Materials for Lesson on the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

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Materials for Lesson on the

Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

Following this cover sheet are all the documents and other materials used in the lesson on the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 (Teaching American History Summer Institute, June 25, 2004, Dr. Michelle Jolly).
Additional Websites and Resources for Civil Liberties
The text for “New Yankee Doodle” is not on the web as far as I can tell. It can be found in the Annals of America, volume 4.
All the documents and lyrics used in this lesson were taken from the Annals of America, volume 4.
Teaching the Alien and Sedition Acts
The Annals of Congress, recording debate over the Alien & Sedition Acts. See, especially, the remarks of Mr. Allen. From this website, choose the 5th volume of the Annals (179701799); House; 2nd session (March 5-July 16), starting at p. 2093.
Webpage on Music in the Revolution and in the Classroom, including uses of “Yankee Doodle” across the centuries.
See also, Presidential Campaign Songs, 1789-1996 sung by Oscar Brand. Available through or through Smithsonian Folkways (

New Yankee Doodle
A band of brothers, let us be,

While Adams guides the nation;

And still our dear-bought freedom guard,

In ev’ry situation.

Yankee Doodle, guard your coast,

Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Fear not then or threat or boast,

Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Jefferson and Liberty
The gloomy night before us flies,

The reign of terror now is o’er;

Its gags, inquisitors and spies

Its hordes of harpies are no more.

Rejoice Columbia’s sons rejoice

To tyrants never bend the knee,

But join with heart and soul and voice

For Jefferson and Liberty.

Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans (1798)






Agrarian (farming)

National Bank?

Bank (helps manufacturing)

No Bank (too much federal power)

Interpret Constitution?

Broadly (is it expressly forbidden?)

Strictly (is it expressly permitted?)

Balance of Power?

National Authority

States’ Rights

Foreign Policy?



Justification for Alien & Sedition Acts

“The United States . . . were threatened with actual invasion . . . and had then, within the bosom of the country, thousands of aliens, who, we doubt not, were ready to cooperate in any external attack.”

Summary of Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)

Naturalization Act

To be eligible for citizenship, an alien must prove 14 years of residence within the United States (previously 5 years).

Alien Act

President may deport any alien he views as “dangerous to the peace and safety of the U.S.” No trial or evidence required. No defense.

Alien Enemies Act

President may, in case of war, deport aliens of an enemy country or impose severe restraints on them.

Sedition Act

  1. Illegal to conspire to oppose any measure or to impede the operation of any law of the United States.

2) Illegal for any person to write print or publish “any false, scandalous and malicious writing . . . . against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress . . . or the President . . . with intent to defame or to bring them into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them the hatred of the good people of the United States.

The Documents

Debate in Congress

Albert Gallatin


“Long John” Allen


Debate among the states (after passage)

Kentucky Resolutions

Massachusetts Reply


  • War and fear of dissent commonly linked

  • What is the role of political dissent in the United States? In what ways is it protected? (Do you have a right to criticize the government? Are there limits to this right?)

  • States’ rights and federal power—Who is responsible for protecting our civil liberties?

New Yankee Doodle”

A band of brothers, let us be,

While Adams guides the nation;

And still our dear-bought freedom guard,

In ev’ry situation.

Yankee Doodle, guard your coast,

Yankee Doodle Dandy,

Fear not then or threat or boast,

Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Jefferson & Liberty”

The gloomy night before us lies,

The reign of terror now is o’er;

Its gags, inquisitors and spies

Its hordes of harpies are no more.

Rejoice, Columbia’s sons rejoice!

To tyrants never bend the knee,

But join with heart and soul and voice

For Jefferson and Liberty.
Debate on the Sedition Act

Long John” Allen (Federalist from Connecticut)

I hope [the Sedition Act] will not be rejected [by Congress]. If ever there was a nation which required a law of this kind, it is this. Let gentlemen look at certain papers printed in this city and elsewhere, and ask themselves whether an unwarrantable and dangerous combination does not exist to overturn and ruin the government by publishing the most shameless falsehoods against the representatives of the people of all denominations, that they are hostile to free governments and genuine liberty, and of course to the welfare of this country; that they ought, therefore to be displaced, and that the people ought to raise an insurrection against the people.
In the Aurora [a Democratic-Republican newspaper], of last Friday, we read the following: “The period is now at hand when it will be a question difficult to determine, whether there is more safety and liberty to be enjoyed at Constantinople or Philadelphia?”
This, sir, is . . . announcing to the poor deluded readers . . . the rapid approach of Turkish slavery in this country. Who can doubt the existence of a combination against the real liberty, the real safety of the United States?
I say, sir, . . . a conspiracy against the Constitution, the government, the peace and safety of this country, is formed, and is in full operation. . . . Gentlemen [of the Congress] contend for the liberty of opinions and of the press. Let me ask them whether they seriously think the liberty of the press authorizes such publications? The president of the United States is called [in one newspaper article] “a person without patriotism, without philosophy, and a mock monarch.” . . . . The freedom of the press and opinions was never understood to give the right of publishing falsehoods and slanders, nor of exciting sedition, insurrection, and slaughter, with impunity.
[One recent newspaper article] declares [the Sedition Act to be] unconstitutional and then invites the people to “resistance.” This is an awful horrible example of “the liberty of opinion and freedom of the press.” Can gentlemen [of the Congress] here these things and lie quietly on their pillows? . . . . Such liberty of the press and of opinion is calculated to destroy all confidence between man and man; it leads to a dissolution of every bond of union; it cuts asunder every ligament that unites man to his family, man to his neighbor, man to society and to government. God deliver us from such liberty, the liberty of vomiting on the public floods of falsehood and hatred to everything sacred, human and divine!

Debate on Sedition Act

Albert Gallatin (Democratic-Republican, Pennsylvania)
Does the situation of the country, at this time, require that any law of this kind should pass? Do there exist such new and alarming symptoms of sedition as render it necessary to adopt, in addition to the existing laws, any extraordinary measure for the purpose of suppressing unlawful combinations, and of restricting the freedom of speech and the press?
In almost every [example of “seditious” writing given by the bill’s supporters] there was a mixture of truth and error; and what was the remedy proposed . . . in order to rectify and correct error? Coercion: a law inflicting fine and imprisonment for the publication of erroneous opinions.
Was the . . . administration afraid, that in this instance error could not be successfully opposed by truth? The American government had heretofore subsisted, it had acquired strength, it had grown on the affection of the people, it had been fully supported without the assistance of laws similar to the bill now on the table. It had been able to repel opposition by the single weapon of argument. And, at present, when out of ten presses in the country nine were employed on the side of the administration, such is their want of confidence in the purity of their own views and motives that they even fear the unequal contest, and require the help of force in order to suppress the limited circulation of the opinions of those who did not approve all their measures.
This bill and its supporters suppose, in fact, that whoever dislikes the measure of administration and of a temporary majority in Congress, and shall, either by speaking or writing, express his disapprobation and his want of confidence in the men now in power, is seditious, is an enemy, not of administration but of the Constitution, and is liable to punishment. That principle . . . [is] subversive of the Constitution itself. If you put the press under any restraint in respect to the measures of members of government; if you thus deprive the people of the means of obtaining information of their conduct, you in fact render their right of electing nugatory; and this bill must be considered only a weapon used by a party now in power in order to perpetuate their authority and preserve their present places.
While, therefore, they support the bill in its present shape, do they not avow that the true object of the law is to enable one party to oppress the other . . .? Is it not their object to frighten and suppress all presses which they consider as contrary to their views; to prevent a free circulation of opinion; to suffer the people at large to hear only partial accounts, but one side of the question; to delude and deceive them by partial information, and, through those means, to perpetuate themselves in power?

Debate on the Alien and Sedition Acts

Kentucky Resolutions (1798)
1. Resolved, that the several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; . . . And that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void and of no force . . . .

2. Resolved, that the Constitution of the United States having delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the laws of nations, and no other crimes whatever . . . ; therefore, also, the same act of Congress [the Sedition Act, which punishes seditious libel] . . . are altogether void and of no force; and that the power to create, define, and punish, such other crimes is reserved . . . solely and exclusively to the respective states. . .

3. . . . that no power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, being delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states . . . [gives the people] the right of judging how far the licentiousness of speech, and of the press, may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom, and how far those abuses, which cannot be separated from their use, should be tolerated rather than the use be destroyed. . . . That, therefore, the [Sedition Act] which does abridge the freedom of the press, is not law, but is altogether void and of no force.

4. Resolved, that alien friends are under the jurisdiction and protection of the laws of the state wherein they are; that no power over them has been delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the individual states . . .therefore the [Alien Act] which assumes power over alien friends . . . is not law. . . .

6. Resolved, that the imprisonment of a person under the protection of the laws of this commonwealth, on his failure to obey the simple order of the president to depart out of the United States [as in the Alien Enemies Act] is contrary to the Constitution, one amendment in which has provided, that “no person shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law;” and that another having provided, “that, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right of a public trial by an impartial jury”
The friendless alien has been selected as the safest subject of a first experiment; but the citizen will soon follow, or rather has already followed; for already has a Sedition Act marked him as a prey. . . These and successive acts of the same character, unless arrested on the threshold, may tend to drive these states into revolution and blood, . . . . It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights; . . . confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism; free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence . . . .The men of our choice have more respected the bare suspicions of the President than the solid rights of innocence, the claims of justification, the sacred force of truth, and the forms and substance of law and justice.
In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

Debate on the Alien and Sedition Acts

Massachusetts’ Reply to the Kentucky Resolutions (1799)
The Legislature of Massachusetts . . . .deem it their duty solemnly to declare that, while they hold sacred the principle that consent of the people is the only pure source of just and legitimate power, they cannot admit the right of the state legislatures to denounce the administration of that government to which the people themselves, by a solemn compact, have exclusively committed their national concerns. That, although a liberal and enlightened vigilance among the people is always to be cherished, yet an unreasonable jealously of the men of their choice and a recurrence to measures of extremity upon groundless or trivial pretexts have a strong tendency to destroy all rational liberty at home and to deprive the United States of the most essential advantages in relations abroad. . . . .

That, the people, in that solemn compact which is declared to be the supreme law of the land, have not constituted the state legislatures the judges of the acts or measures of the federal government . . . .

The legislature of Massachusetts . . . consider the acts of Congress, commonly called the Alien and Sedition Acts, not only constitutional but expedient and necessary. [The Alien Acts concern] persons whose rights were not particularly contemplated in the Constitution of the United States, who are entitled only to a temporary protection while they yield a temporary allegiance, a protection which ought to be withdrawn whenever they become “dangerous to the public safety” or are found guilty of “treasonable machination” against the government. That Congress, having been especially entrusted by the people with the general defense of the nation, had not only the right but were bound to protect it against internal as well as external foes.
That the United States, at the time of passing [the Alien Acts] were threatened with actual invasion; had been driven by the unjust and ambitious conduct of the French government into warlike preparations, expensive and burdensome; and had then, within the bosom of the country, thousands of aliens, who, we doubt not, were ready to cooperate in any external attack. It cannot be seriously believed that the United States should have waited till the poniard had in fact been plunged. The removal of aliens is the usual preliminary of hostility and is justified by the invariable usages of nations. Actual hostility had unhappily long been experienced . . . . The law, therefore, was just and salutary; . . . .
The Sedition Act . . . is . . . equally defensible. . . . The act . . . is no abridgement of the freedom [of speech or of the press]. The genuine liberty of speech and the press is the liberty to utter and publish the truth; but the constitutional right of the citizen to utter and publish the truth is not to be confounded with the licentiousness, in speaking and writing, that is only employed in propagating falsehood and slander. . . . . it is a security for the rational use and not the abuse of the press.
While, on the one hand, [the citizens of Massachusetts] regard with due vigilance the conduct of the government, on the other, their freedom, safety, and happiness require that they should defend the government and it constitutional measures against the open or insidious attacks of any foe, whether foreign or domestic

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