Archive for February 4th, 2010

General Comments 3

The old one is getting long and acting up, so I’m opening up a new one.



The Alien and Sedition Acts

It is usually said that the court protects our constitutional rights. This is the major argument that has led us to the point that, today, the Court IS the Constitution. As a matter of fact the United States its free speech crisis before Marshall became Chief Justice, and Marshall in 1801 began, timidly, the process of making the Court into the Constitution.

It should be particularly important toe the dozen or so American who actually know our history that the British courts, in the case of hate crimes, have reinstituted the doctrine of “The truth is no defense.” That was the theme of the last Federalist Congress in the two years of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

That crisis is also familiar for us today. American feared the Terror of the French Revolution. In 1798 the Federalists won a huge victory in congressional election because Jefferson’s Republicans showed hostility to Britain and accommodation to the French.

With its overwhelming majority President Adams and his Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which put Jefferson and all opposition under threat of imprisonment. This was an attempt to keep any real opposition party. It almost succeeded.

Criticism of Federalist policy became a crime. It was a Gag Law. No one knew exactly what violated the law until one was arrested.

Above all, the opposition could not tell the truth. Truth was not a defense. Truth is, after all, all an opposition has to fight with. It is not coincidental that people in power want truth to be no defense. If truth is a defense, you KNOW what you CAN say.

So in 1799 hundreds of opposition were put in prison. In response to French Terror, we had our own Terror.

Sound familiar?

Another note that would be familiar in Britain today was that the courts not only didn’t defend the Constitution, they ruled that the truth did not matter, they ruled that what DID matter was giving offense, truthfully or untruthfully, to a certain group of people. That certain group of people in 1799 was public officials rather than minorities but the principle was exactly the same.

Today any inconvenient truth is racism, just as the excuse then was that truth was anti-government.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were a combination of Bush’s War on Terror and liberal Hate Laws.

The gag laws did not work. But it was the PEOPLE who reversed them. In 1800, largely because the Federalists had demonstrated that they were as despotic as the most extreme Republican had claimed, were defeated overwhelmingly for the presidency as well as congress.

After the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Federalists got less votes at every election until they soon ceased to exist. Their last office holder was Chief Justice Marshall, appointed by Adams as he left office in 1801. One of the architects of the Alien and Sedition Acts became Chief Justice.

When Marshall took over the Court, all its members had been appointed by Federalists and all of them supported the Alien and Sedition Acts. They began, timidly at first, to rule that the court was there to keep the voters in line. There were seven of them then.

Those seven men faced an electorate which totally rejected unchallenged rule by the oligarchy represented by the Federalists. Congress and President Jefferson were, specifically, against the idea that the truth was no defense. In 1801 every member of the Court was for it.

The Court began to slowly to extend its power under Marshall’s leadership.

Then as now, the Court began to use its power for the powers that be and against the people.