THE REVISITATION OF THE ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS

(This was obviously written in 1996 and was quite radical for its time. Today, however, we find ourselves looking at the so-called "Partiot Act" which appears intended to give unlimited police powers to any government official. Most of what Mr. Peele says here can be applied equally to present day.  The difference is that today's laws are not intended to intimidate and quash only aliens. We are the target. You are the target. The last two pargraphs are expecially chilling...and prophetic. - ecr)

With the passage of the anti-terrorism act of 1996 we have returned to the days of the Alien and Sedition acts of 1798 which were, at the time, referred to as the "Reign of Terror". Enacted out of fear that there would soon be war between France and the United States, the Congress passed some of the most draconian legislation this young country had yet seen. These were: the Naturalization Act (June 1798); the Act Concerning Aliens (June 1798); the Act Respecting Alien Enemies (July 1798); and the Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes (July 1798).

Although these laws were intended to be imposed against French, Irish, and English "radicals" the laws also gave broad powers to the federal government over all aliens via the Alien Enemies Act and the Alien Friends Act. Under these acts, the President had the power to declare any alien or alien group a menace to the United States and order their deportation from the country. The laws were also enacted by the Federalists, later the Democrats, to weaken the Republican party which most of the naturalized citizens tended to join. Although enacted as a hedge against declared war, the acts did not actually require that war be declared; and any group could be targeted by the laws.

The Sedition Act (Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes) was designed to silence a critical press. It provided fines and/or imprisonment for anyone who would "Write, print, utter, or publish... any false, scandalous, and malicious writing or 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, with the intent to defame the said government, or either House of the Congress, or the said President, or to bring them or either of them, into contempt or disrepute,..." The act was wielded as a political truncheon against those who would deign to speak out against any corruption within the government.

The Naturalization Act raised the term of residency for those wishing to become citizens of the United States from 5 to 14 years and again sought to weaken the Republican party by restraining those likely to join it. The Republicans denounced the acts as unconstitutional on the basis of (a) deprivation of jury trial, (b) an illegal enlargement of the authority of the federal government, and (c) as an unwarranted extension of the powers of the President. Proponents of the acts argued that the acts fell under the purvue of the Congress to protect the country against foreign aggression and invasion. Through the efforts of Representatives Otis, Harper, and Bayard, all Federalists, language was inserted into the Sedition Act which held that the truth was admissible as a defense in cases of slander and libel.

The acts were used to destroy freedom of speech and of the press. Leading Republican journalists of the day and a Vermont Congressman found themselves the target of the laws. Resolutions in Kentucky and Virginia denounced the acts and they eventually expired or were repealed although the Federalists unsuccessfully attempted to reenact the Sedition Act. The unpopularity of the acts cost the Federalists the Congress and the Presidency in the election of 1800.

Fast forward 198 years. The "radicals" of 1798 have been replaced by the "extremists" of 1996. We find ourselves entrenched in the same unconstitutional quagmire that the Federalists found themselves in in 1798. Again, we target the alien population of our country with laws both draconian and restrictive. This time the laws have been extended to include secret evidence, secret witnesses, secret testimony, and the rules of evidence are virtually suspended. The defendants have no right of discovery of evidence. They haven't much knowledge beyond the charges against them. Seizure and forfeiture of property under the R.I.C.O. Act and rewards for secret informants assure that the accused will be left destitute. Warrantless opening and examination of their personal records (health, credit, bank, etc.) without their knowledge or consent is allowed and those holding those records are subject to fine and imprisonment for the disclosure of these examinations.

Groups and individuals may, at the whim of the President, be declared a threat to the nation and deported. The right to free speech and political dissent through the funding of foreign political groups has been suspended for all Americans inclusively. The ability of foreign groups to solicit funds in America has been constrained and the power of the President to declare them "terrorists" expanded.

Again, the President is granted powers not enumerated in the Constitution and again they are powers of near monarchical rule. The largest difference in the present law is that the very party which decried the Alien and Sedition Acts as unconstitutional have just given over to the federal government and the President the very powers so disparaged by them in 1798. This in the face of nearly universal condemnation of this law by Libertarian, Liberal, and Conservative groups.

Although the Sedition act expired, there are no provisions in the present law for such an expiration. Movement is already afoot to further expand the powers of this law by those who feel that the law, in its present form, does not go far enough in the usurpation of the rights and freedoms of the American people nor the expansion of the government's power over them.

The question begs that if a bank funds or makes loans to a warring nation, as banks have been wont to do, in deference to the wishes of the government, will they be declared "terrorists"? Are American Jews "terrorists" if they support the Jewish Defense League? Are Nation of Islam members "terrorists" because their leader associates with and accepts funds from the enemies of America? Are American Irish "terrorists" because they fund the Irish Republican Army in the hopes of freeing their nation from British rule? Are American Mexicans "terrorists" if they assist their countrymen in Chiapas? Is the President of the United States a "terrorist" because he associates with the leaders of the IRA? Under the provisions of this law, the answer to all of the above is "yes".

The question every American should ask themselves is, "How long will it take for legislation to be written that changes 'Alien' and 'Aliens' to 'Person' and 'Persons'?" Not long, I would suspect.

Jim Peel jimpeel@aol.com