A violation of the United States Constitution could seem like something horrible for both the country and its citizens. Considering the violation was within 15 years of the constitution’s creation date, you could tell the government wasn’t strong from when they branched off from England. The constitution was created for the citizens of the United States so they had basic laws to follow and they had special rights. When the Sedition Act was created in 1798 it created anger among the citizens because it stripped them of one of their rights stated in the constitution, freedom of speech.
Political figures such as John Adams pushed for this act to be passed because many newspapers and articles had the rights to share their opinions on these government figures. The citizens who ran these newspaper companies could publish what they wanted and it could often hurt the reputation of someone in the government. Since the government officials had the upperhand in society, they had the rights to abolish free speech and create the Sedition Act. In Liberty’s First Crisis, Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech, by Charles Slack, he explained the Sedition Act as well as the people who were involved with it.
Most of the things that happened with this Act revolved around a few key people. The main people talked about are Matthew Lyon, Benjamin Franklin Bache, John Adams, and Thomas Cooper. Within this book there were also three main historical concepts talked about, government, science and technology, and identity. The Sedition Act was created June 26th, 1798 by James Lloyd, a revolutionary war veteran. He wanted to create this as a “bill to determine more particularly the crime of treason, and to define and punish the crime of sedition. (67)
Within the Sedition Act, the main points were stated by saying “That if any person shall, by any libellous or scandalous writing, printing, publishing, or speaking, traduce or defame the legislature of the United States, by seditious or inflammatory declarations, or expressions, with intent to create a belief in the citizens thereof, that the said legislature, in enacting any law, was induced thereto by motives hostile to the constitution, or liberties and happiness of the people thereof; or shall in a manner aforesaid, traduce or defame the President of the United States, or any court or judge thereof, by declaration tending to criminate their motives in any official transaction; of person so offending, and thereof convicted, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine, not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment, not exceeding two years” (67-68).
Most of what this book covered had to do with the specific people important to the Sedition Act. These people were Matthew Lyon, Benjamin Franklin Bache, John Adams, and Thomas Cooper. Matthew Lyon was one of the most important people for this act. He was a congressman native of ireland and he was the first defendant of the Sedition Act. Lyon went to court for defending this act and was proven guilty for violating and going against it. Benjamin Franklin Bache was the second grandson of Benjamin Franklin and he created philadelphia’s newspaper, the Aurora. The Aurora was said to have violated the act.
John Adams was the President of the United States at the time and he signed the papers for this Act to be considered a new law. He let this law pass because he was verbally attacked by many people and newspapers. He wanted to put a stop to this and make it so the freedom of speech against the press was no longer legal. Thomas Cooper was a politician, economist, and philosopher. He tried to show “the capricious and absurd quality of the Sedition Act”(201) but was proven guilty when he was brought to trial. Liberty’s Crisis is historical nonfiction. This book is not necessarily a biography but most of what is stated in the book talks about the people who played a role in the Sedition Act rather than the act itself.
The book is filled with “minibiographies” on all the different people that had to do with this act. The sources Slack used were both primary and secondary sources. Some of the Primary sources he used were writings by James T. Callender, Benjamin Franklin Bache, and John Adams. The secondary sources were those written by historians or highly educated college graduates. Charles Slack did not have a strong bias on this subject. He sided with the citizens against the Sedition Act but he provided the point of view from everybody who had to deal with this law. This allowed a better understanding because it was not just who was write and who was wrong. He showed the pros and cons from everybody affected.
Slack wrote this book because he wanted to inform people about the Sedition Act and who the main people were in it. These people impacted our country and they showed if you work hard enough at something, you can make it work, just like they abolished this act. The message of this book is the US has had many struggles in the past, such as the struggles to do with the Sedition act. Although we have had these obstacles in our past we have learned to overcome them. Liberty’s First Crisis provided information about the Sedition Act but this information also helped understand the time period that it took place in, which was the late 1700’s to early 1800’s.
Although the United States broke away from Great Britain around 20 years ago from when this act took place, the government still had strong control over the citizens. During this time the United States was still trying to form a democracy. It was so soon since they became their own land/country so they were still developing the skills needed to run a government themselves. The reader’s knowledge deepened through reading this book because if the reader lived in the United States they could learn more about their history. The reader will understand a perfect government doesn’t form overnight. It has obstacles it has to overcome. The government can disagree with their citizens and go against them but in the long run.
The historical themes present in this book are government, science & technology, and identity. The first historical theme is government. Government is a historical theme because during any time in history, if there was a conflict it most likely had to do with either government or a higher power. Government controls almost everything in society. They had a major role in this book because the Sedition Act took place because the government was getting criticized and they did not like it. The reason this act became a law was because of John Adams. He was the president at the time and the head of the government and as the head he created their involvement with this problem.
They were not very close with their citizens so this act was “the only means by which the people can examine and become acquainted with the conduct of persons employed in their government” (88). This information is important because it applies to most of our history and our strength against the government is something needed to succeed. The second historical theme is science and technology. This has to do with anything like the printing press or whatever aided the production of newspapers during this time period. Science and technology is a big part of why the Sedition act took place. This act happened because companies were printing newspapers and articles to attack their government or economy.
Without the printer the opinions and thoughts of the politicians and/or citizens would not have spread this fast. The newspapers also made the citizens stronger and made them stick to their word. What they published showed they had a strong opinion on these topics and they weren’t going to change. This information is significant and important because this is how Benjamin Franklin Bache and any editors of the Aurora and Porcupine Gazette learned to spread their ideas and make a difference. The third historical theme that took place was identity, specifically American identity. Identity can have to do with nationalism. Most Americans thought of the United States as a place where they had their own rights and fair laws they had to follow.
The citizens especially felt this way because they just gained their own independence from Great Britain and they wanted their own identity. The first amendment was the right of free speech. This was apart of their identity. “After the act expired, fewer than a dozen people were convicted for speaking their minds” (233) This quote shows people continued to speak their mind even if the act was in place or it expired. This relates to identity because it shows how strong they were and how they would stand up for this and speak their mind whether they could be charged for it or not. This is important and relevant because this was the case in many cased throughout history.
If you stay strong and depend on the people around you you can finally accomplish something you have been wanting to. This can all relate to a country’s identity. Liberty’s First Crisis by Charles Slack was mainly about the people who impacted the Sedition Act, such as Matthew Lyon, Benjamin Franklin Bache, John Adams, and Thomas Cooper. This book allowed an understanding of what the Sedition Act was, who was involved, and why it was important. Reading this book was important because the Sedition Act was one of the lesser known acts in our history. The act did not last for long, only around 3 years, so it did not have a long-lasting impact on the United States but it still proved many things such as overcoming obstacles in the history of the United States.