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Thomas Jefferson – The Alien and Sedition Act

There are three things a president must do with regards to his treatment of the Constitution; preserve, protect and defend it.  A president should not rely on federal courts to protect him against the boundaries of constitutional rules or even expect them to take the responsibility of interpreting it so he can remain indifferent.  All events good and bad, the Constitution has been the foundation behind our prosperous society and could be considered one of the superiors among other nations.  In my previous blog I discussed how a president should not take the oath of office lightly – or as a mere formality.   Having the power to veto unconstitutional laws is given to the president by the people because we expect him to enforce, to the best of his ability, the constitution.

In 1798, (215 years ago), our country stood on the brink of war with France.  The president at the time was John Adams.  The vice president was Thomas Jefferson.

A year earlier, when John Adams succeeded George Washington as president, the majority that ruled congress where the Federalists.  The Federalists believed that people should be free to elect their political leaders and that once those leaders had been elected no one should publicly criticize them.  On the other hand the Democratic-Republicans were opposed to this style of governing.  They believed in representing the poor and immigrants who were less capable of standing up for themselves against the wealthy.

During this time the French Revolution had caused debate among people within our country.  The Federalists seemed more against it’s ideals because of it’s violation of property rights.  Democratic-Republicans on the other hand were supportive of it, as they were against the prospect of Great Britain’s continued economic growth which they felt could undermine that of the US.  France, having already been enemies with the English, was angered over the improved relationship our country was developing with Great Britain

Great Britain and our country had many issues to settle after the Revolutionary War – for which France had been our ally.  George Washington set out to ameliorate these issues by negotiating a treaty which set forth better economic relations between our country and Great Britain.  France wasn’t happy about this and John Adams new it.   So immediately after becoming president he sent diplomats into France.   (Stop for a moment and think of how much more arduous a journey it was for people to travel the Atlantic and you’ll get an appreciation for what these diplomats went through.)  The diplomats attempted to smooth out our relationship with France but the it wouldn’t work.  The French were requesting a bribe – an amount of $10 million – in order to begin negotiations.

News of this bribe back at home wasn’t taken well.  War is often times requested by one group over another and in this case, the Federalists were for it while the Republicans were against it.  But fear among the people was high.  Telecommunications did not exist to rapidly correct negative emotional sentiment and misinformed conjecture throughout society.  Rumors became evermore powerful than they could be today (where internet sites like Snopes alleviate us from falling victim to bad information and scams), and our people at that time felt threatened with the prospect of a spontaneous invasion from France.  Rumors sprouted of French spies which led to a feeling of distaste for immigrants.

John Adams, now the president, along with other Federalists of Congress, felt there was danger among the immigrants in our country.  In what he considered an adaptation to deal with this potential danger, he along with Congress passed four pieces of legislation known as The Alien and Sedition Act.

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