Mrs. Keyes Name American History Date I am An American!

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Mrs. Keyes Name ________________

American History Date _________________

I Am An American!

Directions: Please read the attached secondary source and answer the following questions.

Reading:The Alien and Sedition Acts” from

  1. Why did France become a threat to America?

  1. Who passed the Alien and Sedition Acts?

  1. Define the Alien Act.

  1. Define the Sedition Act.

  1. Why did Adams target foreigners coming to America?

  1. What type of person was targeted by the Sedition Act?

  1. How did this violate the 1st Amendment?

  1. Why didn’t the Supreme Court say the law was “unconstitutional”?

  1. How did Kentucky oppose the laws?

  1. What was the result of Jefferson’s election win in 1800?

The Alien and Sedition Actsjohn adams portrait by charles willson peale

No protesting the government? No immigrants allowed in? No freedom of the press. Lawmakers jailed? Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War?

No. It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The strong steps that President John Adams took in response to the French foreign threat (because America didn’t support their revolution) also included severe repression of protests in the United States. A series of laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the Federalist Congress in 1798 and signed into law by President Adams. These laws included new powers to deport foreigners as well as making it harder for new immigrants to vote. Previously a new immigrant would have to reside in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to vote, but a new law raised this to 14 years.

Clearly, the Federalists saw foreigners as a deep threat to American security. As one Federalist in Congress declared, there was no need to "invite hordes of Wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all the world, to come here with a basic view to distract our tranquillity." Not coincidentally, non-English speaking groups had been the main supporters of the Democratic-Republicans in 1796 (Jefferson).

The most controversial of the new laws permitting strong government control over individual actions was the Sedition Act. In essence, this Act prohibited public opposition to the government. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who "write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing against the government.”

Under the terms of this law over 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. The most dramatic victim of the law was Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont. His letter that criticized President Adams' "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice" caused him to be imprisoned. While Federalists sent Lyon to prison for his opinions, his constituents (people he represents) reelected him to Congress even from his jail cell.

lyon vs. griswold

The Sedition Act clearly violated individual protections under the first amendment of the Constitution; however, the practice of "judicial review," whereby the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of laws was not yet well developed. Furthermore, the justices were all strong Federalists. As a result, Madison and Jefferson directed their opposition to the new laws to state legislatures. The Virginia and Kentucky legislatures passed resolutions declaring the federal laws invalid within their states. The bold challenge to the federal government offered by this strong states' rights position seemed to point toward imminent armed conflict within the United States.

Enormous changes had occurred in the explosive decade of the 1790s. Federalists in government now viewed the persistence of their party as the equivalent of the survival of the republic. This led them to enact and enforce harsh laws. Madison, who had been the chief architect of a strong central government in the Constitution, now was wary of national authority. He actually helped the Kentucky legislature to reject federal law. By placing states’ rights above those of the federal government, Kentucky and Virginia had established a precedent that would be used to justify the secession of southern states in the Civil War

When Jefferson won the election of 1800, the Alien and Sedition Acts were repealed, jail cells were emptied, and the first amendment was secure.

Writing Prompt 5: Expressions of a True American

Due Date – _________________.

  1. You begin this prompt in the year 1798, just 2 years since the election of 1796. Use the years to determine your age at this time. Age: _______

  2. President John Adams and the Federalist Party lead the nation after 8 years under George Washington. At the same time Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican Party, assumes the role of Vice-President.

  3. Since you assisted your state in writing a Constitution in 1784, you have maintained the status of a very important person within your state.

  4. As a result of this status, an editor of a local newspaper asks you to write a short response article about the newly passed Alien and Sedition Acts. He also insists that you include an editorial cartoon expressing your feelings.

  5. You write a short article about your overall feelings regarding these newly passed acts, and also include a cartoon illustrating your facts. (Please use the quotes and information from the reading.)

  6. As you submit your writing to the editor of the newspaper you are fully aware of the consequences regarding this article. From this point forward you will be viewed differently by your fellow Americans.

Scenario #1

  1. Write your article (using parts of our in-class reading), and draw your cartoon, showing how unjust these acts really are.

  2. Use the Constitution to support your beliefs.

  3. As a result of this work, you are taken from your home by the local constable and thrown in prison for committing the act of Sedition (criticizing the government).

  4. You describe the dark/damp/crowded prison cell you are to remain in.

  5. While in prison you debate fiercely with another inmate, a supporter of the acts, about the constitutionality of these laws.

  6. Following this debate, the constable arrives and gives you 2 choices…

    1. Stick to your beliefs and remain in prison for 2 years.

    2. Rewrite the article and apologize for what was said.


  • If you remain in prison you will explain why you will not go against your American ideals. During this time, you begin to grow frail and move closer to death.

  • If you apologize, you will suffer the consequences expressed in Scenario #2. Refer to scenario #2 on the reverse side.

Make your choice carefully as it will have serious consequences for the future of your family!

Scenario #2

  1. Write your article, and draw your cartoon, by supporting the Alien and Sedition Acts.

  2. Use the handout and quotes to support your writing.

  3. As a result of your work in the newspaper you become the target of immigrant groups in your town.

  4. While eating dinner with your family, several bricks are thrown through your windows. You hide your family and run out to see the source of this violence.

  5. You find a mob of 35 Irish immigrants demanding your capture.

  6. You debate fiercely with the leader of this Irish mob about the Alien and Sedition Acts.

  7. During the debate, the crowd grows even more restless, and gives you 2 choices…

    1. Rewrite the article and apologize for what was said.

    2. Not apologize and stick to your American ideals.


  • If you rewrite your article and apologize for what you said then the result will be imprisonment for committing the act of Sedition (speaking out against the government). During this time, you begin to grow frail and move closer to death.

  • If you don’t apologize and stick to your American ideals, your home will be burned to the ground, leaving you and your family homeless. During this time, the stress is too much and you begin to grow frail, moving closer to death

Make your choice carefully as it will have serious consequences for the future of your family!

Both Scenarios:

  1. Regardless of your choice, you grow sick and know the end is coming. You decide to meet with your family, letting them know that you are passing on the torch to the next generation.

  2. You let them know that they must always stay true to their American beliefs and always look to expand their ideas as the country grows. Say to them, “This will make you a true American.”

Bonus Opportunity

  • Create an additional cartoon that expresses how you feel about the opposite act that you originally created. This will be attached to your newspaper article.


  • The cartoons can be scanned into the blog or drawn separately and evaluated not using the blog feature.

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