Why the Sedition Act of 1798 is Licit and Logical


The Sedition Act is generally acknowledged as a low point in the otherwise remarkable history of the Federalist Party of the United States, referred to by historian Peter Onuf as a “repressive” piece of legislation.1 “Repressive” in the opinion of Onuf and most historians because the Act (seemingly) curtailed freedom of speech and an independent and free press. Yet, for all the talk of “[immobilizing] the Republican opposition,”2 the Federalist “misstep” of the Sedition Act is not indicative of a Marxist or Fascist-like maneuver to silence the opposition, nor is it a counter-revolution to turn “the government over to antirepublican hands”3; rather, the Sedition Act was a specific response to a specific historical time and place alien to our own.

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