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The Sedition Act of 1798

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The Sedition Act of 1798 For the first few years of

Constitutional government, under the leadership of George

Washington, there was a unity, commonly called Federalism

that even James Madison (the future architect of the

Republican Party) acknowledged in describing the

Republican form of government-- " And according to the

degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans,

ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting

the character of Federalists." Although legislators had

serious differences of opinions, political unity was considered

absolutely essential for the stability of the nation. Political

parties or factions were considered evil as "Complaints are

everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous

citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of

public and personal liberty, that our governments are too

unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts

of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not

according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor

party, but by the superior force of an interested and

overbearing majority..." Public perception of factions were

related to British excesses and thought to be "the mortal

diseases under which popular governments have everywhere

perished." James Madison wrote in Federalist Papers #10,

"By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether

amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are

united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or

of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the

permanent and aggregate interests of the community." He

went on to explain that faction is part of human nature; "that

the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is

only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS."

The significant point Madison was to make in this essay was

that the Union was a safeguard against factions in that even if

"the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within

their particular States, [they will be] unable to spread a

general conflagration through the other States." What caused

men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to defy

tradition and public perceptions against factions and build an

opposition party? Did they finally agree with Edmund

Burkes' famous aphorism: "When bad men combine, the

good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an

unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle?" Did the answer

lie in their opposition with the agenda of Alexander Hamilton

and the increases of power both to the executive branch as

well as the legislative branch of government? Hamilton

pushed for The Bank of the United States, a large standing

Army raised by the President (Congress was to raise and

support armies,) a Department of Navy, funding and excise

taxes, and, in foreign policy, a neutrality that was

sympathetic to British interest to the detriment of France.

Many legislators, especially those in the south, were alarmed

to the point that a separation of the Union was suggested as

the only way to deal with Hamilton's successes. Many were

afraid that the army would be used against them as it had

during the Whiskey Rebellion. Southerners saw the taxes to

support a new treasury loan favoring "pro-British merchants

in the commercial cities," and unfairly paid by landowners in

the South. These issues as well as neutrality issues between

France, England, and the United States were the catalyst for

the forming of the Republican Party. The French and English

conflict caused many problems with America's political

system. The English "Order of Council" and the French

"Milan Decree" wreaked havoc with America's shipping and

led to Jay's Treaty of 1794. Jay's Treaty was advantageous

to America and helped to head off a war with Britain, but it

also alienated the French. The French reacted by seizing

American ships causing the threat of war to loom large in

American minds. President Adams sent three commissioners

to France to work out a solution and to modify the

Franco-American alliance of 1778, but the Paris government

asked for bribes and a loan from the United States before

negotiations could even begin. The American commissioners



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