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The Alien and Sedition Acts

Uploaded by Admin on Sep 13, 1999

The debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 revealed bitter controversies on a number of issues that had been developing since the penning of the Constitution. The writers of the document knew that over time the needs of the nation and its people would change, and therefore provided for its amendment. But by not expressly delegating powers to specific organizations, whether the federal government, state governments, or the people themselves, they inadvertently created a major problem in the years to follow: Constitutional interpretation. Shortly after the Constitution's ratification, two distinct camps formed, each believing in opposite manners of interpretation. One group, the Federalists, led by the newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, thought that the Constitution should be interpreted very loosely. He claimed that the Constitution contained powers other than those delegated or enumerated. These unspecified powers were implied powers. To explain these powers, Hamilton said it would be natural - or implied - that the federal government would gain control over any territory gained through conquest of purchase, although the Constitution made no mention of territorial control. In essence, Hamilton wished to use the implied powers to build a strong and authoritative central government. In 1789, the Minister to France Thomas Jefferson, to Francis Hopkinson of Pennsylvania, protesting that "I am not of the party of the federalists. But I am much farther from that of the anitfederalists." However, the situation was so sensitive that he could not help but chose a side. In 1795, Jefferson wrote to a congressman from Virginia, William Giles, that he "held "t honorable to take a firm and decided part." The group he sided with, the Democratic-Republicans, favored a strict interpretation. As their leader, Jefferson argued that all powers not enumerated by the Constitution belonged to the States. The basis for his argument was the old English "compact" theory. This theory stated that various individuals, in this case the states, joined together in a formal agreement of government. Since the states had drawn up the contract and given power to the federal government, it should be up to them to decide who received the power, not the body they created. This debate over interpretation thus sparked one of the first and major issues that eventually led to the Alien and Sedition Acts: should a strong central government be formed (federalist desire), or should the individual states have control. And wild attacks of...

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Uploaded by:   Admin

Date:   09/13/1999

Category:   Politics

Length:   8 pages (1,742 words)

Views:   1260

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