What would ordinary citizens have to fear with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In this question, you ask what “ordinary citizens” would have had to fear with the passage of these laws.  This is an important phrase because American citizens had less to fear than immigrants did.  However, even American citizens had something to fear from these laws.

One of these acts, the Alien Act, was less relevant to American citizens.  This law made it harder for immigrants to become citizens.  It also allowed the president to imprison or even to deport immigrants who were deemed to be dangerous to the country.  This could be done not just during wars but also during times of peace.  This was clearly a problem, but it was not a problem for people who were already “ordinary citizens” of the United States.

The Sedition Act, however, was dangerous for American citizens.  This act severely restricted people’s freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.  This law made it possible to prosecute people for printing or even helping to print or disseminate

... writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States… (quote found here)

The same restrictions applied to what people could say.  This was a clear danger to ordinary American citizens.  This law was saying that a person could be prosecuted, fined, and even jailed for simply expressing political opinions that were opposed to the government. 

This was dangerous to American citizens for at least two reasons.  First, it exposed them to punishment for expressing their political views.  Second, it endangered their entire democratic system of government.

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laurto's profile pic

laurto | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Although the Alien and Sedition Acts were definitely more against immigrants, there were parts that threatened citizens. It restricted many liberties, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of press. If any American citizens said or printed anything that would be considered to be against the government, they could be jailed. This went against everything that Americans believe, which is why many Americans felt threatened.

laurentg318's profile pic

laurentg318 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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Ordinary citizens had many reasons to fear the Alien and Sedition acts, provided they were informed and had opinions about their government. The acts made speech that was critical of the government illegal, which is obviously a huge infringement upon free speech.

Another act decried that immigrants would have to wait 14 years instead of 5 years to become citizens. Without citizenship, one does not enjoy the same rights that a citizen would, such as the right to vote. Also, there was a stigma assigned to immigrants that made it more difficult for them to get jobs and kept them separated from other people who were "natives". This was not always the case, and there are certainly plenty of instances where immigrants were able to rise above this kind of stigma during the time of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798-1802).

rachellopez's profile pic

rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

The Alien and Sedition Acts had four laws. The first three, the naturalization, alien, and alien enemy acts, didn't have a lot to do with American citizens but with immigrants. These acts increased the waiting period for an immigrant to become a citizen, allowed the president to arrest and deport dangerous aliens, and allowed for the arrest and deportation of citizens of countries at was with the US.

The last act, the Sedition act, was the thing citizens had to worry about. This act made it illegal to speak badly of the US government. This act took away people's right to free speech, as promised by the first amendment in the Constitution. If you had an opinion about the government that they didn't like you could be punished for it.

This website called Quizlet is what I used to study for my History final and it was created for my teacher. It has a lot of terms that might be useful for you :)

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parama9000's profile pic

parama9000 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

It is not really fear, but the reality that one of their liberties is taken away, and that badmouthing or whistleblowing would result in problems

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