Alien and Sedition Acts
The 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four acts dealing with the
protection of national security, the Alien Enemies Act, the Alien Friends Act,
the Naturalization Act, and the Sedition Act. While Federalists claimed
these acts were essential for national security, Republicans countered that
they were politically motivated and served only to deny Americans of their
guaranteed rights to fair trial and free speech. The Alien and Sedition Acts
were the undoing of the Federalist Party, as Thomas Jefferson won the
presidency in 1800 based largely on popular dissatisfaction with the acts.
The peak of British disrespect for American neutrality at sea, on June 22, 1807,
The British naval frigate HMS Leopard followed the American naval frigate
USS Chesapeake out of Norfolk harbor in Virginia, and opened fire upon it
after a request to board had been denied. The Chesapeake, not prepared
for battle, lost three men and had twenty wounded, and permitted the British to
board. The British naval officers boarded, seized four men who had deserted the
royal navy, hanged them from a yardarm, and sailed away. Jefferson responded
with the Embargo Act.
In response to the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, Jefferson endorsed the
Embargo Act, passed on December 22, 1807, which shut America off from the world
economically by forbidding ships from leaving American ports to trade with other
nations. He hoped the embargo would put economic pressure on the French, and
especially the British. It did, but America suffered far more due to its
economic isolation, and the Embargo Act was repealed on March 3, 1809.
The Federalists believed in a strong central government at the expense of state
power. The nation's first two presidents, George
Washington and John Adams, were Federalists,
and during their terms, all branches of the national government were in
In response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, Kentucky and Virginia adopted
resolutions, anonymously written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison,
which asserted that the states retained the power of interposition, which gave
them the right to determine the constitutionality of congressional measures.
Established by Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison,
the principle of judicial review held that the Supreme Court could declare an
act of Congress unconstitutional.
Marbury v. Madison
John Adams made a number of appointments to federal justice positions on his
way out of office. One of those, the appointment of William Marbury as justice
of the peace in the District of Columbia, was not delivered by midnight of his
last night in office. Secretary of state James Madison refused to deliver
the commission to Marbury, who asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of
mandamus ordering Madison to do so. Chief Justice John Marshall denied Marbury
the writ, ruling that the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional in granting
the Supreme Court the power to issue such a writ. This established the
principle of judicial review.
Between December 12, 1800, when it became clear that he would not win
reelection, and the day of Jefferson's inauguration, March 4, 1801, Adams
appointed a significant number of federal judges. These midnight appointments
consisted exclusively of Federalists, most of who had previous political or
familial ties to prominent party members. Though Jefferson originally declared
that he would not dismiss any Federalist appointees, he later revised this
statement to protect only the appointees who did not fall into this category of
Quasi-war was the term that became widely used to describe French and American
naval conflicts which took place between 1798 and 1800. Though neither nation
declared war on the other, each carried out naval operations against the other.
John Adams sparked the Quasi-war in response to French aggression at sea.
Republicans centered their political ideology on the states' rights doctrine.
They believed in distributing governmental power to the states rather than
concentrating it in the hands of the central government. The Republican Party
became a political force in the later years of the
Washington presidency, and
was a constant thorn in Adams' side. In 1800, Republicans, led by Thomas
Jefferson, took control of the national government and would maintain that
control for decades.
The Quids were a faction of the Republican Party led by John Randolph,
which split off from the main party in 1806 in disapproval of Jefferson's
negotiations with Napoleon Bonaparte to purchase West Florida. The Quids never
presented a substantial challenge to the main Republican Party.
John Adams was America's second president, from 1797 to 1801. A Federalist,
his most notable actions in office were the undertaking of the Quasi-war with
France and the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Aaron Burr ran for president in 1800, chosen by the party to be Jefferson's
vice president. However, every Republican elector voted for Jefferson and Burr
so a tie ensued that had to be resolved by the House of Representatives. After
a considerable struggle in the House, and Burr's refusal to withdraw, Jefferson
became president, and Burr was politically dead. Later, Burr would attempt to
lead a bizarre conspiracy to attack Texas and secede from the Union. Burr also
eventually killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Gallatin was Jefferson's secretary of treasury, and played an important role
in undoing many of the financial initiatives of the Federalists, including
cutting taxes and expenditures, lowering the national debt, and divesting the
government of its stock holdings in the Bank of the United States.
The leader of the Republican Party, Jefferson was president from 1801 to
1809, during which time he organized the national government by Republican
ideals, doubled the size of the nation, and struggled to maintain American
Lewis and Clark
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, most often known collectively as Lewis and
Clark, were commissioned by Jefferson to explore the new territory of the
Louisiana Purchase. They traveled 3,000 miles in two and a half years,
collecting scientific data and specimens, and charting the territory to the west
of the Mississippi. Their journey spurred much interest throughout the nation
in further exploration and settlement in the West.
James Madison was Jefferson's secretary of state and chosen successor to the
presidency. Madison was an ardent Republican, and anonymously authored the
Virginia Resolution, which denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts.
John Marshall was the chief Justice of the Supreme Court during Jefferson's
presidency. His most notable decision during this time came in Marbury v.
in which he asserted the principle of judicial review, which
stated that the Supreme Court could deem an act of Congress unconstitutional.
Pike earned the nickname "the lost pathfinder" due to his misadventures in
exploring the headwaters of the Mississippi, and later the Arkansas River. It
is suspected by many that his true mission in exploring the Arkansas may have
been to investigate Spanish positions south of the American territory. Pike's
maps of the southern portion of the Louisiana Territory proved invaluable to
future explorers and settlers.
John Randolph, a Republican leader in the House of Representatives, led the
faction which became known as the Tertium Quids, breaking from the main
party in disapproval of Jefferson's actions in regard to West Florida.
During their first winter, at a Mandan Indian village, Lewis and Clark hired
as an interpreter a French fur-trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, and his Indian
wife Sacajawea. Though Charbonneau proved to be only of limited help, Sacajawea
was indispensable as a guide, especially during the crossing of the Bitteroot
Mountains in what is now southern Idaho. She showed the party how to forage for
food, and was instrumental in maintaining good relations with the Indian tribes
of what is now the northwest US.
Charles de Tallyrand
Tallyrand was the French foreign minister during Jefferson's presidency. He
was instrumental in France's continued efforts to dominate and maipulate the US
governments. In October 1797, it was he who perpetrated the XYZ Affair,
sending anonymous agents to meet an American diplomatic envoy and demand a bribe
for Tallyrand before he would meet with them. Later, Tallyrand would negotiate
the Louisiana Purchase, and after, attempt to stir up disputes between Spain
and the US over the definitions of their borders in North America.
James Wilkinson was the military commander of the Louisiana Territory; he sent
Zebulon Pike on his exploration missions. Heavily involved in espionage, it is
known that Wilkinson was on Spain's payroll for his part in trying to persuade
southwestern settlers to secede from the Union. Wilkinson entered into cahoots
with Aaron Burr in Burr's attempted conspiracy, only to betray Burr to
Election of 1800
Thomas Jefferson called the election of 1800 "as real a revolution in the
principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form." The election of
1800 marked the transition of power from Federalists to Republicans, and
began a period of tearing down the Federalist style of government and building
up a Republican framework.
Negotiated in April 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was one of the most important
events in US history. It doubled the size of the nation, opening the west to
exploration and settlement. With the Louisiana Purchase came the possibility of
expansion and also the strife which would accompany the admission of new states
from that region. Additionally, the Louisiana Purchase created a period
during which the US could not detangle itself from foreign affairs, as its
borders were increasingly changing and called into question.
In response to continued French aggression at sea, John Adams sent a
diplomatic envoy to France to negotiate for peace in 1797, just after a coup
d'etat in the directory. Charles de
Tallyrand, the new French foreign minister, refused to meet with the US
delegation, instead sending three anonymous agents, X, Y, and Z. The agents
delivered the message that Tallyrand would not begin talks until he received
$250,000 for himself, and France received a $12 million loan. This widely
publicized (in America) attempt at extortion aroused public outrage among the
American people, some of whom called for war.