This story is remarkable in it's timelessness. The names of the players will be held to make the accounting of this story more difficult to discern when it took place, until after you have digested the events.
Throughout that spring and summer the Republican press blasted its opponents, causing a strong reaction from the party in power soon. The leader of the Republican Party held out hope that the majority party who held the Presidency, and both the House and Senate and could "carry what they please," would overreach and suffer a fatal self-inflicted wound. He did not have long to wait.
Amid open talk among those in the ruling party about those speaking out against them and their president and policies, they wanted to silence this criticism. The ultra-partisan leadership of this party acted swiftly and harshly pushing into law measures that curtailed civil liberties. This Act, was an outright step toward silencing the opposition press, the most oppressive of the four measures provided fines up to 5,000.00 and jail terms of up to five years for those who uttered or published "any false, scandalous, and malicious" statement against the United States government or its officials.
The president had not requested this legislation, even the behind the scene leader and head of the majority party didn't want this, "let us not be cruel or violent," he pleaded to the party members, warning that "there are limits which must not be passed." "Let us not establish a tyranny," he feared a backlash. If the government "breaths an irregular or violent spirit," its conduct "will do harm to the cause." He said that he feared the zealots in his party would "push things to an extreme" and once again "give to faction (the Republican Party) body and solidarity."
Those in leadership in the House majority saw this as "a glorious opportunity to destroy the Republican Party. Many of the newspapers who supported the majority party demanded that "traitors must be silent." The Gazette of the United States came up with the slogan: "He that is not for us, is against us." And additionally said: "It is patriotism to write in favor of government, it is sedition to write against it." This was their hour of opportunity, under the cloak of national security, to settle old scores and to lay low a political opponent.
The president signed the bills into law, a step that would later be considered the greatest blot on his presidency. He did not defend his actions at the time, and later never offered a convincing defense for accepting these repressive measures. It was consistant with his style of governing which was to allow Congress to make most domestic agenda decisions while he focused on foreign policy decisions.
The leader of the Republican party looked on in horror. He gloomily remarked that the Majority party was emulating the radical French. He considered the majority's plan was to create and maintain a crisis atmosphere, for the people were easier to manipulate in the supercharged air of heightened tensions. He was despondent that his rivals now held the presidency and the Congress. They had ground the Bill of Rights under their heels and were certain to keep "warring against" the "real principles" on which the nation stood. He shuddered that there was "no length" to which they would not go, and "no event, therefore, however atrocious, which may not be expected." However, through it all he remained optimistic. Time and events ultimately would "bring round an order of things" synonymous with the spirit of 1776. It had to occur, he said, because most Americans yet cherished the true meaning of the American Revolution.
Who, What, and When of this story:
John Adams................the president.
Alexander Hamilton........the leader of the Majority Party in power.
Thomas Jefferson..........the leader of the Republican Party.
The Alien and Sedition Acts...the Acts.
Federalist Party..........the majority party.
The more we know our own history the more we see it being repeated. However, it also should infuse you with hope. We have had close calls many times in our history, and yet America has prevailed. Together We The People can and will do so again!