"The Constitution requires that the federal government protect the states from invasion (Article 4, Section 4). It also permits states to act without permission of the federal government when states are under imminent threat (Article 1, Section 10)." Read more here.
“When the government controls the information, then it also controls the people and therefore, the electoral processes,” said Federalist Executive Editor Joy Pullmann during an interview on OANN." Watch the interview here.
The ink was still drying on the First Amendment -- ratified just seven years prior -- when Congress decided it was time to make it a crime to say anything or print a newspaper article disparaging of the present administration of John Adams. James Madison and his friend Thomas Jefferson were livid that Congress would suggest this, and even more alarmed that President Adams had not vetoed the bill, and they soon set about to write essays rejecting the several measures encompassed as the Alien and Sedition Laws. What could have prompted Congress to take such a drastic measure?
The animosity between Britain and France created by the US Revolutionary War was long lasting. The French Revolutionary Wars (1792 – 1802) pitted France against Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and several other monarchies. The Adams administration desperately tried to avoid choosing sides and remain out of the conflict, but Federalists called for support to Britain and Democratic-Republicans called equally for support to France. Neither side wanted America to stay neutral. In a desperate attempt to curtail the “war between the parties” being fought in the partisan newspapers of the time, Adams suggested Congress pass what became known as the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were a collection of four separate acts: The Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act, the Naturalization Act and the Sedition Act.
The Alien Friends Act authorized the president to arbitrarily deport any non-citizen who was deemed to be "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” Once a non-citizen was determined to be “dangerous,” the president could set a reasonable amount of time for the person to leave the confines of the United States; three years in prison was the penalty for remaining after that time limit. No one was prosecuted under this law, but many non-citizens understood the threat and left voluntarily.
The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to order the arrest, relocation, or deportation of any male non-citizens 14 years or older. This act was renewed when others expired and remains in effect today. President James Madison used the act against British nationals during the War of 1812. President Woodrow Wilson invoked it against citizens of the “Central Powers” during World War I. In 1918, an amendment to the act removed the law’s restriction to males. President Roosevelt used the act during WWII and Harry Truman did the same after FDR died in office.
The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement to apply for American citizenship from five to 14 years. Many of the new immigrants of the time were supporters of France. It was replaced by the Naturalization Law of 1802.
The Sedition Act, the most controversial, made it illegal to utter or print false or malicious statements about the federal government. In perhaps its most partisan feature, the act excluded speech concerning the sitting Vice President, Thomas Jefferson; Jefferson remained a lucrative target for slander or ridicule.
The most famous victim of the Sedition Act was newspaperman James Callender, a British subject, who wrote a book entitled The Prospect Before Us (read and approved by Vice President Jefferson before publication), in which he called the Adams administration a “continual tempest of malignant passions,” and referred to President Adams as a “repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite, and an unprincipled oppressor.” For this, Callender was indicted a few months before the Presidential election of 1800; convicted, he was fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail. Upon his release, he failed to receive the help getting a job he anticipated from now-President Jefferson and reacted by publishing allegations that Jefferson had fathered a child with Sally Hemings. Callender drowned in the James River in 1803.
Matthew Lyon, a Democratic-Republican congressman from Vermont. was indicted for an essay in which he accused the administration of “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.” He was convicted, fined $1,000, and sentenced to four months in jail. After his release, he returned to Congress.
In perhaps the most laughable incident, New Jersey resident Luther Baldwin was indicted, convicted, and fined $100 for yelling "I hope it hit Adams in the arse,” when a gun shot was heard as President Adams participated in a parade in his honor in Newark.
Three other men were convicted, jailed and fined under the Sedition Act. Upon assuming the office of President Jefferson issued pardons for them all.
When the Acts were published, the new state of Kentucky employed the services of sitting-VP Jefferson in writing “The Kentucky Resolutions” which argued that states had the authority to judge the constitutionality of federal laws, declare them void, and refuse to uphold them in their state. Virginia quickly appointed a “retired” James Madison to the Virginia Legislature where Madison penned The Virginia Resolutions” which argued that states had the moral responsibility to “interpose” themselves between an overarching federal government and the state’s citizens.
The Alien Friends Act and the Sedition Act expired automatically after a set number of years, and the Naturalization Act was repealed in 1802 by the Democratic-Republican Congress that gained the majority in the 1800 election.
That is not the end of the story, however.
Governments throughout history have shown a readiness to impose restrictions on the speech of citizens it sees as an “enemy.”
During the approach to the Civil War (aka, the War for Southern Independence) many southern states passed laws making it illegal for their residents to criticize slavery.
From 1914 to 1817, a lot of Americans were quite sure the U.S. should not enter WWI, and they voiced their opinions repeatedly and strongly, particularly in the press. “The Sedition Act of 1918,” actually an amendment of the Espionage Act of 1917, prohibited the utterance or printing of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, the American flag, or U.S. armed forces.
Today we find the Biden administration all too eager to curtail the speech of people critical of its policies, not directly, mind you, that would be too obvious, but by enlisting the aid of media companies to “cancel” or suppress what it deems to be “disinformation.” “Watch over your liberties and privileges - civil and religious - with a careful eye." Pastor Matthias Burnett, 1803.
Prepared by: Gary R. Porter, Executive Director, Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc. for The Breakfast Club.
"There are a number of reasons many young people shy away from conservatism. The most obvious is that they have been exposed only to left-wing values—from elementary school through graduate school, in the movies, on television, on social media and now even at Disneyland. Less obvious but equally significant is that they have never been properly exposed to conservative values." Read more here.
For nearly 90 years after the Constitution was ratified the federal government stayed out of regulating federal elections in any significant way. Finally, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Congress was forced to act.
The Fifteenth Amendment stated: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Most people overlook Section 2 of the Amendment which states: “The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” And enforce it they had to.
Democrat-controlled Southern states were none too happy about having to extend the franchise to freed slaves. They came up with all sorts of laws and conditions which restricted or essentially prohibited freed-blacks from voting. Poll taxes, poll tests, gerrymandering, and other restrictions were placed in the way. In 1870, Congress had had enough and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1870. Also known as the Enforcement Act or the First Ku Klux Klan Act, the act provided criminal penalties for those attempting to prevent African Americans from voting by using or threatening to use violence or engaging in other tactics, such as making threats to terminate a person’s employment or evict them from their home.
Numerous continued violations of the 15th Amendment led to the enactment of the second Enforcement act, which passed in February 1871. The second Enforcement Act added more severe punishments for violations of the first act. Two months later, in April 1871, Congress passed the third and final measure, commonly called the second Ku Klux Klan Act. This outlawed terrorist conspiracies by all racist vigilantes including but not limited to the Ku Klux Klan. It allowed the President to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus in areas prone to Klan activities.
In 1876, one section of the Enforcement Act was ruled unconstitutional in United States v. Reese et al. The Supreme Court decided that the 15th Amendment did not confer a right to vote to freed slaves, it merely prevented denying the vote based on race or previous condition of servitude. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but in the world of legal terminology the effect was real and served to weaken the 15th Amendment and strengthen state voting laws.
An attempt was made to add more voting rights protections for blacks in the Civil Rights Act of 1957 but these provisions were removed in the Senate version under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson.
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 established federal inspection of local voter registration polls and introduced penalties for anyone who obstructed someone from registering to vote.
The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act devoted the entirety of Title I to Voting Rights. It prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements. It required that voting rules and procedures be applied
equally to all races, but it did not abolish the concept of voter "qualification." This allowed voters continue to have to pass “literacy tests,” which were being widely used to disenfranchise both black voters and poor whites in the South. These were finally eliminated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the first legislation devoted exclusively to voting. This act states it is “an act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution,” something Congress had ironically been trying to do for 95 years.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the most significant statutory change in the relationship between the federal and state governments in the area of voting since Reconstruction. It was immediately challenged in the courts. For the next five years, the Supreme Court issued several key decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Act. [South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 327-28 (1966) and Allen v. State Board of Elections, 393 U.S. 544 (1969)] The Supreme Court struck down the “coverage formula” as unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) which affected voting operations in nine states. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was readopted and strengthened in 1970, 1975, and 1982 and has been amended numerous times since then. Most modern charges of “voter suppression” claim violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Other voting-related acts that have addressed narrow and very specific areas of voting, such as:
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 required polling places be accessible to people with disabilities. Each precinct in VA has a specific voting machine for this purpose.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 allowed members of the U.S. armed forces and overseas U.S. voters to register and vote by mail, even by email.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 (the “Motor Voter Act”) created new ways to register to vote, particularly DMV offices. It also called for states to keep more accurate voter registration lists.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 authorized federal funds for elections. It also created the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC helps states comply with HAVA to adopt minimum standards on voter education, registration, and ballots. HAVA required that states implement: Provisional Voting, Voting Information, Updated and Upgraded Voting Equipment, Statewide Voter Registration Databases, Voter Identification Procedures and Administrative Complaint Procedures.
The Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009 improved access to voting by military and overseas voters.
The Freedom to Vote Act, was introduced in the Senate on 14 September 2021. It would enact automatic and same-day registration, establish Election Day as a federal holiday, limit when voters can be removed from voter rolls, require all states have a minimum of two-weeks of early voting, require states to conduct post-election audits of federal elections, prohibit mid-decade redistricting, and clarify that felons can not be denied the vote unless they are serving a conviction for a felony on election day (which seems to imply they would be automatically re-enfranchised upon completing their sentences). On October 20, 2021, Republicans successfully blocked the measure when it failed to win a filibuster- proof vote.
Prepared by: Gary R. Porter, Executive Director, Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc. for The Breakfast Club.
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