This Week in History: Madison’s Virginia Resolutions Pass in 1798

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By December 1798, the United States was in a full-blown constitutional crisis, and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were stealthily leading the fight to push the federal government back within its prescribed limits.

During the summer of that year, Congress passed four acts together known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. President Adams signed each of these acts into law. With winds of war blowing across the Atlantic, the Federalist Party majority wrote these laws to prevent “seditious” acts from weakening the U.S. government. Federalists utilized fear of the French to stir up support for these draconian laws, expanding federal power, concentrating authority in the executive branch and severely restricting freedom of speech.

Two of the Alien Acts gave the president the power to declare any foreign U.S. residents enemies, lock them up and deport them. These acts vested judicial authority in the executive branch and obliterated due process. ...