A few days ago, July 14th to be exact, was the anniversary of President John Adams signing the Sedition Act into law.  July 14, 1798 was not a good day for this country.

At the time, the two major political parties were the Federalists (led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton) and the Democratic-Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr – who actually killed Hamilton in a duel!).

The Sedition act was an effort, in practice, to silence opposition press and stifle Democratic-Republican criticism of the Federalists.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It outlawed conspiracies “to oppose any measure or measures of the government” and made “false, scandalous and malicious writing” against Congress or the president punishable by fine or imprisonment.

First Amendment and free speech be damned!

Democratic-Republican Vice President Thomas Jefferson argued that the act granted too much power to an already authoritative government. He asserted that the 10th Amendment rendered the Sedition Act unconstitutional.  This was on the basis that the 10th reserves to the states and people all powers not specifically granted to the federal government by the Constitution.

But, as to be expected in political battles, Federalists contended that the Sedition Act was “necessary” to ensure that Adams could fulfill his obligations as President without interference – and maintain peace against a threat of war with France.

So, right from the beginning, politicians in the United States have used fear and security as a pretext for passing legislation that violates the Constitution – and severely limits liberty.

The act remained in place until 1801, when it expired upon Jefferson’s inauguration as president. Jefferson pardoned all 24 citizens who had been prosecuted under the statute.

The important thing to note here, though, is the correctness of Jefferson’s position – powers not granted to the US Federal Government are prohibited.  The 10th Amendment makes this quite clear:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

“Sedition” is part of the American tradition – the Founding Fathers were traitors to England and patriots to a not-yet-formed new country.  This is why free speech and limitations on the powers of government much be enforced.

Frank I. Cobb had something to say on this too:

“The Bill of Rights is a born rebel. It reeks with sedition. In every clause it shakes its fist in the face of constituted authority… it is the one guaranty of human freedom to the American people.”

The 10th Amendment

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”



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