In 1798 Congress was close to declaring war on France. As a result, John Adams and Congress passed several laws collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. The acts were designed by the Federalists to strengthen the power of the Federal Government and to squash any political opposition, especially from Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans. The acts were ultimately so unpopular that they certainly contributed to Adams’ defeat in the 1800 presidential election.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were actually a series of four acts:
1.) The Naturalization Act – This act required aliens (immigrants) to be American residents for 14 years, instead of five, before becoming American citizens.
2.) The Alien Act – This act authorized the president to deport (send out of the country) any individual who was perceived as a danger to the safety of the United States during peacetime.
3.) The Alien Enemies Act – This act authorized Congress to deport or arrest individuals living in the United States who were subjects (citizens) to an enemy nation.
4.) The Sedition Act – This act was basically designed to suppress Freedom of Speech and Press. It authorized Congress to arrest individuals suspected of “treasonable” activity such as publishing documents critical of or malicious toward the Government.
Many Americans questioned the constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts. After the 1800 election of Thomas Jefferson, he pardoned all people convicted of crimes under the Alien and Sedition Acts.