18th Century

The Mainstream Media

Have a drink with: The Mainstream Media
Fake news. Sad!

Ask them about: thin-skinned Federalists

Today I’m over at the wonderful Historista blog with an essay on how the Trump administration’s efforts to control news media echo the 1798 Sedition Act.

Go check it out!

Fun Facts:

Also alarmingly relevant, we were legislating immigration as soon as we had a legislature: the first Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790, which charmingly limited natural citizenship to any “free white person,” and contained a caveat that citizenship descended through fathers only.

On the Griswold-Lyon throwdown: Roger Griswold called Matthew Lyon a scoundrel who fought with a wooden sword. Lyon spit in Griswold’s face while Congress was in session, which got him scolded on ethics grounds; Griswold (CT, sigh), unsatisfied by an apology, decided to go after Lyon with a cane while the Vermonter defended himself with a set of fireplace tongs. Civility!

Lyon: not the last politician to win in jail, either. In 2015, a Virginia state lawmaker was re-elected while under sentence for an alleged sexual relationship with his 17-year-old secretary.

Protest! Letter from Virginia Congressman John Dawson to his Constituents, Philadelphia, July 19, 1798

Sedition laws have been an item of strong public opinion all along the way. Take, for example, this broadside ballad from 1803; a cartoon from 1918 showing Uncle Sam hauling out a bunch of undesirables as spies and traitors; and accounts of the “Michigan Six” trial under the Alien & Registration Act of 1940 (Smith Act), which allowed the Truman administration to go after alleged Communists.

Additional Reading:

The Alien & Sedition Acts, at Yale’s Avalon Project:

The text of the Virginia Resolution (James Madison, December 24, 1798); and the Kentucky Resolution (Thomas Jefferson, November 16, 1798)

The National Archives on U.S. v. Thomas Cooper (United States v. Cooper, 25 F. Cas. 631)

Federal Judicial Center, The Sedition Act Trials — Historical Background and Documents