The Alien & Sedition Act Trials
The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
"For the first ten years of its existence under the Federal Constitution of 1787, the government of the United States was in the hands of the Federalists party. * To save the United States from the evils of unlimited democracy was to most Federalists one of the historic missions of their party. * Opposition to the administration * became opposition to the Constitution;
In enacting the Alien and Sedition laws, the Federalists professed to act upon this premise: that a dangerous French faction was at work in the United States and that the survival of the Republic required that it be stamped out....
The Federalists, far from holding public opinion in contempt, regarded it as the mainspring of government:... If public opinion formed the basis of government, the press in turn formed public opinion.... And so the Federalists were driven to the conclusion that every government that depended upon the support of public opinion must take measure to ensure that it enjoyed a favorable press. This could be done only by suppressing criticism and slander directed against the government and its officers.
Seditious libel, * was defined as an attempt to defame or weaken the government and laws of the United States * or attempts to defame the President and other Federal officials. Many of the states had enacted statutes affirming the common-law doctrine of seditious and malicious libels - and this in spite of the strict injunction written into their constitutions providing for the freedom of the press.
In Freedom by John C. Miller