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Featuring Gordon Cheung. How it works Learn how to collect, trade and display your digital artworks Find Out More. Artists to follow Browse artists Artworks Followers English common law held that any spoken or written words that found fault with the king's government undermined the respect of the people for his authority. The U. Sedition Act first outlawed conspiracies "to oppose any measure or measures of the government. Significantly, the act did not specifically protect the vice-president who, of course, was Jefferson.
Additional language punished any spoken or published words that had "bad intent" to "defame" the government or to cause the "hatred" of the people toward it. These definitions of sedition were more specific than those found in English common law. Even so, they were still broad enough to punish anyone who criticized the federal government, its laws, or its elected leaders.
Unlike English common law, the Sedition Act allowed "the truth of the matter" to be a defense. The act also left it to the jury to decide if a defendant had "bad intent. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and the press. The Federalists countered by defining these freedoms in the narrow English manner.
According to English law, freedom of speech and the press only applied before the expression of ideas. The government could not censor or stop someone from expressing ideas.
But after the words had been spoken or printed, the government could punish people if they had maliciously defamed the king or his government. It was set to expire on March 3, , the last day of the first and--as it turned out--only presidential term of John Adams. He immediately began to read as many Republican newspapers as he could, looking for evidence of sedition against President Adams and Congress. Like most Republicans, Lyon opposed going to war against France and objected to the land tax to pay for war preparations.
Lyon wrote a letter published in a Republican newspaper, criticizing President Adams for "a continued grasp for power. A federal grand jury indicted Lyon for intentionally stirring up hatred against President Adams.
‘Sedition Act to be repealed or replaced with new law’
Unable to find a defense attorney for his trial, Lyon defended himself. Lyon attempted to prove the truth of the words he wrote and spoke, as permitted by the Sedition Act. This meant that the burden of proof was on him. Lyon had to prove the words in question were true rather than the prosecutor having to prove them false.
Lyon also argued that he was only expressing his political opinions, which should not be subject to the truth test. The jury found Lyon guilty of expressing seditious words with "bad intent. Lyon ran for re-election to Congress from his jail cell and won. Vermont supporters petitioned President Adams to release and pardon him, but Adams refused. When Lyon was released from jail, he was welcomed as a hero in his Vermont hometown. He was cheered along the route he took when he journeyed to Congress. Once Lyon returned to Congress, the Federalists tried to expel him as a convicted criminal, but this effort failed.
Thirteen more indictments were brought under the Sedition Act, mostly against editors and publishers of Republican newspapers.
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Some Republican newspapers were forced to close down, and many others were too intimidated to criticize the government. One Republican was convicted of sedition for publishing a pro-Jefferson campaign pamphlet that accused President Adams of appointing corrupt judges and ambassadors. Two men were found guilty of raising a "liberty pole" and putting a sign on it that said, "downfall to the Tyrants of America.
In the most bizarre case, the Federalists in the U. Senate formed a special committee to investigate a Republican editor, William Duane. Republicans had leaked to him a Federalist proposal to change how presidential electoral votes were counted. Duane had printed the law and written editorials denouncing it. When summoned to the Senate to face charges of writing "false, scandalous, defamatory, and malicious assertions," he went into hiding and secretly continued writing for his newspaper.
The Alien and Sedition Acts provoked a debate between Republican and Federalist state legislatures over freedom of speech and the press. In a resolution he wrote for the Virginia legislature, James Madison argued that the Sedition Act attacked the "right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people. The Federalists in Congress issued a report accepting the old English common law definition of free speech and press. It argued that the First Amendment only stopped the government from censoring beforehand any speeches or writings.