Alien and Sedition Acts


1 Stat. 570, 577, 596  | (1798)
internal security laws passed by the U.S. Congress, restricting aliens and curtailing the excesses of an unrestrained press, in anticipation of an expected war with France. The alien laws were aimed at French and Irish immigrants, who were mostly pro-French. These laws raised the waiting period for naturalization from 5 to 14 years, permitted the detention of subjects of an enemy nation, and authorized the chief executive to expel any alien he considered dangerous. The Sedition Act banned the publishing of false or malicious writings against the government and the inciting of opposition to any act of Congress or the president—practices already forbidden by state statutes and the common law but not by federal law. All the Alien and Sedition Acts subsequently expired or were repealed, although the current law found at 50 U.S.C. § 21 is based on the second Alien Act.

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Cite this Entry

“Alien and Sedition Acts.” Legal Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.

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