Monday, June 22, 2009

The Alien and Sedition Acts

In the U.S., the right to speak freely is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But in 1798, the country’s leaders tried to limit free speech and freedom of the press. At that time, the new nation was on the brink of war with France. As an attempt to limit criticism of the government and support for France the Federalist Party of President John Adams pushed the Alien and Sedition Acts through Congress.

The Alien Act denied citizenship to anyone who had lived in the U.S. for less than 14 years and allowed the President to deport “dangerous” foreigners. The Sedition Act allowed the government to arrest anyone who criticized its policies. Among those tried and convicted under the laws were several newspaper editors and a congressman. Matthew Lyon, a congressman from Vermont was jailed for criticizing the Sedition Act in a letter to a newspaper.

In 1799, realtions with France improved dramatically, but critics of the government were still being put in jail. When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, he immediately pardoned everyone convicted of sedition during the previous three years. The Alien and Sedition Acts were allowed to expire in 1802, and freedom of speech returnmed to the U.S.

Monday, June 15, 2009


On September 16, 1620, 101 men, women, and children set sail in a small ship – the Mayflower – from the port of Plymouth, England. They were leaving England to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. They wanted to be free to worship in their own way and to create their own community.

The Pilgrims’ goal was the shore of North America, a vast and little known coastline that had only a handful of small European settlements. For eight weeks they sailed, tossed by the stormy North Atlantic. Finally, on November 10, the Mayflower reached Cape Cod, a long sandy peninsula in present-day Massachusetts.

Inside the bay protected by Cape Cod, the Pilgrims found a site that seemed promising for settlement. Before they left the ship, they drew up an agreement to form a government that would pass laws “for the general Good of the Colony.” According to tradition, they stepped ashore on a large boulder, still known as Plymouth Rock. The first winter at Plymouth was terrible. Nearly half of the settlers died of disease or starvation. But the Pilgrims were determined, and their community survived as one of the first European settlements in North America. The first building erected by the Pilgrims at Plymouth was called the Common House, where religious services were held.