The Alien and Sedition Acts

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 reelected him to Congress even from his jail cell.

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.