Even as fierce debates between the two nascent political parties took place in competing newspapers and other publications, the new law prohibited any “false, outrageous and malicious letters” against Congress or the president and made it illegal to conspire “to oppose any action or action of the administration.” [1] Peter Macnamara, “The Sedition Act of 1798,” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, originally published in 2009 www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1238/sedition-act-of-1798. Therefore, the law on incitement to hatred is not a practical solution. It has become clear that the power to determine truth and falsehood gives any arbitrator, especially the government, the power to suppress the truth by other means. This is especially true today when misinformation comes from the White House. Determining who can make the call that something is wrong is fraught with challenges of bias and manipulation. By 1798, the United States was on the brink of war with France. The Federalist Party, advocating a strong central government, believed that Democratic-Republican criticism of Federalist policies was disloyal and feared that “foreigners” or non-citizens living in the United States would sympathize with the French during a war. In opposition to the Federalists was the Democratic-Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonians for its ideological leader, Thomas Jefferson. The Democratic-Republican Party (forerunner of today`s Democratic Party) wanted to reserve more power for state governments and accused Federalists of being more inclined to a monarchical style of government. These definitions of incitement to hatred were more precise than those in English common law.

Nevertheless, they were still broad enough to punish anyone critical of the federal government, its laws, or its elected leaders. The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, aimed to create a stable and secure country, safe for businessmen and wealthy propertymen. The opposition Democratic-Republican Party was fiercely opposed to the Federalists. Under Thomas Jefferson, it tended to represent poor farmers, artisans, and new immigrants. (The party was commonly referred to as Republican or Jeffersonian. It was the forerunner of today`s Democratic Party.) The Sedition Act, the only one in the series that applied to U.S. citizens, made it illegal to “write, print, express, or publish. any false, scandalous and malicious writing or written against the government of the United States.” Although Republican-Democrats complained that the law violated the First Amendment, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed the Sedition Act by a vote of 44 to 41. The provisions of the law prohibited certain types of declarations related to war or the military. By law, it is illegal to incite disloyalty within the military; to use, orally or in writing, language disloyal to the government, the constitution, the military or the flag; the promotion of strikes in labour production; promote principles that violate the law; or support countries at war with the United States.

In general, sedition means inciting others to resist or rebel against legitimate authority. In England, “seditious slander” virtually forbade any criticism of the king or his officials. English common law stipulated that any word spoken or written critical of the king`s government undermined the people`s respect for their authority. But this partisan weaponry should not tarnish the fact that the incitement bill was also put forward in response to a perceived crisis of misinformation and its potential to undermine trust in elected officials. Significantly, Rutledge advocated renewing the law after the tense and controversial presidential election of 1800, which eventually brought opposing party leader Thomas Jefferson to the White House and gave the Democratic-Republicans a majority in Congress. Yet Rutledge and many other federalists still argued, albeit unsuccessfully, that the government needed the power to regulate the spread of false information and promote the truth – even though they knew they would no longer be the ones to wield that power. Federalists believed that the Sedition Act was necessary for the security of the United States during the undeclared quasi-war with the France. They feared that criticism from Republican-Democrats and in newspapers like the Aurora would undermine the government. During the three years of the law`s implementation, there were twenty-five arrests, fifteen charges and ten convictions. [1] Although Wilson and Congress viewed the Sedition Act as crucial to stifling the spread of dissent in the country during this time of war, modern jurists view the law as contrary to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution, namely the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

One of the most famous charges under the Sedition Act during World War I was that of Eugene V. Debs, a pacifist labor organizer and founder of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), who ran for president as a Social Democrat in 1900 and on the Socialist Party of America list in 1904, 1908, and 1912.

Would the Sedition Act Be Legal Today