In the late 18th century, the United States of America was still an infant country struggling to define its national identity. It was during this period that the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress and signed into law by President John Adams. These laws marked a significant departure from American political tradition, blurring the line between legitimate dissent and criminal sedition. The Alien and Sedition Acts have since become a landmark moment in American history, raising important questions about the scope and reach of federal power.
What were the Alien and Sedition Acts?
The Alien and Sedition Acts were a series of four laws passed by the U.S. Congress in 1798. They were enacted under the administration of President John Adams and were designed to protect the newly formed nation from foreign subversion and internal dissent. The four laws were:
1. The Naturalization Act – This law increased the residency requirement for aliens to become citizens from 5 to 14 years and authorized the president to deport any alien deemed dangerous to the security of the nation.
2. The Alien Friends Act – This law allowed the president to deport any alien considered a threat to national security during peacetime without a trial or due process.
3. The Alien Enemies Act – This law allowed the government to deport aliens from hostile nations during wartime and to detain them for the duration of the conflict.
4. The Sedition Act – This law made it a crime to criticize the President or Congress and imposed fines and imprisonment for anyone found guilty of such offenses.
Reasons for the Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in response to a number of perceived threats to American national security. At the time, tensions were high between the United States and France, which had recently declared war on Great Britain. The French Revolution had also raised concerns about potential political instability and the spread of radical ideas.
The political climate in the U.S. was also becoming increasingly turbulent, with bitter partisan disputes between the Federalist Party, which controlled the government, and the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalists believed that the Sedition Act was necessary to stifle dissent and protect the government from opposition, while the Democratic-Republicans viewed it as an attack on the First Amendment right to free speech.
Controversy and Criticism
The Alien and Sedition Acts were immediately controversial and triggered a wave of opposition from both politicians and citizens. The Sedition Act, in particular, came under heavy criticism for its oppressive impact on free speech and the press.
Many Americans saw the Sedition Act as a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, which guaranteed the right to free speech and a free press. Several newspaper editors were arrested and tried under the law, including the renowned political journalist James Callender, who accused President John Adams of being a hoary-headed incendiary, who wished nothing more than to see the government overturned.
The Alien Acts also drew criticism for their perceived targeting of immigrants and for being a thinly disguised attempt to suppress opposition to the Federalist Party. The Naturalization Act, in particular, was seen as an attempt to limit the political power of immigrants, who tended to support the Democratic-Republicans.
Repeal and Legacy
The Alien and Sedition Acts proved to be highly controversial and politically divisive, and their impact on American society and politics was significant. Despite widespread opposition, the laws remained in effect for several years, and their legacy continues to shape the debate over the limits of federal power and freedom of speech in the United States.
The Alien Friends Act expired in 1800, while the Naturalization Act was amended in 1802 to revert back to the original 5-year residency requirement. The Sedition Act expired in 1801, but by then it had already had a profound impact on American political and legal philosophy. The Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, established the principle of judicial review and put the judiciary on an equal footing with the other branches of government.
The Alien and Sedition Acts represent a critical moment in American history, raising important questions about the balance between national security and individual freedoms. They were passed during a time of great uncertainty and political turbulence, and their lasting impact underscores the importance of adhering to the principles of free speech and the rule of law. Despite the controversy and criticism that surrounded their passage and implementation, the Alien and Sedition Acts remain a crucial part of the American political and legal heritage.
What is the Patriot Act?
Introduction to Patriot Act
The USA PATRIOT act is an acronym that stands for the “Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” which granted American law
enforcement unprecedented rights to gather intelligence and abridge civil liberties in the face of the terrorist threat to the United States. The Patriot Act was passed by Congress by overwhelming margins in 2001, renewed in 2006 and once again extended by President Obama in 2011.
Provisions of the Patriot Act
There are ten parts to the Patriot Act, each concerning a different aspect of anti-terrorism efforts. Only sections that remain in effect will be listed as many of the original sections expired in 2006. Provisions of the Patriot Act were subject to sunset clauses, or a mandatory expiration by a certain date, requiring those provisions to be re-approved.
Title I of Patriot Act: Enhancing Domestic Security against Terrorism
Section 101 of Patriot Act – provides for an unlimited Counterterrorism Fund to compensate the Department of Justice for costs of assessing terror threats, paying rewards to informants and rebuilding facilities destroyed by terrorist attacks
Section 102 of Patriot Act – affirms the civil rights of South Asian, Arab and other Muslims in the United States
and condemns post-9/11 retaliation against these groups. This section rejects collective responsibility for wrongdoing and affirms that these groups will be treated as individuals.
Section 103 of Patriot Act – Promises $200 million to the FBI for a Technical Support Center
Section 104 of Patriot Act – Allows for the intervention of military troops, with the consent of the Attorney
General, in the event non-chemical weapons of mass destruction are used against Americans domestically or abroad.
Section 105 of Patriot Act – Assigns the Secret Service with the task of creating a National Electronic Crime Task
Force for preventing fiduciary damage against the electronic finance systems
Section 106 of Patriot Act – The President is allowed to investigate the transactions of foreign nationals and countries and seize their assets, without due process if they participate on an attack against the United States.
The content of these sections represent an increase in Presidential power and the authorization of various
government agencies to investigate possible terrorist activity in the United States.
Title 2 of Patriot Act: Enhanced Surveillance Procedures
Section 203a/c of Patriot Act – Streamlined procedures to disclose information between the courts and the government during grand jury deliberations or proceedings. Subsection c gave the authority to the Attorney General to establish the procedures by which this information is disclosed.
Section 205 of Patriot Act – Grants the FBI the power to employ translators to support counter terror operations
without typical limitation and regulations set on typical federal employees. The Director of the FBI must
regularly disclose the number of translators employed in this manner to Congress.
Section 208 of Patriot Act – Amended from the original to require 11 (formerly 7) judges to review a surveillance order, with three judges living within 20 miles of the capital.
Section 210/11 of Patriot Act – Affirms the right of the government to force a communications provider to hand over records of electronic communication.
Section 213 of Patriot Act – The government may conduct searches without immediately notifying the suspect of
the warrant. This is viewed as necessary to prevent the tipping off of co-conspirators.
Section 216 of Patriot Act – Limits the use of electronic surveillance equipment in investigations
Section 219 of Patriot Act – Allows judges to issues search warrants both in and outside of the jurisdiction that
pertain to a terrorism investigation.
Section 221 of Patriot Act – Refers to trade sanctions against state sponsors of terrorism, weapons proliferation and drug trafficking.
Section 222 of Patriot Act – Limits the degree of cooperation of a telecommunications provider and law enforcement to the provisions of the Patriot Act alone.
Title II has previously given sweeping power to federal authorities to intercept communications that might be related to terrorist plots but many of those provisions have since expired. There are now limitations on the use of surveillance devices and the ability of law enforcement to conduct searches. Many of the provisions, such
as delayed notifications of warrants apply in domestic law as well. Ongoing investigations started prior to 2006
retain the expired provisions until he conclusion of the investigation. Critics have argued that this section does
not provide reasonable safeguards against the harassment of innocent civilians by law enforcement by compromising their electronic privacy.
Title III of Patriot Act – International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001
Subtitle A – This section is comprised of regulations to prevent money laundering including restrictions on certain types of bank accounts, financial institutions’ relationships with foreign entities and increasing communication between these institutions and the government. It also increased criminal penalties for
money laundering for the purposes of financing attacks, corruption and trafficking.
Subtitle B – Banks must now notify US Intelligence if they see suspicious activity in bank accounts and require the reporting of foreign currency over $10,000. The bank cannot be held liable for the disclosure of personal information to federal authorities.
Subtitle C – This section deals primarily with currency smuggling by stopping the movement of bulk currency to be sold on the black market. It is a criminal offense to conceal currency over $10,000 on one’s person or in luggage. Failure to report the currency subjects it to forfeiture.
Title IV of Patriot Act – Protecting the Border
Subtitle A – The section provides for the protection of the Northern Border with Canada by increasing the number of personnel available to monitor the border. This set extra pay and overtime to Border Patrol and other enforcement personnel watching the border. This section also appropriated more funds to upgrade border security
Subtitle B – This amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit representatives of foreign terrorist organizations from entering the US. Their family may also be prohibiting from entering the United States depending on the circumstances. This is to prevent the possibility of attacks or the collection of funds to finance future attacks. This act also provides the language and structure to classify terrorist organizations and what actions constitute a terrorist attack. The Secretary of State has the ability to declare organizations as terrorists and this designation can be reviewed and renewed every two years.
Subtitle B also provides for mandatory detention provisions for aliens engaged in terrorist activity or espionage for up to 90 days for 6 months if the detainee is confirmed to be a threat to national security. This process is
subject to judicial review and the number of aliens detained must be reported to the Attorney General. Additional provisions required the monitoring of foreign students and the sharing of information about potential terrorism suspects with other foreign jurisdictions.
Subtitle C – This section allowed the preservation of the rights of immigrants that have had loved ones killed as a result of terrorist acts or renewal proceedings disrupted as a result of terrorist attacks in the Fall of 2001
(including anthrax attacks). Two years immediately after the attacks those who had lost loved ones could receive US citizenship after filing a petition with the US Attorney General.
Title V of Patriot Act – Removal of Obstacles to Investigating Terrorism
The eight sections of this act provide for
– The payment of awards to those that inform on terrorists (Section 501) or offers intelligence that allows for the significant disruption or dismantling of a terrorist organization (Section 502)
– Cooperation with local law enforcement by sharing intelligence obtained from abroad to prevent attacks (Section 503)
– Absolving educational institutions of liability for releasing records to law enforcement (Section 507)
– Broad powers to the Secret Service to investigate computer fraud (Section 506)
The section also included provisions to allow an alternative subpoena, called a National Security Letter, which allowed the FBI and other government agencies to force organizations turn over records to the government on particular individuals (Section 505). These organizations were forbidden to challenge the NSL and were forbidden to reveal the request due to a gag order. The use of SELS was challenged in Doe v. Ashcroft in 2004 and was found to be unconstitutional and subject to stringent regulations to prevent abuse. Doe v Ashcroft would continue through the appointment of other attorney generals up until the present Attorney General
Eric Holder. Federal courts finally ruled against the government opposing the lack of a process to challenge the
subpoena and the lack of a right for the subpoenaed party to disclose the subpoena. The NSL is currently under review and may proceed to the Supreme Court.
Title VI of Patriot Act: Victims and families of victims of terrorism
This Title provided relief funds for families that have lost members due to terrorist attacks. This covers emergency workers as well as the general public. The relief fund may include private donors and has been expanded to include all US possessions, including Puerto Rico and the US Pacific Territories.
Title VII of Patriot Act: Increased information sharing for critical infrastructure protection
This section streamlines communication between the government and law enforcement and allows them to cross jurisdictions to investigate terrorist conspiracies. It further defines terrorism as a criminal activity.
Title VIII of Patriot Act: Terrorism criminal law
This section redefines several crimes such as assassination, kidnapping, racketeering and cyber warfare as acts of terror. Specifically this Title created a special punishment for attacking a mass transit system punishable with life imprisonment for the death of any person.
Additional penalties included a prohibition on harboring terrorists subject to imprisonment of up to ten years,
seizing the assets of individuals or organizations involved in terrorism and punishing those that provided material assistance to terrorists. The last provision was amended to clarify the definition of “material assistance” as the original wording was broad and could subject innocent or unknowing collaborators to unfair charges.
Title IX of Patriot Act: Improved Intelligence
This section improves procedures to disseminate intelligence gathered from electronic sources to the US Attorney General in regards to investigating foreign sources.
Title X of Patriot Act: Miscellaneous
These are a number of unrelated provisions including penalties for impersonating a Red Cross workers, training
foreign police organizations and studying the use of biometric information linked to the FBI database at border security checkpoints.