Cross posted on www.delawarepolitics.net
One of the first assaults on the constitution, seemingly enough came during the presidency of John Adams, the Second President of the United States. John Adams was a Federalist and was also considered a monarchist. He along with Alexander Hamilton, who served on his cabinet believed that Great Britain had a much better form of government than the newly formed American Republic.
Thomas Jefferson, his Vice President was, on the other hand, a Republican and a staunch constitutionalist. Two opposing ideologies probably wouldn’t occur in today’s politics because the president and the vice president are from the same party but in Jefferson’s era of the late 1700′s and early 1800′s, when two men ran for the presidency, the one with the most votes became president and the one that came in second became Vice President. The race between Adams and Jefferson was a close one and Jefferson became Vice President.
Because of much contention between the diametrically opposed parties, during the Adam’s Presidency, Adams’ proposed four pieces of legislation known as the “Alien and Sedition Acts.” These Bills armed the president with extraordinary powers that negated The First Amendments Rights that had been guaranteed in the newly drafted Constitution.
Jefferson said they were experiencing the end of America’s liberty and many Republicans detected a monarchical autocracy at work. Once the sedition legislation was passed and signed by Adams, violation of these new laws could bring a penalty of a $2000.00 fine and up to two years in prison.
The Alien laws collectively gave the president authority to deport resident aliens he considered dangerous. The Sedition Bill criminalized free speech, forbidding anyone to write, print, utter or publish any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress.
“For my own part, I consider these laws as merely an experiment on the American mind to see how far it will bear an avowed violation of the Constitution,” said Jefferson, “If this goes down, we shall immediately see attempted, another act of Congress declaring that the president shall continue in office during life, reserving to another occasion, the transfer of the succession to his heirs and the establishment of the Senate for life.”
Fearing public disclosure and possibly being charged under the new sedition laws, Jefferson secretly drafted resolutions for the state legislature in Kentucky protesting the Alien and Sedition Acts and fellow Republican, James Madison did the same for Virginia.
In February of 1799, two years before Jefferson became president,, he worried that Adams was going to raise a presidential or militia, which would leave no doubt that an assault on the constitution was imminent and that Alexander Hamilton would be the real power behind these new regiments. “Can such an army under Hamilton be disbanded,” Wrote Jefferson in April of 1799.
I should be unfaithful to my own feelings were I not to say that it has been the greatest of all human consolations to me to be considered by the Republican portion of my fellow citizens, as the safe depository of their rights. Thomas Jefferson
This excerpt from history is an example of how unbridled power can get out of hand. This event happened in the office of the second president and it was a direct assault on our First Amendment rights. Today, it is happening with another president with unbridled power and it is a direct assault on our Second Amendment rights.