The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed by the Federalist-dominated 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen (Naturalization Act), allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous (Alien Friends Act of 1798) or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798), and criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government (Sedition Act of 1798).
The Federalists argued that the bills strengthened national security during an undeclared naval war with France (1798–1800). Critics argued that they were primarily an attempt to suppress voters who disagreed with the Federalist party, and violated the right of freedom of speech in the First Amendment. Three of the acts were repealed after the Democratic-Republican party of Thomas Jefferson came to power. But the Alien Enemies Act remained in effect, was revised and codified in 1918 for use in World War I, and was used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to imprison Japanese, German, and Italian aliens during World War II. Following cessation of hostilities, the act was used by President Harry S. Truman to continue to imprison, then deport, aliens of the formerly hostile nations. In 1948 the Supreme Court determined that presidential powers under the acts continued after cessation of hostilities until there was a peace treaty with the hostile nation. The revised Alien Enemies Act remains in effect today.
The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years. At the time, the majority of immigrants supported Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, the political opponents of the Federalists. The Alien Friends Act allowed the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" at any time, while the Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to do the same to any male citizen of a hostile nation above the age of fourteen during times of war. Lastly, the controversial Sedition Act restricted speech that was critical of the federal government. Under the Sedition Act, the Federalists allowed people who were accused of violating the sedition laws to use truth as a defense. The Sedition Act resulted in the prosecution and conviction of many Jeffersonian newspaper owners who disagreed with the government.
The acts were denounced by Democratic-Republicans and ultimately helped them to victory in the 1800 election, when Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent, President Adams. The Sedition Act and the Alien Friends Act were allowed to expire in 1800 and 1801, respectively. The U.S. Supreme Court did not declare the Sedition Act to have been a violation of the First Amendment until 1964. The Alien Enemies Act, however, remains in effect as Chapter 3; Sections 21–24 of Title 50 of the United States Code....LESS