Using Deliberative Techniques to Teach United States History

By Eleanora Von Dehsen; Nancy Claxton | Go to book overview

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Rights in Wartime

ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS

The 1790s saw the rise of partisan politics, a development feared by many as
threatening the fledgling democracy. Partisan conflict was not yet an accept-
ed element of the political process, and there was a general belief that con-
sensus was necessary for the republic to survive. Political alignments centered
around the Federalists (led by Alexander Hamilton), who wanted a strong
central government and cooperation with Great Britain, and the Democratic
Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson), who wanted most power to reside
with the states rather than the federal government and who were pro-French
in their political sympathies.

In response to U.S. ratification of the Jay Treaty of 1796, which provided pref-
erential arrangements with Great Britain, France, then at war with Britain,
began attacking American commercial shipping in what became known
as the “Quasi War.” By 1798, the Federalists, who controlled both the White
House and Congress, as well as many Democratic-Republicans anticipated a
French invasion. The French had meddled in American politics and had tried
to enlist American support for their military causes. Adding to Federalist con-
cern was the presence of thousands of French refugees and Irish immigrants,
who might back an invading force. Federalists feared that the French would
do so because of their obvious connections to France, while the Irish might
be tempted to support France in its war against the long-time enemy of the
Irish, Great Britain. In this context, the Federalist Congress passed a series of
three laws (Alien Enemies Act, Naturalization Act, and Alien Act) designed to
remove potential spies, collaborators, or instigators of domestic unrest, and
to limit immigration. A fourth law, the Sedition Act, outlawed both sedition

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