Opinions recently expressed by the President of the USA brought to mind some historical events that occurred in the early years of our country.
The second President, John Adams, and his supporters in Congress were concerned about the specter of impending conflicts with France and or England. The people of the country were divided in their opinions of how the various difficulties should be resolved. Some folks were so expressive in their positions that they were suspected of sympathizing with the foreign countries. The result was the enactment of legislation that was known as the Alien and Sedition Acts.
In a nutshell, the Alien Enemies and Alien Friends Acts allowed the president to deport or imprison aliens. The Sedition Act allowed the president to fine and or imprison anyone who was critical of the government. If you have been unaware of that before now, I would wager that you think some portions of the acts must have been unconstitutional. James Madison, for one, believed that also. Madison expressed that the Sedition Act was created by a “forced construction” of the US Constitution. He wrote that such a loose interpretation of the “general welfare clause”, from which authority had been presumed, would eventually result in our country becoming either a monarchy or an oligarchy.
Since the enactments never came before the Supreme Court, they were exercised until most of them expired under the administration of Thomas Jefferson. The exception to expiration was the Alien Enemies Act which applies only in times of war. I understand that it exists under the title of 50 USC Sections 21-24 and was employed during World War II.
Anyway, back to the original application of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The fiery President Adams did not suffer negative critiques well. Several writers, a sitting Congressman and a person who might be called a “Tea Partier” today were fined, imprisoned or both. Certainly we can agree that Adam’s suppression of criticism was in violation of an unalienable right as well as being prohibited by the First Amendment.
It would appear that these things were allowed to proceed because no one chose to take constitutional action against the unconstitutional usurpation of power. The people were already beginning to lose sight of Alexander Hamilton’s warning (Federalist 84) against the addition of a “Bill of Rights” being added to the US Constitution:
“…a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a Constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation, than to a constitution which has the regulation of every species of personal and private concerns… For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?… it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.”
As for the aforementioned comments that brought forth the recollections, the current President has made statements that should entertain some sober contemplation. He and several White House officials have, from time to time, made remarks expressing disapproval of one TV news outlet.
Most recently he has commented that the news channel pursues “a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive…”.
“We’re going to have to change how our body politic thinks, which means we’re going to have to change how the media reports on these issues.”
A few questions:
- Who is the “we”?
- What will be the “change”?
- How are “we” going to accomplish the “change”?