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Primary Documents in American History

Alien and Sedition Acts

John Adams, second President of the United States
John Adams, second President of the United States.
lithograph. [1828(?)]
Prints and Photographs Division.
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Signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress as America prepared for war with France. These acts increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" and restricted speech critical of the government. These laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party. Negative reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped contribute to the Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 elections. Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the other acts were allowed to expire.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

The full-text of the Alien and Sedition Acts can be found in the United States Statutes at Large:

Elliot's Debates contains a section on the response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, including the text of the Virginia Resolution, responses to the Virginia Resolution from other states, the Kentucky Resolution, and James Madison's report on the Virginia Resolution.

Search this collection on the words "alien sedition" for additional Congressional information on the Alien and Sedition Acts, including debate in the Annals of Congress.

The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820

The collection consists of 15,000 pages of original historical material documenting the land, peoples, exploration, and transformation of the trans-Appalachian West from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. The collection is drawn from the holdings of the University of Chicago Library and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky.

  • Copy of the Kentucky Resolutions. In 1798 and 1799, the Kentucky and Virginia assemblies passed resolutions condemning the federal laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Representative John Breckinridge introduced Kentucky's version of the declaration, a document he had received from his friend Thomas Jefferson and which he had slightly modified. James Madison authored Virginia's decree and neither his nor Jefferson's role in creating the documents was revealed until many years later.

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items, spanning the period 1723-1859, captured in some 72,000 digital images.

Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history.

A selection of items related to the Alien and Sedition Acts includes:

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

  • The Kentucky Resolution was secretly authored by Thomas Jefferson in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. Along with the Virginia Resolution, which was written by James Madison, the Kentucky Resolution argued that state legislatures had the right to nullify Federal statutes.
Search Jefferson's Papers for additional documents related to the Alien and Sedition Acts.


Creating the United States

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

The Alien and Sedition Acts, Avalon Project at Yale Law School 

Teaching with Documents: United States v. Thomas Cooper - A Violation of the Sedition Law, National Archives and Records Administration

Our Documents, Alien and Sedition Acts, National Archives and Records Administration

The Sedition Act Trials, Federal Judicial Center

Treasures of Congress - The Formation of Political Parties: The Alien and Sedition Acts, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Resolutions of Virginia and Kentucky, Penned by Madison and Jefferson, in Relation to the Alien and Sedition Laws; and the Debates and Proceedings in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the Same, in December, 1798. Richmond: R.I. Smith, 1835. [Catalog Record] [Full Text] External Link

The Virginia Report of 1799-1800, Touching the Alien and Sedition Laws; Together with the Virginia Resolutions of December 21, 1798, the Debate and Proceedings Thereon in the House of Delegates of Virginia, and Several Other Documents Illustrative of the Report and Resolutions. Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1850. [Catalog Record] [Full Text] External Link

Bird, Wendell R. Press and Speech Under Assault: The Early Supreme Court Justices and the Sedition Act of 1798, and the Campaign Against Dissent. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. [Catalog Record]

Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. [Catalog Record]

Halperin, Terri Diane. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: When a Congressional Majority Assaulted Immigrants and Civil Liberties. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. [Catalog Record]

Miller, John Chester. Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts. Boston: Little Brown, 1951. [Catalog Record]

Slack, Charles. Liberty's First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015. [Catalog Record]

Smith, James Morton. Freedom's Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1956. [Catalog Record]

Watkins, William J., Jr. Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. [Catalog Record]

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  April 25, 2017
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