From the October 2001 Idaho Observer:

Dissidence v. Sedition

A chapter of American history

Sedition: An insurrectionary movement tending towards treason, but wanting an overt act; attempts made by meetings or speeches, or by publications, to disturb the tranquility of the state..a revolt against legitimate authority. ~Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Edition

In holding firm to the principles upon which this nation was founded The IO has no choice but to editorially condemn many of the actions of government over the several years prior to (and after) Sept. 11, 2001. Our investigations have shown that many of our government's actions are unlawful, immoral and/or unethical. This has caused The IO staff, many of our readers and others who are prepared to live or die for the foundational concepts of self government and civil conduct to be viewed as “dissidents” among government agents, agencies and the armchair public. However, the present circumstances are likely to deepen the significance of our opposition in the minds of those whose actions we oppose. At some point in the near future, though ourselves and our values will not have changed, we will no longer be granted the privilege of dissidence; we will be branded as seditionists. What such a label portends for our immediate personal comfort and safety is rather grim. Historically, however, we are in excellent company.

Opposition media and the Alien and Sedition acts

by Don Harkins

Before the constitutional ink had the opportunity to cure properly, John Adams, the second president of the United States, had signed both the Alien and Sedition acts into law by July 14, 1798 and began deporting people or putting them in prison for speaking out against policies that rose from a commerce and alliance treaty brokered through New York Governor John Jay.

Keep in mind that The U.S. Capital was Philadelphia at that time. Also keep in mind that in the years following the Revolutionary war an ever-widening gulf was philosophically separating the Founding Fathers into two distinct camps: Adams, Washington, Jay and Hamilton were “federalists” who desired a powerful central government; Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Franklin were “Republicans” who favored a system of governance that reserved power to the states, respectively, and the people.

Adams tyrannically suspended the 1st Amendment to squash opposition to the Jay Treaty. The Jay Treaty, brokered by New York Governor John Jay, committed the United States to a commerce and alliance treaty with Great Britain. The treaty, which violated the commerce and alliance treaty that had been signed with France in trade for its generous help during the Revolutionary War, was signed because the Adams administration decided to take sides with the British in a war that was brewing against France and Ireland. The acts caused the imprisonment of those the government decided, without trial, were guilty of sedition and the deportation of French and Irish nationals living in the U.S. who, with the stroke of the presidential pen, were suddenly recognized as enemies of the state.

The result was that a vocal and informed minority was outspokenly opposed to such a betrayal of our French allies and the despotic disregard for our infant Constitution.

Rather than supporting his decision to betray France in favor of the British with facts and logic, President Adams used establishment newspapers the Porcupine's Gazette and the Gazette of the United States to call for days of fasting and prayer and to assail dissident voices. Once his propaganda machinery had effectively whipped the armchair public into a religiously justified, Frenchman and Irishmen-fearing (and hating) frenzy, he signed the Alien and Sedition acts. Once in place, the executive was empowered to imprison, without due process, anyone who spoke out or published anything that was opposed to actions or policies endorsed by the federal government and deport or imprison anyone it pleased.

Benjamin Franklin Bache (pronounced “Beech”), the grandson of Benjamin Franklin was with his grandfather in France while he was petitioning the king's court for armaments and supplies during the Revolutionary War,

As the opposition media publisher of the Philadelphia Aurora (published from 1790-1798), Bache was the voice of principled opposition to the policies of President Adams who he referred to as “His Rotundity.” Bache's editorial policy was a reflection of his principled condemnation of Adams' policies which he knew were unconstitutional, unethical and a betrayal of those who helped us to win the war against King George's armies.

On Wednesday, May 9, 1798, Bache published the following observations in the Philadelphia Aurora:

“The other papers of this city have chosen to be silent this day, because the President has recommended a fast. We do not follow their example: Because there is nothing in the constitution giving authority to proclaim fasts. Because prayer, fasting, and humiliation are matters of religion and conscience, with which government has nothing to do. And because we consider a connection between state and church affairs as dangerous to religious and political freedom and that, therefore, every approach towards it should be discouraged.”

In a different article published the same day, Bache reported how propaganda-driven faith in the righteousness of Adams in his actions had encouraged a rabble to violently assault Bache, his family and vandalize his home:

“On Monday evening, between ten and eleven, my house was assailed by a party of young men who, in the morning, had addressed the President. They had dined together and were more than gay; but this is no excuse for outrage. They honored me with imprecation and threats, the only notice I could be proud to receive from them. My doors and windows were battered.

It has been wrong from the beginning to encourage young men, not of age, to meddle in politics. We see how early they dive in excess. They are now called upon to arm themselves; what are we to expect from them? The sincere friends to order and laws should look to those things. It might, indeed, be a gratification to some that I should have my throat cut without the trouble of going through the tedious and uncertain forms of law. To be sure, this in itself would be no very mighty matter, but the work of blood once begun, who will say where it will stop?

If the proceeding I have thought it my duty to notice is by way of intimidation, I pledge myself [that it] shall not produce this effect. While I respect and obey the laws of my country, I shall not be unmindful of the voice of conscience which tells me it is my duty to remain at my post when the liberties of my country are endangered.”

The masses did not understand the real issues and were blindly supportive of President Adams' policies. Tensions were growing. The first Lady Abigail Adams observed in a letter to her sister that she would not be surprised if, “.we shall come to civil war.”

There were threats, reported to have come from a conspiracy of angry Frenchmen and disloyal Americans, that on the presidentially declared day of “humiliation, prayer and fasting” that Philadelphia was going to burn.

Porcupine's Gazette editor William Cobbett, an Englishman in exile publishing from a pro-British perspective, observed that, “The churches were, perhaps, never so crowded on any Sunday for years past.

The Reverend James Abercrombie directed his flock to “mark” them [Bache, the Philadelphia Aurora and those who agree with its editorial stand] as those, “who cause such dangerous divisions among us, and let them wear the stigma of reproach due to the perfidious betrayer of their country. So, O Lord God of Israel, let our enemies be turned back, disappointed and ashamed; and to you shall be the glory!

Gazette of the United States reports that Bache is being paid by the French. Bache claims the report is ridiculous. Philadelphia experiences a night of rioting. Bache is accused by the same paper of leading bands of vandals through the streets of Philadelphia, which he claims is also ridiculous.

Later, May 26, 1798, Bache reports that the riots on the evening of the day of prayer were orchestrated, presumably to help passage of the Alien and Sedition acts and to incite young men into baring arms in defense of the president's betrayal of the French and his abrogation of the Constitution. “They moved with an exactness which proved that there existed a main spring somewhere. The mystery is unraveled when the reader is informed that some weeks before the fast day, circulars were issuing from a certain public office in this city to these select Reverends throughout the Union,” wrote Bache.

The two increasingly adversarial factions began identifying themselves by wearing black cockades (pro-British) or red, white and blue cockades (pro-French) in their hats. It is observed that red, white and blue-cockaded men were being arrested by police for riotous activities while black-cockaded men are allowed to go about their vandalistic business without police intervention.

Black cockaded young men begin to form themselves into regiments.

Madison condemned President Adams' coercion of young men to bear arms in support of his policies. He also noted President Adams' abuses of constitutional authority and observed: “The abolition of Royalty was, it seems, not one of his [President Adams] Revolutionary principles.”

On May 17, 1798, Bache writes: “Citizens of America, you are called upon to unite and for what? In support of a man who openly avows his predilection for monarchical government and who has openly declared that it was not from discontent with the British government that he espoused the cause of your country -- That there is cause for alarm no one can deny; but that this cause is domestic and not foreign is too palpable to be questioned. [While] you are [busied] in preparing for an imagined enemy, the real enemy is assaulting the citadel of your dearest privileges ... and ere long you will be convinced to your sorrow that it was for independence and not for liberty that the President of the United States contended.”

On May 28, 1798, President Adams signed two acts. One authorized him to take command of the Navy and to seize any armed (French) ship “hovering on the coast” and the other to raise a provisional army.

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison commented that he had seen the Alien Bill proposed in the Senate: “[It] is a monster that must forever disgrace its parents.”

The Alien Act is passed by the Senate on June 10, 1798. On June 13, 1798, President Adams signs an Act that suspends, “commercial intercourse between the United States and France, and the dependencies thereof.”

On June 18, 1798, President Adams sign the Alien Act. No person who has lived in the United States for less than 14 years will be allowed to become a citizen.

Bache is arrested June 27, 1798 on a warrant from Federal Circuit Court Judge Peters. He is charged with “libelling the president and the executive government in a manner tending to excite sedition and opposition to the laws by sundry publications and republications.”

A sedition bill is introduced into the Senate by Senator Lloyd (Federalist, Maryland). It declares that, “The government and people of France...are...enemies to the United States and the people thereof; and any them aid and comfort...shall suffer death.”

The bill goes on to declare, “That if any person shall, by writing, printing, publishing or speaking, attempt to defame or weaken the government...or defame the President of the United States...[he] shall be punished by fine...and imprisonment.”

A series of acts are passed into law which began the process of raising an army and a navy to go to war on the side of the British against France and Ireland. The acts were financed by an act signed by President Adams July 9, 1798, which authorized the federal government to, “Lay and collect a tax within the United States.”

Under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, the tax was, “...assessed upon dwelling-houses, lands, and slaves,” in accordance with an act yet to be passed which will describe the valuation schedule for those taxable items.

President Adams signs the Sedition Act July 14, 1798. With the passage of that act it becomes a crime to speak or publish criticism of the federal government. With the help of the media, church leaders, a legislature, the judiciary and other executives, President Adams staged events and was able to maneuver the American people into allowing him to pass Alien and Sedition acts. Those acts gave him monarchical power to silence, imprison and deport his critics so that he could proceed with his plans regardless of what was right or lawful.

Released on $2,000 bond shortly after his arrest for libelous sedition, Bache never had to defend himself in court. Philadelphia was ravaged by yellow fever late in the summer of 1798 and Benjamin Franklin Bache, the father of opposition media in this country and my personal hero, died at the age of 29 from yellow fever September 10, 1798.

John Adams eulogy of Bache was perfect: “Benjamin [Bache] his Aurora...became, of course one of the most malicious Libellers of me. But the Yellow Fever arrested him in his detestable Career and sent him to his grandfather from whom he inherited a dirty, envious, jealous, and revengeful Spite against me for no other cause under heaven than because I was too honest a Man to favour or connive at his selfish schemes and Avarice.”

Most of the information used to write this article was taken from letters and newspaper articles compiled by Richard Rosenfeldt and published in his brilliant and extremely well-referenced book “American Aurora” (St. Martin's Press, 1997). American Aurora became my favorite book of all time when it was given to me in March 1998. Every time I pick it up I am refilled with the passion and fire it takes to stay the course as an opposition publisher. The interplay between the establishment presses and the Aurora and the written correspondence between the Founding Fathers provides an insight into the birth of our nation that is perhaps more accurate than what can be gleaned from text books. Upon revisiting American Aurora after Sept. 11, it was impossible to ignore the innumerable parallels one can draw between the events described above and the ones we are experiencing right this second.

The lesson learned here and in the article on page 6, wherein we discover that the Greeks had learned how to manipulate the minds of the masses by 800 B.C., is that the relationship between people and governments has not changed. We may like to think that “progress” has made us more civilized, but the truth is that “progress” and technology just enhances the power of governments to control the minds and actions of larger and larger groups of people.

Regardless of what happens, one thing is for certain, “While I respect and obey the laws of my country, I shall not be unmindful of the voice of conscience which tells me it is my duty to remain at my post when the liberties of my country are endangered.”

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