drop-in basis at the Writing Center (Humanities 122). Bring this handout to the Writing Center and your work in progress.


During the height of the Quasi War with France, the Federalist Congress passed a series of laws, including the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to maliciously criticize the government or its officials. This law was opposed overwhelmingly by most Democratic Republicans. This debate was one of the first important constitutional disputes in our nation’s history.

Read both the First Amendment and the text of the Sedition Act itself, and then compare the following two documents:

  • Majority Report of the 5th Congress on the Sedition Act, 1798

  • George Hay: Excerpt from “Hortensius: An Essay on Freedom of the Press” 1799

Consider how the impact of the American Revolution; the ratification effort to adopt the Constitution; the passage of the Bill of Rights; the growth of political factions in the United States; and the French Revolution and its impact on the United States played a role in this controversy and consider the following questions in your essay:

  • What clause of the Constitution does Congress rely on to justify legislation dealing with the press?

  • Who or what does Congress state the law is designed to protect?

  • How does Congress justify its assertion that the law does not abridge freedom of the press?

  • How does Congress maintain that it is not expanding the role of government or giving it any new power or authority?

  • What does Congress state would have been unconstitutional if it had been prohibited?

  • What did Hay believe the authors of the First Amendment intended?

  • Did Hay believe there was any distinction between protected speech and malicious speech?

  • Did Hay believe it was proper for the government or the courts to determine what was true and what was malicious speech? Or that it was even possible?

  • Why did Hay believe that malicious speech would not prove harmful even if allowed?

  • Did Hay believe that the Sedition Act abridged freedom of the press?

  • Did Hay believe the Sedition Act gave the government more power or authority?

  • What great damage to the country did Hay foresee if the Sedition Act were to remain the law of the land?

  • Did Hay believe the Sedition Act was constitutional and if not, why not?



Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.



SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled. That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing, or executing his trust or duty: and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise, or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanour, and on conviction before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term of not less than six months, nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court, may be holden to find sureties for his good behaviour, in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.

SECT. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter, or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered, or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering, or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either House of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either House of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States; or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the Constitution of the United States; or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act; or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

SECT. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in the publication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.

SECT. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, That the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.



The Act, in addition to an act entitled an act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States” commonly called the sedition act, contains provisions of a two-fold nature; first against seditious acts, and second, against libelous and seditious writings. The first has never been complained of, nor has any objection been made to its validity. The objection applies solely to the second; and on the ground, in the first place, that Congress have no power by the Constitution to pass any act for punishing libels, no such power being expressly given, and all powers not given to Congress, being reserved to the states respectively, or the people thereof.

To this objection it is answered that a law to punish false, scandalous, and malicious writings against the Government, with intent to stir up sedition, is a law necessary for carrying into effect the power vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, and in the departments and officers thereof, and consequently, such a law as Congress may pass; because the direct tendency of such writings is to obstruct the acts of the Government by exciting opposition to them, to endanger its existence by rendering it odious and contemptible in the eyes of the people, and to produce seditious combinations against the laws, the power to punish which has never been questioned; because it would be manifestly absurd to suppose that a government might punish sedition, and yet be void of power to prevent it by punishing those acts which plainly and necessarily lead to it; and because , under the general power to make all laws proper and necessary for carrying into effect the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, Congress has passed many laws or which no express provision can be found in the Constitution, and the constitutionality of which has never been questioned.

It is objected to this act, in the second place, that it is expressly contrary to that part of the Constitution which declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the liberty of the press.” The act in question is said to be an “abridgement of the liberty of the press,” and therefore unconstitutional.

To this it is answered in the first place, that the liberty of the press consists not in a license for every man to publish what he pleases without being liable to punishment, if he should abuse this license to the injury of others, but in a permission to publish, without prior restraint, whatever he may think proper, being answerable to the public and individuals, for any abuse of this permission to their prejudice. In like manner, as the liberty of speech does not authorize a man to speak malicious slanders against his neighbor, nor the liberty of action justify him in going, by violence, into another man’s house, or in assaulting any person whom he may meet in the streets. In the several States the liberty of the press has always been understood in this manner, and no other; and the Constitution of every State which has been framed and adopted since the Declaration of Independence, asserts “the liberty of the press;” while in several, if not all, their laws provide for the punishment of libelous publications, which would be a manifest absurdity and contradiction, if the liberty of the press meant to publish any and everything, without being amenable to the laws for the abuse of this license. According to this just, legal, and universally admitted definition of the “liberty of the press,” a law to restrain licentiousness, in publishing false, scandalous, and malicious libels against the Government, cannot be considered an “abridgment” of its “liberty.”

It is answered, in the second place, that the liberty of the press did never extend , according to the laws of any State or the United States, or of England from whence our laws are derived, to the publication false, scandalous , and malicious writings against the Government, written or published with intent to do mischief, such publications being unlawful and punishable in every State; from whence it follows undeniably, that a law to punish seditious and malicious publications is not an abridgement of the liberty of the press, for it would be a manifest absurdity to say that a man’s liberty was abridged by punishing him for doing that which he never had a liberty to do.

It is answered thirdly that the act in question can not be unconstitutional because it makes nothing penal that was not penal before, and gives no new powers to the court, but is merely declaratory of the common law and useful for rendering that law more generally known and more easily understood. This can not be denied if it is admitted, as it must be, that false, scandalous, and malicious libels against the Government of the country, published with intent to do mischief are punishable by the common law; for by the second section of the third article of the Constitution, the judicial power of the United States is expressly extended to all offenses arising under the Constitution. By the Constitution, the Government of the United States is established for many important objects as the Government of the country and libels against that Government , therefore, offenses arising under the Constitution and, consequently, are punishable at common law by the courts of the United States. The act, indeed, is so far from having extended the law and the power of the court that it has abridged both, and has enlarged, instead of abridging the liberty of the press; for, at common law, libels against the Government might be punished by fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court, whereas the act limits the fine to two thousand dollars and the imprisonment to two years, and it also allows the party accused to give the truth in evidence for his justification, which by the common law, was expressly forbidden.

And ,lastly , it is answered that had the Constitution intended to prohibit Congress from legislating at all on the subject of the press, which is the construction whereon the objections to this law are founded, it would have used the same expressions as in that part of the clause which relates to religion and religious texts; whereas the words are wholly different: “Congress,” says the Constitution (1st Amendment) “shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech of the press.” Here it is manifest that the Constitution intended to prohibit Congress from legislating at all on the subject of religious establishments, and the prohibition is made in the most express terms. Had the same intention prevailed respecting the press, the same expressions would have been used and Congress would have been “ prohibited from passing any law respecting the press.” They are not, however, “prohibited” from legislating at all on the subject, but merely from abridging the liberty of the press. It is evident they may legislate respecting the press, may pass law for its regulation, and to punish those who pervert it into an engine of mischief, provided those laws do not abridge its liberty. Its liberty, according to the well-known and universally admitted definition, consists in permission to publish, without previous restraint upon the press, but subject to punishment afterwards for improper publications. A law, therefore, to impose previous restraint upon the press, and not one to inflict punishment on wicked and malicious publications, would be a law to abridge the liberty of the press, and, as such, unconstitutional.



George Hay was a Virginia attorney and subsequent member of the Virginia legislature. A Democratic-Republican, he strongly opposed the Sedition Act of 1798.


Fortunately for the people of the United States, the question which has perplexed the politicians and lawyers of England, does not exist here. The Constitution having declared, that the freedom of the press shall not be abridged, has, in fact, pronounced that no line of discrimination shall be drawn. For, if the freedom of the press is not to be abridged, and if no man can tell where freedom stops, and licentiousness begins, it is obvious that no man can say, to what extent a law against licentiousness shall be carried. It follows, then, that no law can be made to restrain the licentiousness of the press.

The words, “freedom of the press,” like most other words, have a meaning, a clear, precise, and definite meaning, which the times require, should be unequivocally ascertained. That this has not been done before, is a wonderful and melancholy evidence of the imbecility of the human mind, and of the slow progress which it makes, in acquiring knowledge even on subjects the most useful and interesting.

I contend therefore, that if the words freedom of the press, have any meaning at all, they mean a total exemption from any law making any publication whatever criminal. Whether the unequivocal avowal of this doctrine in the United States would produce mischief or not, is a question which perhaps I may have leisure to discuss. I must be content here to observe, that the mischief if any, which might arise from this doctrine could not be remedied or prevented, but by means of a power fatal to the liberty of the people.

That the real meaning of the words “freedom of the press,” has been ascertained by the foregoing remarks, will appear still more clearly, if possible, from the absurdity of those constructions, which have been given by the advocates of the Sedition Bill.

The construction clearly held out in the bill itself, is, that it does not extend to the privilege of printing facts that are false. This construction cannot be correct. It plainly supposes that “freedom,” extends only as far as the power of doing what is morally right. If, then, the freedom of the press can be restrained to the publication of facts that are true, it follows inevitably, that it may also be restrained to the publication of opinions which are correct. There is truth in opinion, as well as in fact. Error in opinion may do as much harm, as falsity in fact: it may be as morally wrong, and it may be propagated from motives as malicious. It may do more harm, because the refutation of an opinion which is erroneous, is more difficult than the contradiction of a fact which is false. But the power of controlling opinions has never yet been claimed; yet it is manifest that the same construction, which warrants a control in matters of fact, does the same as to matters of opinion. In addition to this, it ought to be remarked, that the difficulty of distinguishing in many cases between fact and opinion, is extremely great, and that no kind of criterion is furnished by the law under consideration. Of this more, perhaps will be said hereafter.

Again, if the congressional construction be right, if the freedom of the press consists in the full enjoyment of the privilege of printing facts that are true, it will be fair to read the amendment, without the words really used, after substituting those said by Congress to have the same import. The clause will then stand thus: “Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the press, to publish facts that are true!” If this was the real meaning of Congress, and the several States, when they spoke in the state constitutions, and in the amendment of the “freedom of the press,” the very great solicitude on this subject displayed throughout the continent, was most irrational and absurd. If this was their meaning, the “palladium” of liberty is indeed a “wooden statue,” and the bulwark of freedom is indeed a despicable fortification of paper. The officers of the government would have a right to invade this fortification, and to make prisoners of the garrison, whenever they thought there was a failure in the duty of publishing only the truth, of which failure persons chosen by the government are to judge. This is too absurd even for ridicule. . . .

They knew that the licentiousness of the press, though an evil, was a less evil than that resulting from any law to restrain it, upon the same principle, that the most enlightened part of the world is at length convinced, that the evils arising from the toleration of heresy and atheism, are less, infinitely less, than the evils of persecution.

That the spirit of inquiry and discussion, was of the utmost importance in every free country, and could be preserved only by giving it absolute protection, even in its excesses.

That truth was always equal to the task of combating falsehood without the aid of government; because in most instances it has defeated falsehood, backed by all the power of government.

That truth cannot be impressed upon the human mind by power, with which therefore, it disdains an alliance, but by reason and evidence only.

They knew the sublime precept inculcated by the act establishing religious freedom, that “where discussion is free, error ceases to be dangerous:” and, therefore, they wisely aimed at the total exclusion of all congressional jurisdiction. . . .

The freedom of the press, therefore, means the total exemption of the press from any kind of legislative control, and consequently the sedition bill, which is an act of legislative control, is an abridgement of its liberty, and expressly forbidden by the constitution.


Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address, suggested to the American people that the bloody Civil War was an act of divine retribution for the terrible institution of slavery, and the horrors of slavery are now universally understood to have left a dark , ignominious blot on our country’s history.

But the issue of slavery was a matter of great dispute in the mid-19th century and had both its supporters and apologists and its critics and fervent opponents. When looking at an historical issue it is important to understand prevailing prejudices, sympathies, and opinions of the time, and not impose contemporary perceptions and attitudes.

In the 1850’s abolitionists denounced the institution of slavery, while many southern writers and newspapers defended it and compared it favorably to the conditions faced by free white workers and free blacks in the north.

Read the following documents and then support one of the two theses listed, from the viewpoint of an American living at that time.


  • William Lloyd Garrison, “No Compromise with Slavery” 1854

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Excerpt from Uncle Tom’s Cabin 1852


  • George Fitzhugh , Excerpt from Cannibals All!! , 1857

  • Defense of Slaveholding The Spectator, December 6, 1859

  • Nehemiah Adams, Excerpt from A Southside View of Slavery, 1854

Defend one of the following theses, both of which were argued vigorously in the years leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.

  1. Southern slavery in the United States was inhumane, immoral, damaging to the nation, and needed to be ended unconditionally.


  1. Southern slavery in the United States was humane, moral, beneficial to the slaves, essential for the nation, and superior to the conditions faced by northern workers.

Consider the following questions:

  • How do anti-slavery proponents view the treatment of slaves and their contentment, as compared to the pro-slavery proponents?

  • What groups and forces do the anti-slavery proponents believe are responsible for supporting and maintaining slavery?

  • What comparisons do the pro-slavery proponents make between the lives of slaves and free white workers in the north and how do they use this comparison to bolster their defense of southern slavery?

  • How do the two groups describe racial attitudes and the treatment of blacks in the north as compared to the south?

  • What moral and religious grounds does each group of proponents use to support its views?

  • What documents does each side refer to bolster its argument?

  • How do the two groups differ in their analysis of the positive or negative impact of slavery on the nation as a whole?

Utilize classroom lectures and the textbook to support your thesis; you may also want to consider the following:

  • The conditions of slave life during colonial times

  • the Revolution’s impact on slaves and free blacks and the expectations of African-Americans after its conclusion

  • the revival and spread of slavery in the early 19th century and its impact on slave families and individual African-American stability

  • the conditions of slave life and culture in the south, both on the plantations and in southern cities before the Civil War

  • the causes of and prevalence of slave revolts and resistance

  • the purpose , nature, and administration of the slave codes

  • the growth of the underground railroad

  • northern attitudes towards blacks residing in the north

  • living conditions of free blacks in both the north and the south

  • working and living conditions for white workers in the North from 1830-1860

  • the growth of the factory system and its impact on both native born Americans and immigrants

Download 113.67 Kb.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2022
send message

    Main page