The Alien and Sedition Acts, passed by the administration of President John Adams, were hugely controversial. The government claimed that these measures were necessary to protect national security from both internal and external threats. Opponents, however, saw them as unnecessary and draconian (excessively harsh and severe). They saw them as a betrayal of the precious liberty for which Americans had fought against the British.
Indeed, it seemed to opponents of the Acts that the Adams Administration was re-establishing the very same British tyranny that Americans had overthrown in the Revolutionary War. They pointed to the fact that people could now be fined or even imprisoned for criticizing the government. Indeed, even members of Congress fell foul of the new laws. A Congressman from Vermont, Matthew Lyon, was thrown in jail for criticizing President Adams for his "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice." Although Lyon was subsequently re-elected from his prison cell, it was thought outrageous that he should've been there in the first place for simply exercising his First Amendment rights.