What are the Sedition and Naturalization Acts?

The Sedition Act has been the name of three laws passed by the United States Congress:

* The Sedition Act of 1798
* The Sedition Act of 1861
* The Sedition Act of 1918

The Sedition Act is also a Law in Singapore.

he Alien and Sedition Acts were passed during the administration of President John Adams; his signature made it into law on July 14, 1798. They were designed to protect the United States from "dangerous" aliens.

With war looming against a major power, France, Federalists in Congress in 1798 passed the laws to protect national security. They were similar (but not as stringent) as laws passed at about the same time in Britain and Canada in response to the threat of subversion by agents of the radical French government. Jeffersonians, however, downplayed the dangers the nation faced and insisted the laws were a tool of the ruling Federalist party. Because most immigrants became Democratic-Republicans, the Naturalization Act's longer residency requirement meant that fewer of them could become citizens and vote against the Federalists. Under the Alien and Alien Enemies Acts, the president could deport any "dangerous" or "enemy" alien—a law that is still in effect in 2005.

Under the Sedition Act, anyone "opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States" could be imprisoned for up to two years. It was also illegal to "write, print, utter, or publish" anything critical the president or Congress. (It was notable that the Act did not prohibit criticism of the Vice-President. Jefferson held the office of Vice-President at the time the Act was passed.) While it appears harsh to current Americans, the act was actually much more lenient that the traditional British law of seditious libel. For instance:

* The act required the defamatory words to be false, and it permitted the defendant to plead truth as a defense, unlike traditional seditious libel law, in which truth actually made the offense greater ("The greater the truth, the greater the libel."). In other words, as long as someone uttered or published the truth, he could not be convicted under the Sedition Act.

* The act required the defendant to know of the defamatory words' falsity. In other words, someone who uttered a falsehood believing it to be the truth could not be convicted.

* The act permitted the use of a jury to determine both the facts and the law in the case, unlike traditional seditious libel.

Despite these modifications, however, Jeffersonians denounced the Sedition Act as a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights, which granted the right of free speech. Although the Federalists hoped the Act would muffle the opposition, Democratic-Republicans still "wrote, printed, uttered and published" their criticisms of the Federalists. Indeed they strongly criticised the act itself, and used it as an election issue. The act expired when the term of President Adams ended.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison opposed the Acts, and drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in protest, calling on the states to, in effect, veto federal legislation.

Ultimately the Acts backfired against the Federalists; President Adams himself never supported the laws or used them. Only one alien was actually deported, and only ten people were ever convicted of sedition.

Although the Supreme Court never ruled on the validity of any of the Alien and Sedition acts, subsequent mentions of the Sedition Act in particular in Supreme Court opinions have assumed that it was unconstitutional. For example in the seminal Free Speech case of New York Times v. Sullivan, the Court declared, "Although the Sedition Act was never tested in this Court, the attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history." 376 U.S. 254, 276 (1964).

Naturalization Act

The Naturalization Act passed by Congress on June 18, 1798, increased the amount of time necessary for immigrants to become naturalized citizens in the United States from five to fourteen years.

Although it was passed under the guise of protecting national security, most historians conclude it was really intended to decrease the number of voters that disagreed with the Federalist political party. At the time, most immigrants (namely Irish and French) supported the Democratic-Republicans, who disagreed with the Federalists. This act was repealed in 1802. No new amendments were made until 1862.

A number of changes were made to the previous naturalization law:
ACT Naturalization Act of 1795 Naturalization Act of 1798
NOTICE TIME 3 years 5 years
RESIDENCE PERIOD 5 years 14 years

The "NOTICE TIME" refers to how long immigrants had to wait after declaring their intent to become a citizen. The "RESIDENCE PERIOD" refers to how long they had to live in the United States before they could become a citizen.

The Naturalization Act is considered one of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed contemporaneously in 1798.

Like the Naturalization Act of 1790, 1795, this act also restricted citizenship to "free white persons".

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