- Did the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures, in their Resolutions of 1798, have a constitutional basis for nullification of the Alien and Sedition Acts?
- The student will describe the Alien and Sedition Acts.
- The student will make a reasonable argument about the constitutionality of the acts.
- Alien and Sedition Acts – Constitutional? Handouts B – C Answer Keys
- Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions Handouts D – E Answer Keys
- Bill of Rights
- John Adams
- Thomas Jefferson
- James Madison
- First Amendment
Watch “War: Presidents and the Constitution” by BRI (first couple of minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdLSZ-3AR6k&ab_channel=BillofRightsInstitute
Have students read the Early Challenges in the Constitutional Republic Essay.
Make 6 enlarged copies of Handout B and post them on the wall for the gallery walk activity.
Have a student read the First Amendment to the Constitution from Handout A and ask students what it means to “abridge” freedom of speech or press and what that might look like.
Distribute Handout A: The First Amendment and Handout B: The Alien and Sedition Acts. Read and discuss the documents as a class, paraphrasing it section by section in the course of the reading and discussion. Assign one section to each pair or trio of students, instructing them to talk through the questions in the right hand column on Handout B, and to underline the phrases to which the First Amendment is relevant.
Optional: watch the close reading webinar by BRI about the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts
After students have completed their work, distribute Handout C: The Acts and the First Amendment and send them on a “gallery walk” around the room. Each small group should start at the section to which they were assigned and transfer their margin notes and their notes from Handout C to the corresponding part of the enlarged copy of the text. Small groups should rotate in unison, clockwise. Beginning with the second stop, students will begin to take notes based on those left by the students who were assigned that section of the Acts. Once all groups have completed the “gallery walk,” conduct a large-group discussion based on their Handout C notes and culminating in an evaluation of the Alien and Sedition Acts in light of the First Amendment.
Distribute Handout D: The Virginia Resolution (1798) and Handout E: The Kentucky Resolutions (1798). Students should do a close reading of the Resolutions in order to answer the Critical Thinking Questions that follow. Alternatively, use the questions as a guide for classroom discussion of the Resolutions.
Conclude the class with an Exit Slip on which students answer the question: To what extent did the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures, in their Resolutions of 1798, have a constitutional basis for nullification of the Alien and Sedition Acts? Explain.
Assign students to watch and take notes on the 1918 Sedition Act Close Read and be prepared to discuss in class.
Use this extension activity from the related resource below, which goes into a little more depth about the responses to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions highlighted in the activity: “While the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions condemned the Alien and Sedition Acts, ten of the fourteen states responded to those resolutions by issuing proclamations that condemned state interference with federal law, and, in some cases asserting, the constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Have students read the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions as well as the responses of Rhode Island and New Hampshire in response to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. Compare and contrast the arguments.
The documents can be found at: https://bit.ly/vakyresolutions and responses can be found at: oll.libertyfund.org/pages/1798-counter-resolutions-of-other-states
The End of Slavery and the Reconstruction Amendments
John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Acts
John Adams was not a “War President”: he did not lead the country through war as Commander in Chief. However, much of his administration was devoted to avoiding war. The 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, viewed then by some and now by most as a serious challenge to the First Amendment, were signed into law by Adams, who maintained that “national defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman.” He did not ask for the controversial sedition law that limited freedom of speech and press, but believed, as Congress did, that provisions facilitating the deportation of foreign nationals and the discouragement of newspaper dissent would help strengthen the United States in the event of war with France. Adams achieved his goal of keeping the US out of war, but history has condemned his decision to sign and enforce this series of laws.
Reading the Sedition Act of 1798 | A Primary Source Close Read w/ BRI
In the first installment of this two-part close reading on Sedition Acts, BRI staff members Joshua Schmid and Tony Williams discuss the highly controversial Sedition Act of 1798, which arrived at a particularly tumultuous time in American history. In light of growing diplomatic tension between the United States and France, President John Adams and the Federalists feared that if war were to ultimately break out, the Jeffersonians would be disloyal towards America. For this reason, the Sedition Act severely limited people’s ability to freely and publicly criticize the American government. Join Tony and Joshua as they explore the important constitutional implications of this first Sedition Act for the young republic!
Reading the Sedition Act of 1918 | A Primary Source Close Read w/ BRI
In 1918, the Sedition Act of 1918, which amended the Espionage Act of 1917, was enacted. This Wilson-era Act imposed harsh freedom-of-speech restrictions in order to sustain domestic war propaganda and suppress public opposition to the war. They were upheld by the Supreme Court and remained in place until 1921. In this dialogue, Tony and Joshua discuss the importance of staying vigilant against government violations of free expression; should wartime circumstances change the types of free-speech protections that are afforded to Americans under the First Amendment?