Slack (Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon, 2004, etc.) engagingly reveals how the Federalist attack on the First Amendment almost brought down the Republic.
The Sedition Act drama that played out from 1798 to 1801 was a political move much more than any protection of the public. The nascent nation was just coming into its own and creating a two-party system—at that time, the Federalists and Republicans. After the Alien Acts, Congress passed the Sedition Act due to the fear of war with the French. In reality, it was nothing more than a justification for oppression of the opposition. The author’s explanation of the First Amendment is clear and precise and will give readers pause as to how that bill could ever have been considered. He shows that the Bill of Rights is not the source of our freedoms but rather a mechanism of protection, disallowing Congress from enacting bills that would infringe on them. Furthermore, John Adams was not a charismatic, unifying force like George Washington; on the contrary, he was thin-skinned, petty and snobbish. His Federalist beliefs held that government needed to reinstate the people’s sense of duty to be ruled by their betters. Adams’ signing of the Sedition Act was nothing more than “a stark, personal betrayal of his deepest held personal beliefs.” Unfortunately, most of those convicted of sedition had criticized Adams. Curiously, the law came with an expiration date, when Congress and the president’s terms would expire. Political? Most assuredly. It omitted protection of Vice President Thomas Jefferson, a Republican.
An illuminating book of American history in which the author discloses the true heroes—the ordinary citizens who defeated these acts—while showing just how the concept of “government of the people” works.