Freedom & Hope

Written by Marty on January 6th, 2005

    We have all heard it said that “Those who do not learn from history are doom to repeat it.” In the light of such things as the Patriots Act and the intolerance for dissent, we might take a look at these pages of history and ask ourselves what type of country do we want? At the time of the second president, it looked like the new Democratic Party was going to have a short life, but that was not the case. So, read the historical story and take hope for we shall overcome!

When John Adams succeeded George Washington as president in 1797, the Federalist Party had controlled Congress and the rest of the national government from the beginning of the new nation. Adams and the other Federalists believed that their political party was the government. The Federalists believed that once the people had elected their political leaders, no one should publicly criticize them.


The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, aimed to create a stable and secure country, safe for business and wealthy men of property. The opposition Democratic-Republican Party was bitterly opposed to the Federalists. Led by Thomas Jefferson, it tended to represent poor farmers, craftsmen, and recent immigrants. (The party was commonly referred as the Republicans or Jeffersonians was the forerunner of today’s Democratic Party.)

   One point of history is that the Democratic Party had lost the Presidential election, and Congress was in the hands of the opposition, but that was not the end of the Democratic Party.  The Federalists were set on creating a new nobility and limiting the power of the common man.  It seemed quite gloomy as many were arrested for nothing less than poking fun at President Adams.  The young Democratic Party looked like it could be on its death-bed and with it the hope for freedom for all.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by Congress in 1798 in preparation for an anticipated war with France. The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, required aliens to declare their intent to acquire citizenship five years before it could be granted, and rendered people from enemy nations ineligible for naturalization. The subsequent Sedition Act banned the publishing of scandalous or malicious writings against the government. The acts were designed by Federalists to limit the power of the opposition [Democratic-Republican Party, which later droped Republican from it’s name], but enforcement ended after Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800. . .


Under the Sedition Act, even the rights of American citizens were curtailed by prohibiting assembly ‘with intent to oppose any measure … of the government’ and made it illegal for any person to ‘print, utter, or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious writing’ against the government.


Armed with these statutes, Federalists attempted to suppress [the Democratic] opposition on the basis of ideological differences-most successfully prosecuting newspaperman Thomas Cooper and [Democratic] congressman Matthew Lyon. These controversies provoked the first probing of the constitutional limits on free speech, the press, and the rights of an organized political opposition. When Thomas Jefferson became president, enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts ended. The sedition and incarceration provisions of the acts, however, were resurrected during later wars.


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 ethnic groups had been among the core supporters of the Democratic-Republicans in 1796.  Link

There were many arrests of individuals who were merely exercising their Constitutional rights.  America could have gone a different way, and it looked to the citizens of the time that it was headed to a worse condition than it was before the Revolution.

They were a major political issue in the elections of 1798 and 1800, controversial then, and remaining so today. Opposition to them resulted in the highly controversial Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Prominent prosecutions under the Sedition Act include:

  • James Thomson Callender, a Scottish citizen, had been expelled from Great Britain for his political writings. Living first in Philadelphia, then seeking refuge close by in Virginia, he wrote a book titled The Prospect Before Us (read and approved by Vice President Jefferson before publication) in which he called the Adams administration a “continual tempest of malignant passions” and the President a “repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor.” Callender, already residing in Virginia and writing for the Richmond Examiner, was indicted in mid-1800 under the Sedition Act and convicted, fined $200, and sentenced to nine months in jail.[11]:211–20
  • Matthew Lyon was a Democratic-Republican congressman from Vermont. He was the first individual to be placed on trial under the Alien and Sedition Acts.[1] He was indicted in 1800 for an essay he had written in the Vermont Journal accusing the administration of “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.” While awaiting trial, Lyon commenced publication of Lyon’s Republican Magazine, subtitled “The Scourge of Aristocracy”. At trial, he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in jail. After his release, he returned to Congress.[12][11]:102–08
  • Benjamin Franklin Bache was editor of the Philadelphia Aurora, a Democratic-Republican newspaper. Bache had accused George Washington of incompetence and financial irregularities, and “the blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous Adams” of nepotism and monarchical ambition. He was arrested in 1798 under the Sedition Act, but he died of yellow fever before trial.[11]:27–29, 65, 96
  • Anthony Haswell was an English immigrant and a printer of the Jeffersonian Vermont Gazette.[13] Haswell had reprinted from the Aurora Bache’s claim that the federal government employed Tories, also publishing an advertisement from Lyon’s sons for a lottery to raise money for his fine that decried Lyon’s oppression by jailers exercising “usurped powers”.[14] Haswell was found guilty of seditious libel by judge William Paterson, and sentenced to a two-month imprisonment and a $200 fine.[15]
  • Luther Baldwin was indicted, convicted, and fined $100 for a drunken incident that occurred during a visit by President Adams to Newark, New Jersey. Upon hearing a gun report during a parade, he yelled “I hope it hit Adams in the arse.”[16][11]:112–14
  • In November 1798, David Brown led a group in Dedham, Massachusetts, including Benjamin Fairbanks, in setting up a liberty pole with the words, “No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President.”[15][17][18] Brown was arrested in Andover, Massachusetts, but because he could not afford the $4,000 bail, he was taken to Salem for trial.[17] Brown was tried in June 1799.[15] Brown pleaded guilty, but Justice Samuel Chase asked him to name others who had assisted him.[15] Brown refused, was fined $480,[17][19] and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, the most severe sentence ever imposed under the Sedition Act.[15][17] Link

To the people of the day, it must have seemed hopeless, but we now that they overcame those dark days and we shall do the same today.  It seems to be just as dark of days with a man like Donald Trump in the White House and his version of the Federalists in control of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, but all hope is not lost.  If we were able to overcome the dark days of the past, we will overcome these dark days.  The only question is how many will suffer before they are overcome?


Edited 12/19/2017


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