In 1798, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were passed by the Federalist-dominated 5th United States Congress.[1][a] They made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen (Naturalization Act), allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were known as dangerous ("An Act Concerning Aliens", also known as the "Alien Friends Act" of 1798)[2] or who were from a hostile nation ("Alien Enemies Act" of 1798),[3] and criminalized making 'false statements' critical of the federal government ("Sedition Act" of 1798).[4] The "Alien Friends Act" expired two years after its passage, and the "Sedition Act" expired on 3 March 1801, while the "Naturalization Act" and "Alien Enemies Act" had no expiration clause.

The Federalists argued that the bills strengthened national security during the Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war with France from 1798 to 1800. Critics argued that they were primarily an attempt to suppress voters who disagreed with the Federalist party and its teachings, and violated the right of freedom of speech in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[5]

The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to 14 years. At the time, the majority of immigrants supported Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, the political opponents of the Federalists.[1] The Alien Friends Act allowed the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" at any time, while the Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to do the same to any male citizen of a hostile nation above the age of fourteen during times of war. Lastly, the controversial Sedition Act restricted speech that was critical of the federal government. Under the Sedition Act, the Federalists allowed people who were accused of violating the sedition laws to use truth as a defense.[6] The Sedition Act resulted in the prosecution and conviction of many Jeffersonian newspaper owners who disagreed with the Federalist dominated Congress and Pres. John Adams including Benjamin Franklin Bache - Benjamin Franklin's grandson.[6]

The acts were denounced by Democratic-Republicans and ultimately helped them to victory in the 1800 election, when Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent, President Adams. The Sedition Act and the Alien Friends Act were allowed to expire in 1800 and 1801, respectively. The Alien Enemies Act, however, remains in effect as Chapter 3; Sections 21–24 of Title 50 of the United States Code.[7] It was used by the government to identify and imprison allegedly "dangerous enemy" aliens from Germany, Japan, and Italy in World War II. (This was separate from the Japanese internment camps used to remove people of Japanese descent from the West Coast.) After the war they were deported to their home countries. In 1948 the Supreme Court determined that presidential powers under the acts continued after cessation of hostilities until there was a peace treaty with the hostile nation. The revised Alien Enemies Act remains in effect today.[8]


Further information:  Early American publishers and printers

The Federalists' fear of the opposing Democratic-Republican Party reached new heights with the Democratic-Republicans' support of France in the midst of the French Revolution. Some appeared to desire a similar revolution in the United States to overthrow the government and social structure.[9] Newspapers sympathizing with each side exacerbated the tensions by accusing the other side's leaders of corruption, incompetence, and treason.[10] As the unrest sweeping Europe threatened to spread to the United States, calls for secession started to rise, and the fledgling nation seemed ready to tear itself apart.[11] Some of this agitation was seen by Federalists as having been caused by French and French-sympathizing immigrants.[11] The Alien Act and the Sedition Act were meant to guard against this perceived threat of anarchy.

The Acts were highly controversial at the time, especially the Sedition Act. The Sedition Act, which was signed into law by Adams on July 14, 1798,[12] was hotly debated in the Federalist-controlled Congress and passed only after multiple amendments softening its terms, such as enabling defendants to argue in their defense that their statements had been true. Still, it passed the House only after three votes and another amendment causing it to automatically expire in March 1801.[10] They continued to be loudly protested and were a major political issue in the election of 1800. Opposition to them resulted in the also-controversial Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Prominent prosecutions under the Sedition Act include:

Contemporaneous reaction

After the passage of the highly unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts, protests occurred across the country,[22] with some of the largest being seen in Kentucky, where the crowds were so large they filled the streets and the entire town[which?] square.[23] Noting the outrage among the populace, the Democratic-Republicans made the Alien and Sedition Acts an important issue in the 1800 election campaign. Upon assuming the Presidency, Thomas Jefferson pardoned those still serving sentences under the Sedition Act,[13]: 231  and Congress soon repaid their fines.[24] It has been said that the Alien Acts were aimed at Albert Gallatin, and the Sedition Act aimed at Benjamin Bache's Aurora.[25] While government authorities prepared lists of aliens for deportation, many aliens fled the country during the debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Adams never signed a deportation order.[13]: 187–93 

The Virginia and Kentucky state legislatures also passed the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, secretly authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, denouncing the federal legislation.[26][27][28] While the eventual resolutions followed Madison in advocating "interposition", Jefferson's initial draft would have nullified the Acts and even threatened secession.[b] Jefferson's biographer Dumas Malone argued that this might have gotten Jefferson impeached for treason, had his actions become known at the time.[30] In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson warned that, "unless arrested at the threshold", the Alien and Sedition Acts would "necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood".[This quote needs a citation]

The Alien and Sedition Acts were never appealed to the Supreme Court, whose power of judicial review was not clearly established until Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Subsequent mentions in Supreme Court opinions beginning in the mid-20th century have assumed that the Sedition Act would today be found unconstitutional.[c]

The Alien Enemies Act in the 20th and 21st centuries

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Alien and Sedition Acts" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (February 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

The Alien Enemies Acts remained in effect at the outset of World War I and remains U.S. law today.[8] It was recodified to be part of the US war and national defense statutes (50 USC 21–24).[8]

On December 7, 1941, responding to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the authority of the revised Alien Enemies Act to issue presidential proclamations #2525 (Alien Enemies – Japanese), #2526 (Alien Enemies – German), and #2527 (Alien Enemies – Italian), to apprehend, restrain, secure and remove Japanese, German, and Italian non-citizens.[8] On February 19, 1942, citing authority of the wartime powers of the president and commander in chief, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War to prescribe military areas and giving him authority that superseded the authority of other executives under Proclamations 2525–7. EO 9066 led to the internment of Japanese Americans, whereby over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, 62% of whom were United States citizens, not aliens, living on the Pacific coast were forcibly relocated and forced to live in camps in the interior of the country.[32][33]

Hostilities with Germany and Italy ended in May 1945, and with Japan that August. Alien enemies, and U.S. citizens, continued to be interned. On July 14, 1945, President Harry S Truman issued Presidential Proclamation 2655, titled "Removal of Alien Enemies". The proclamation gave the Attorney General authority regarding enemy aliens within the continental United States, to decide whether they are "dangerous to the public peace and safety of the United States", to order them removed, and to create regulations governing their removal. The proclamation cited the revised Alien Enemies Act (50 U.S.C. 21–24) as to powers of the President to make public proclamation regarding "subjects of the hostile nation" more than fourteen years old and living inside the United States but not naturalized, to remove them as alien enemies, and to determine the means of removal.

On September 8, 1945, Truman issued Presidential Proclamation 2662, titled "Removal of Alien Enemies". The revised Alien Enemies Act (50 U.S.C. 21–24) was cited as to removal of alien enemies in the interest of the public safety. The United States had agreed, at a conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1942, to assume responsibility for the restraint and repatriation of dangerous alien enemies to be sent to the United States from Latin American republics. In another inter-American conference in Mexico City on March 8, 1945, North and South American governments resolved to recommended adoption of measures to prevent aliens of hostile nations who were deemed to be security threats or threats to welfare from remaining in North or South America. Truman gave authority to the Secretary of State to determine if alien enemies in the United States who were sent to the United States from Latin America, or who were in the United States illegally, endangered the welfare or security of the country. The Secretary of State was given power to remove them "to destinations outside the limits of the Western Hemisphere", to the former enemy territory of the governments to whose "principles of which (the alien enemies) have adhered". The Department of Justice was directed to assist the Secretary of State in their prompt removal.

On April 10, 1946, Truman issued Presidential Proclamation 2685, titled "Removal of Alien Enemies", citing the revised Alien Enemies Act (50 U.S.C. 21–24) as to its provision for the "removal from the United States of alien enemies in the interest of the public safety". Truman proclaimed regulations that were in addition to and supplemented other "regulations affecting the restraint and removal of alien enemies". As to alien enemies who had been brought into the continental United States from Latin America after December 1941, the proclamation gave the Secretary of State authority to decide if their presence was "prejudicial to the future security or welfare of the Americas", and to make regulations for their removal. 30 days was set as the reasonable time for them to "effect the recovery, disposal, and removal of (their) goods and effects, and for (their) departure".

In 1947 New York's Ellis Island continued to incarcerate hundreds of ethnic Germans. Fort Lincoln was a large internment camp still holding internees in North Dakota. North Dakota was represented by controversial Senator William "Wild Bill" Langer. Langer introduced a bill (S. 1749) "for the relief of all persons detained as enemy aliens", and directing the U.S. Attorney General to cancel "outstanding warrants of arrest, removal, or deportation" for many German aliens still interned, listing many by name, and all of those detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was under the Department of Justice. It directed the INS not to issue any more warrants or orders, if their only basis was the original warrants of arrest. The bill never passed. The Attorney General gave up plenary jurisdiction over the last internee on Ellis Island late in 1948.

In Ludecke v. Watkins (1948), the Supreme Court interpreted the time of release under the Alien Enemies Act. German alien Kurt G. W. Ludecke was detained in 1941, under Proclamation 2526. and continued to be held after cessation of hostilities. In 1947, Ludecke petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to order his release, after the Attorney General ordered him deported. The court ruled 5–4 to release Ludecke, but also found that the Alien Enemies Act allowed for detainment beyond the time hostilities ceased, until an actual treaty was signed with the hostile nation or government.

In 1988, Congress introduced the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, whose purpose amongst others was to acknowledge and apologize for actions of the U.S. against individuals of Japanese ancestry during World War II.[34] The statement from Congress agreed with the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, that "a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ... without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage documented by the Commission, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership".[This quote needs a citation]

In 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on any Muslims entering the country in response to the San Bernardino attack.[35] He later shifted his proposal,[36] and made a proposal to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States; Roosevelt's application of the Alien Enemies Act was cited as a possible justification. The proposal created international controversy, drawing criticism from foreign heads of state that have historically remained uninvolved in United States presidential elections.[37][38][39][40][d] A former Reagan Administration aide noted that, despite criticism of Trump's proposal to invoke the law, "the Alien Enemies Act ... is still on the books ... (and people) in Congress for many decades (haven't) repealed the law ... (nor has) Barack Obama".[41] Other critics claimed that the proposal violated founding principles, and was unconstitutional for singling out a religion, and not a hostile nation. They included the Pentagon and others, who argued that the proposal (and its citation of the Alien Enemies proclamations as authority) played into the ISIL narrative that the United States was at war with the entire Muslim religion (not just with ISIL and other terrorist entities).[42] On June 26, 2018, in the 5–4 decision Trump v. Hawaii, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Presidential Proclamation 9645, the third version of President Trump's travel ban, with the majority opinion being written by Chief Justice John Roberts.[43]

See also


  1. ^ An "alien" in this sense, is a person who is not a national of the United States.
  2. ^ Jefferson's draft said:
    ... "where powers are assumed [by the federal government] which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, (casus non fœderis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits."[29]
  3. ^ In the seminal free speech case of New York Times Co. 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."[24]
    In a concurring opinion in Watts v. United States (which involved an alleged threat against President Johnson) William O. Douglas noted
    "The Alien and Sedition Laws constituted one of our sorriest chapters; and I had thought we had done with them forever ... Suppression of speech as an effective police measure is an old, old device, outlawed by our Constitution."[31]
  4. ^ The list of countries named in Mr. Trump's announcement included North Korea and Venezuela, which are non-majority-Muslim countries, hence the claim it was [exclusively] a "ban on Muslims" is false. [However, the remaining countries on the list were Syria, Iran, Chad, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, each with differing levels of restriction; Iraq was covered in a prior order. Later orders banned Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. Hence 10 out of 13 of the banned countries were majority Muslim, or plurality Muslim. See Countries included in the executive order and related proclamations.]


  1. ^ a b c "The Alien and Sedition Acts: Defining American Freedom". Constitutional Rights Foundation. 2003. Archived from the original on 21 August 2016. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  2. ^ "An Act Concerning Aliens". U.S. Library of Congress. 25 June 1798. Sess II, Chap. 58; 5th Congress.
  3. ^ "An Act respecting Alien Enemies" (PDF). 25 June 1798. Sess II, Chap. 58; 1 Stat. 577 5th Congress; ch. 66.
  4. ^ "An Act in addition the act, entitled, "An Act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States"". U.S. Library of Congress. 14 July 1798. Sess II, Chap. 74; 5th Congress.
  5. ^ Watkins, William J., Jr. (14 February 2008). Reclaiming the American Revolution. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-230-60257-1.
  6. ^ a b Gillman, Howard; Graber, Mark A.; Whittington, Keith E. (2012). American Constitutionalism. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-19-975135-8.
  7. ^ "Alien Enemies". Law School. Cornell University. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d "Alien Enemies Act and related World War II presidential proclamations". German American Internee Coalition.
  9. ^ "Thomas Jefferson: Establishing a Federal Republic". Library of Congress. 24 April 2000.
  10. ^ a b Weisberger, Bernard A. (2000). America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800. William Morrow. p. 201.
  11. ^ a b Knott, Stephen F. (2005). Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-7006-1419-6.
  12. ^ "The Sedition Act of 1798". United States House of Representatives. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Miller, John C. (1951). Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts. New York: Little Brown and Company.
  14. ^ Foner, Eric (2008). Give Me Liberty!. W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 282–283. ISBN 978-0-393-93257-7.
  15. ^ Tyler, Resch. "Anthony Haswell". Bennington Museum. Archived from the original on 2 April 2016.
  16. ^ Wharton, Francis (1849). State Trials of the United States during the administrations of Washington and Adams. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart. pp. 684–587.
  17. ^ a b c d e Stone, Geoffrey R. (2004). Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-393-05880-2.
  18. ^ Smith, James Morton (1956), Freedom's Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American civil liberties, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 270–274
  19. ^ a b c d Tise, Larry E. (1998). The American Counterrevolution: a Retreat from Liberty, 1783–1800. Stackpole Books. pp. 420–421. ISBN 978-0-8117-0100-6.
  20. ^ Curtis, Michael Kent (2000). Free speech, "the people's darling privilege": Struggles for freedom of expression in American history. Duke University Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-8223-2529-1.
  21. ^ Simon, James F. (2003). What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States. Simon and Schuster. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-684-84871-6.
  22. ^ Halperin, Terri Diane (8 May 2016). The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. ISBN 9781421419701.
  23. ^ Bradburn, Douglas (2009). The Citizenship Revolution – Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774–1804. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 9780813935768. old ISBN 0813935768
  24. ^ a b Full Supreme Court opinion. Law School (Report). New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Cornell University. 1964. 376 U.S. 254, 276.
  25. ^ Woods, Thomas E., Jr. (2005). "What states rights really mean".[better source needed]
  26. ^ Portal:Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
  27. ^ Wikisource:Virginia Resolutions of 1798
  28. ^ Reed, Ishmael (5 July 2004). "Thomas Jefferson: The Patriot Act of the 18th century". Time magazine. Archived from the original on 18 November 2007.
  29. ^ Jefferson, Thomas. "Jefferson's draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798".
  30. ^ Chernow, Ron (2004). Alexander Hamilton. New York, NY: Penguin Press. pp. 586–587. ISBN 9781594200090 – via
  31. ^ "Watts v. United States". 394 U.S. 705.
  32. ^ Semiannual Report of the War Relocation Authority, for the period January 1 to June 30, 1946, not dated. Papers of Dillon S. Myer. Scanned image at Archived 16 June 2018 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved September 18, 2006.
  33. ^ "The War Relocation Authority and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II: 1948 Chronology", Web page Archived 2015-11-05 at the Wayback Machine at Retrieved September 11, 2006.
  34. ^ Civil Liberties Act of 1988, GPO Public Law 100-383, 1988
  35. ^ Johnson, Jenna (7 December 2015). "Trump calls for 'total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States'". The Washington Post.
  36. ^ Faulders, Katherine (25 June 2016). "Trump Shifts Muslim Ban to Focus on Only 'Terrorist' Nations". ABC News. Retrieved 18 July 2016.
  37. ^ "David Cameron criticises Donald Trump 'Muslim ban' call". BBC News. 8 December 2015.
  38. ^ Walsh, Deirdre; Diamond, Jeremy; Barrett, Ted (8 December 2015). "Priebus, Ryan, and McConnell rip Trump anti-Muslim proposal". CNN.
  39. ^ Gowen, Annie (8 December 2015). "The world reacts to Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S." The Washington Post.
  40. ^ Kamisar, Ben (7 December 2015). "Trump calls for 'shutdown' of Muslims entering US". The Hill.
  41. ^ Kirell, Andrew (8 December 2015). "Reagan aide: Trump's critics are the real xenophobes". The Daily Beast.
  42. ^ "Trump's Muslim ban call 'endangers U.S. security'". BBC News. 8 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  43. ^ Liptak, Adam; Shear, Michael D. (26 June 2018). "Trump's travel ban is upheld by Supreme Court". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 26 June 2018. Retrieved 26 June 2018.

Further reading

Primary sources

Wikisource has original text related to this article: Alien and Sedition Acts