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A Republic Goes to War: Federalists, Republicans, and Foreign Influence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 September 2023

TERRI DIANE HALPERIN*
Affiliation:
Richmond, Virginia

Abstract

In the 1790s, the United States faced a series of crises—both domestic and foreign—which many believed threatened the nation’s very existence. These culminated in the Quasi-War with France beginning in 1796. The Federalist majority identified the greatest threats to the Republic as foreigners and their willing or unwitting American allies. Thus, they enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and other laws to allay these threats. Throughout the ensuing debates, Federalists emphasized the dangers of foreign nations who sought to separate the American people from their government. Republicans challenged Federalists’ fears as overblown and defined the real threat as the Federalists themselves who justified the expansion of the general government’s power and the infringement of individual rights in the name of national security. Americans engaged in their first debate about the meaning and limits of liberty and security.

Type
Article
Copyright
© Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press 2023

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References

NOTES

1. Humphrey Marshall, “The Aliens: A Patriotic Poem,” (Philadelphia, 1798), stanzas 30, 31, 49, in Early American Imprints, Series 1: Evans, 1639–1800 (New York, Readex, n.d., Publication #34048). Marshall dedicated the poem to George Washington. Thomas Jefferson sent James Madison a copy of the poem for “his amusement.” He asked Madison to keep it safe and return the poem, as there were few copies available. Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, May 31, 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-30-02-0270. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 30, 1 January 1798 – 31 January 1799, ed. Barbara B. Oberg [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003], 378–80).

2. On French immigrants, see Furstenberg, Francois, When the United States Spoke French (New York: Penguin Press, 2014)Google Scholar and Cleves, Rachel Hope, The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)Google Scholar; on Irish immigrants see Durey, Michael, Transatlantic Radicals and the Early American Republic (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997)Google Scholar; Wilson, David A., United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998)Google Scholar; Bric, Maurice, “The United Irishmen, International Republicanism and the Definition of the Polity in the United States of America, 1791-1800,” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature 104C, no. 4 (2004): 81106 Google Scholar.

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8. Not all Federalists fully supported the entirety of the Federalist program. Alexander Hamilton warned against the most extreme provisions cautioning “Let us not establish a tyranny.” Once passed, he did support the enforcement of these laws, especially the Alien Act. John Marshall as well, in his congressional campaign in 1799, said he would not have voted for the Sedition Act, yet he defended the laws. After passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and other measures, Federalists experienced an uptick of success at the ballot box. See Smith, James Morton, Freedom’s Fetters (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1956), 153–55Google Scholar; Martin, Robert W.T., “Reforming Republicanism: Alexander Hamilton’s Theory of Republican Citizenship and Press Liberty,” Journal of the Early Republic 25 (Spring 2005): 2146 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Halperin, Alien and Sedition Acts, 99; Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott Jr., June 29, 1798, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-21-02-0296. (Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 21, April 1797 – July 1798, ed. Harold C. Syrett [New York: Columbia University Press, 1974], 522–523.)

9. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” September 19, 1796, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-20-02-0440-0002. (Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 20, 1 April–21 September 1796, ed. David R. Hoth and William M. Ferraro [Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019], 703–22.)

10. John Adams, “Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1797, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/adams.asp.

11. Answer of M. [Paul] Barras, President of the Executive Directory, to the Speech of Mr. Monroe, [December 1796], American State Papers: Foreign Relations 2:161, https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsp&fileName=002/llsp002.db&recNum=4.

12. John Adams, Message to Congress, May 16, 1797, 7 Annals of Cong., 54–59 (1797).

13. The House finally approved its answer on June 2 and delivered it to Adams on June 3. For address, see 7 Annals of Cong., 236–37 (1797).

14. As quoted in Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, 24.

15. “Oliver Ellsworth’s Charge to the Grand Jury of the Circuit Court for the District of New York, April 1, 1797,” Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States: The Justices on Circuit, 1795-1800, ed. Maeva Marcus, et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 3:158–59. Hereafter DHSCUS.

16. “James Iredell’s Charge to the Grand Jury of the Circuit Court for the District of Maryland, May 8, 1797,” DHSCUS, 3:174. Iredell delivered the same charge to the grand jury in Richmond on May 22.

17. “Iredell’s Charge,” DHSCUS 3:176.

18. “From Samuel J. Cabell,” January 12, 1797, Circular Letters of Congressmen to their Constituents, 1789-1829, ed. Noble E. Cunningham (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 1:69–70. On Cabell controversy, see Campbell, Jud, “The Invention of First Amendment Federalism,” Texas Law Review 97 (2019): 517–70Google Scholar. Although I do not agree with all of Campbell’s conclusions, he gives a good, detailed account of the incident. Both Dumas Malone and Merrill Peterson discuss the Cabell Affair in their biographies of Jefferson. Malone, Dumas, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (New York: Little Brown, 1962), 334–37Google Scholar; Peterson, Merrill, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 605–6Google Scholar.

19. “Presentment of the Grand Jury of the Circuit Court for the District of Virginia, May 22, 1797,” DHSCUS, 3:181. In a letter to Cabell printed in the Virginia Gazette, a member of the grand jury, stated that the presentment had been prepared before Iredell delivered his charge and thus Iredell was not responsible for it. Calohill Mennis to Samuel Cabell, Virginia Gazette, June 15, 1797, DHSCUS, 3:197–98.

20. Thomas Jefferson, “II. Revised Petition to the Virginia House of Delegates, [7 August–7 September 1797],” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-29-02-0390-0003. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 1 March 1796 – 31 December 1797, ed. Barbara B. Oberg [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002], 499–504.)

21. Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe September 7, 1797, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-29-02-0416. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 526–27.); James Monroe to Jefferson September 5, 1797, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-29-02-0413. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 524–25.)

22. House of Delegates, December 28 and 19, 1797, Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, begun and held at the capitol, in the city of Richmond, on Monday, the fourth day of December, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven (Richmond VA: Augustine Davis Printer to the Commonwealth, 1798; Early American Imprints, #34936), 61–62, 40–41.

23. John Adams to Congress, November 13, 1797, 7 Annals of Cong., 632–33.

24. House of Representatives, Address to the President, November 27, 1797, 7 Annals of Cong. 643 (1797).

25. Senate, Address to the President, November 17, 1797, 7 Annals of Cong. 474 (1797).

26. Halperin, Alien and Sedition Acts, 49–71. Omitted from the list of who and what one could not criticize in the Sedition Act was the vice president who at the time was Thomas Jefferson.

27. Robert Goodloe Harper speech on July 6, 1798; Harrison Gray Otis speech on June 21, 1798, 7 Annals of Cong. 2115–16 (1798); see also comments by John Allen of Connecticut on July 5, 1798; Otis on May 3 and June 16, 1798, 7 Annals of Cong. 2089, 1572, 1962 (1798).

28. From Joseph McDowell (NC), May 28, 1798, Cunningham, Circular Letters 1:123. Italics in original. Circular letters were more the convention in the south, and thus the vast majority of letters in Cunningham’s collection were written by southerners. Sentiments similar to McDowell’s can be found in letters from Anthony New of Virginia, March 20, 1798, and John Dawson of Virginia, March 20, 1798, Cunningham, Circular Letters, 1:111–14, 115.

29. Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia), June 9, 1798, Cunningham, Circular Letters 1:n124.

30. Deborah Norris Logan, Memoir of Dr. George Logan of Stenton, ed. Frances A. Logan (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1889), 85–86.

31. Robert Goodloe Harper, December 27, 1798, 8 Annals of Cong. 2511, 2503–4 (1798).

32. John Rutledge, Jr., December 27, 1798, 8 Annals of Cong. 2495–96 (1798).

33. Joseph Eggleston, January 10, 1799, 8 Annals of Cong. 2599–2600 (1799). See also speeches by Nicholas, Gallatin, Macon, and Livingston.

34. Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania proposed a proviso exempting private business. Federalist Roger Griswold said such a proviso was dangerous because it opened the door to incidental discussions of other issues. The House rejected Gallatin’s amendment. Gallatin, January 9, 1799, 8 Annals of Cong. 2591–99 (1799). The Logan Act passed that January with no recorded debate in the Senate. The law never expired, but no one has been prosecuted under the law including Logan himself, who embarked on a similar mission to England on the eve of the War of 1812.

35. Bird, Wendell, Press and Speech under Assault (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Criminal Dissent: Prosecutions under the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). The startling number of cases Bird found expands our understanding of how the Federalists attempted to use the law to curb speech. Bird overemphasizes the popularity of an absolutist understanding of the First Amendment. The debate about the Amendment’s meaning was much more contested and unsettled during this era.

36. Proceedings of June 3, 1797, 7 Annals of Cong. 234–35; Freeman, Joanne B., Affairs of Honor (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001)Google Scholar, 173–75. Lyon asked to be excused from the ritual when House members walked to the President’s house to present their answer in person during the first and second sessions of the 5th Congress. His colleagues recommended that he just not go, as his absence would not be noticed, but Lyon insisted on being formally excused from what he considered a useless and empty ceremony. He and Roger Griswold exchanged insults and then blows using fireplace tongs and a cane when the nation was waiting for news from the American envoys to France. The House failed twice to expel Lyon for his behavior.

37. Buel, Joel Barlow, 225, 232; see editor’s note, Joel Barlow to Thomas Jefferson, March 12, 1798, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-30-02-0114. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 30, 174–75.) Lyon published Barlow’s March 4, 1798, letter to Abraham Baldwin on September 1, 1798, in his son’s paper The Scourge of Aristocracy. Barlow also sent a copy of the letter to Jefferson and others. Lyon likely did not obtain his copy from Jefferson.

38. Buel, Joel Barlow.

39. Timothy Pickering, “Report of the Secretary of State on the transactions relating to the United State and France, since the last communication to Congress on that Subject,” Department of State, January 18, 1799, American State Papers, Foreign Relations 2: 235. https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsp&fileName=002/llsp002.db&recNum=4.

40. Wharton, Francis, State Trials of the United States during the Administrations of Washington and Adams (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1849), 334 Google Scholar.

41. Wharton, State Trials, 335.

42. Wendell Bird, Criminal Dissent, 65–72; Pasley, Jeffrey, Tyranny of Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001), 98103 Google Scholar.

43. Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, 282; Bird, Criminal Dissent, 231–33.

44. Bird, Criminal Dissent, 239; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, 278–82.

45. Wharton, State Trials, 379–80; Wilson, United Irishmen, 53–55.

46. Joseph Hopkinson, “What is Our Situation? And What Our Prospects?” (Philadelphia, 1798), in Early American Imprints, #33904, 1, 8. Hopkinson repeated in Duane’s trial what he said in this pamphlet about naturalization as dangerous and that immigrants’ influence needed to be checked (p. 20).

47. Report of the Minority on the Virginia Resolutions, Journal of the House of Delegates (Richmond, 1780-1799), 93–95. This Report has been attributed to both Henry Lee and John Marshall, with Marshall now being considered the author. Kurt T Lash and Alicia Harrison, “Minority Report: John Marshall and the Defense of the Alien and Sedition Acts,” Ohio State Law Journal 68 (2007), 435–516.

48. Massachusetts State Senate, “The Communications of Several States on the Resolutions of the Legislature of Virginia” (Richmond, 1799), in Early American Imprints, #36639, 9–10.

49. James Madison, “Virginia Resolutions,” December 21, 1798, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-17-02-0128. (Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 17, 31 March 1797–3 March 1801 and supplement 22 January 1778–9 August 1795, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne K. Cross, and Susan Holbrook Perdue [Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991], 185–191.)

50. Thomas Jefferson, “II. Jefferson’s Fair Copy, [before October 4, 1798?],” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-30-02-0370-0003. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 30, 543–49.)

51. “The Report of 1800,” [January 7?], 1800, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-17-02-0202. (Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 17, 31 March 1797–3 March 1801 and supplement 22 January 1778–9 August 1795, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne K. Cross, and Susan Holbrook Perdue. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991], 303–51.)

52. From John Fowler, May 15, 1800, in Cunningham, Circular Letters 1:212.

53. Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, January 30, 1799, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-30-02-0460. (Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 30, 665–67.

54. Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia, PA), March 11, 1799; Farmers’ Register (Chambersburg, PA), March 20, 1799. Fries was most likely of Welsh and German descent. Paul Douglas Newman, Fries’ Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 114–118.

55. John Adams to James Lloyd, March 31, 1815, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-6445.

56. Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia) March 22, 1799.

57. In 1804, Congress passed a law allowing immigrants who arrived between 1798 and 1802 the right to become citizens immediately instead of waiting the 14 years as required in the Naturalization Act of 1798 and which requirement was reduced in the Naturalization Act of 1802. Bradburn, Douglas, The Citizenship Revolution: The Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009), 285–86Google Scholar.