Above: John Adams, President of the United States from 1797 to 1801
Image in the Public Domain
The administration is not the nation-state. This is a simple fact that political dissidents keep having to repeat, even in my native land, the United States of America. To oppose the presidential administration is not to be disloyal. The Constitution of the United States even builds debate and dissent into the political system, complete with contested elections.
The failure to acknowledge the fact that the administration is not the nation-state during the Quasi-War with France during the administration of President John Adams (1797-1801) contributed to the abomination that was the Sedition Act of 1798.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be ho]den to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.
SEC. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being 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.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in Republication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.
APPROVED, July 14, 1798.
Source = The Avalon Project, Yale University
Adjusting dollar amounts for inflation is crucial. Know then, O reader, that $2000 (1798) is $39,800 (2015) and that $5000 (1798) is $99,400, according to MeasuringWorth.com.
It was a partisan law applied to opposition newspaper editors and Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont. One might also notice that the law permitted (by omission) all manner of negative press and speech regarding the Vice President, who was Thomas Jefferson, a leader of the opposition party. Newspaper editors went to prison, newspapers closed, and Lyon became a federal inmate. Lyon was hardly the most polite of Congressmen, but all that he had uttered and published negatively regarding the Adams Administration fell within the bounds of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Federalists who supported the Sedition Act of 1798 mistook partisanship for treason and trampled upon the First Amendment. Lyon had argued in a letter to Spooner’s Vermont Journal that the allegedly power-hungry president had “swallowed up” “every consideration of public welfare.” He had written this letter prior to July 14, 1798, so the legal principle of ex post facto protected him prior to the date that Adams signed the Sedition Act into law. After the law had gone into effect, however, Lyon repeated those charges repeatedly and added more criticisms of Adams and the Federalist majorities in Congress (such as that Adams fostered “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” and Congress should send the President to a mad house). The federal indictment (October 5, 1798) accused Lyon of having “malicious intent to bring the President and the government of the United States into contempt.” The verdict was guilty. Lyon went on to win reelection from his prison cell.
Alas, Jefferson was not a paragon of virtue with regard to freedom of the press. Although he, as Vice President, opposed the Sedition Act of 1798, which expired in 1801, he encouraged partisans to use similar state laws against Federalist critics of himself and of his administration. There was, for example, People v. Croswell (1804), which targeted Harry Croswell (1778-1858), editor of The Wasp, a Federalist newspaper in Hudson, New York. Croswell was openly critical of President Jefferson. Croswell lost that case, in which the prosecution convicted him of having committed both libel and sedition. The editor kept losing libel lawsuits. In 1814 he left journalism for the Episcopal priesthood.
The unfortunate tendency to confuse the presidential administration for the nation-state has recurred frequently, drawing support from the “rally around the flag” mentality. Resurgence of this confusion in the form of jingoism has been especially egregious during times of war, whether declared or otherwise. During World War I, for example, the federal government sent some antiwar activists to prison not for inciting violence, but for inciting nonviolence. Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., disappointingly, compared the rhetoric of nonviolence during time of war to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. “My country, right or wrong” has never impressed me, for as the great Voltaire wrote,
It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
And, as the moralist Samuel Johnson observed,
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Dissent is as American as the First Amendment. That is a patriotic statement. Those who enter public life should either have thick political skins already or grow them quickly. President Harry Truman‘s maxim that those who want a friend in Washington, D.C., should bring a dog remains true much of the time.
I am convinced that another contributing factor to the identification of the administration with the nation-state is fear. Out of fear individuals and institutions tend to trample people and ideals–even foundational principles. A time of crisis, however, is properly a time to double down on acting in accordance with those foundational principles, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the fact that dissent is patriotic. As Tom Dobbs, the character the late, great Robin Williams portrayed in Man of the Year (2006), said,
If dissent were unpatriotic, we would still be British.
I bristle whenever I read or hear someone accuse dissidents of being stupid at best or treasonous at worst. One reason for my bristling is principled; I affirm that, in the words of The Use of Force in International Affairs (1961),
If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
What I think of the content of that dissent is irrelevant with regard to my estimate of the patriotism of the dissident. Another reason is personal; I know the feeling of hearing and reading people question either my intelligence or my patriotism or both because of a political difference. Dissent, however, is as American as the First Amendment.
Administrations come and go, but the United States of America persists. The administration is not the nation-state.
As Martin Luther probably did not say,
Here I stand; I can do no other.
I will do no other.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
FEBRUARY 10, 2017 COMMON ERA
I derived much material for this post from Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2004).
Above: Alexander Hamilton, First Leader of the Federalist Party
Image in the Public Domain
I am convinced that the United States of America has been in the Seventh Party System since or shortly before January 20, 1993. As a teacher of U.S. history on the college level, I think about various matters of the past, especially when students’ questions prompt me to do so.
First a brief review of the first six party systems is in order.
The First Party System was the Federalist-Jeffersonian Republican divide, with parties forming during George Washington’s administration. The national Federalist Party did not field a presidential candidate after 1816, but not all Federalists became Jeffersonians, some of whom had begun to sound like Federalists by that point.
The Second Party System grew up around Andrew Jackson in the 1820s. His supporters were Democrats, and his opponents merged into the Whig Party in the 1830s. Before that, however, they were National Republicans and Anti-Masons, the latter of which gave us the presidential nominating convention in 1831.
The Third Party System emerged in the middle 1850s, in the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). The Whigs came apart, as did the Democrats to a lesser extent, and the Republican Party emerged with a platform which included opposition to the expansion of slavery but not support for immediate abolition of that damnable peculiar institution.
The Fourth Party System began after the 1896 general election, in which Republican William McKinley won a landslide victory. The Republicans controlled the presidency for all but eight years (the Woodrow Wilson Administration, 1913-1921) through the end of the Herbert Hoover Administration (1929-1933).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt inaugurated the Fifth Party System, during which the Democratic Party controlled the presidency for all but eight years (the Dwight Eisenhower Administration, 1953-1961). This system ran its course until the 1968 general election and the election of Richard Nixon, who employed the notorious “Southern Strategy.” Lyndon Baines Johnson was correct; he gave the South to the Republicans when he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Sixth Party System began with Nixon and ended with George H. W. Bush. Republicans controlled the presidency for all but four years. Jimmy Carter, the sole Democratic president (1977-1981) during this system, was hardly an FDR-LBJ social programs type.
The Seventh Party System, I am convinced, began with the Clinton Administration or during the campaign of 1992. This fact has become obvious to me only in hindsight. (Historical analysis does require the passage of time.) Here is my case:
- None of the presidential elections (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016) has been a landslide, certainly not in the popular vote.
- Regardless of the identity of the President, about half of the population seems to hate his guts.
- A vocal proportion of that livid portion of the population entertains unfounded conspiracy theories. For the record, Vince Foster did commit suicide. Nobody murdered him, so there was no murder for the Clinton Administration to cover up. Also, the George W. Bush Administration was not complicit in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011; a hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, was the birthplace of Barack Obama in 1961; and Osama bin Ladin is dead. One can, however, find websites arguing against all these propositions. This means nothing conclusive; once I found the website of the Flat Earth Society.
- Vitriol, unvarnished hatred, and unapologetic indifference to objective reality has become increasingly politically acceptable. The abuses of power (and threats of them) commonplace in third world countries have entered mainstream political discourse in this country.
Also, for the record, Barack Obama is neither a Socialist nor a Communist. There are Socialist and Communist Parties in the United States, and they do not mistake him for one of their sympathizers.
It is long past time to lower the political temperature and retire over-the-top charges which distract from the serious issues of the day. We have a nation, one which has lasted for more than 200 years. Childish antics do not honor the highest ideals upon which our founders created the United States.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 4, 2011 COMMON ERA
INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)
Updated on November 7 and 9, 2016
Above: Christ Church (Old North Church), Boston, Massachusetts
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-402
WILLIAM CROSWELL (NOVEMBER 7, 1804-NOVEMBER 9, 1851)
Episcopal Priest and Hymn Writer
William Croswell was the third son of Harry Croswell (1778-1858) and Susan Sherman Croswell (1779-1855). Harry was a Federalist newspaper editor twice convicted of criminal libel. The standard for criminal libel was political then. The Sedition Act of 1798, a Federalist measure, targeted Jeffersonian Republicans, shutting down newspapers, imprisoning Jeffersonian Republican critics (but not High Federalist ones) of the John Adams Administration, and racking up a 100% conviction rate. Then came the Jefferson Administration in 1801. Jefferson, hardly the paragon of free speech some imagine him to have been, condoned and encouraged libel suits against Federalist journalists, such as Harry Croswell, one half of People v. Croswell (1804). The journalist had accused Jefferson of paying James Callender to publish stories critical of the President’s opponents. New York Attorney General Ambrose Spencer, one target of Croswell’s criticisms, took the editor to court on grounds of libel and sedition. The jury convicted Croswell. In 1805, however, the New York legislature passed a law providing for the defense of truthfulness in libel suits.
Harry Croswell was working as the editor of a newspaper in Hudson, New York, when William debuted on November 7, 1804. The family moved to Albany, New York, in 1809. There the father edited another newspaper and had to contend with more harassment in the form of libel suits. Finally he changed careers and became an Episcopal priest in 1814. Harry served briefly at Christ Church, Hudson, New York, before become the Rector of Trinity-on-the-Green Episcopal Church, New Haven, Connecticut, where he served from 1815 to 1858 (his death). While at Trinity Church he grew the parish, helped to increase the number of Episcopal congregations from one to eight, wrote books (mostly religious), and founded a night school for African-Americans.
William Croswell graduated from Yale College in 1822. He took a few years to settle on a career. Should he become a laywer? The private school he and brother Sherman Croswell operated at New Haven from 1822 to 1824 proved not to be his calling either. Our saint even tried editing a political newspaper, the Albany Argus, with his cousin, Edwin Croswell, for two years. (The politics of the Argus favored the nascent Democratic Party.) Finally, in 1826, William decided to study theology. He matriculated at the General Theological Seminary, New York, New York, that year, but health forced him to leave. Thus, in the following year, he resumed theological studies at Hartford College. In the meantime he worked as an editor of the Episcopal Watchman, which published some of his poetry. Ordination in the Episcopal Church came in 1828.
Our saint’s first parish was Christ Church, Boston, Massachusetts, or Old North Church, as in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s verse,
One if by land, and two if by sea,
in reference to the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere. Croswell served there from 1828 to 1839. During that time he married Amanda Tarbell (1808-1880).
Our saint’s second parish was St. Peter’s Church, Auburn, New York, of which he was the Rector from 1839 to 1844. He left there to become the founding Rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts, which he served until he died at the end of the morning service on November 9, 1851. Between his departure from Auburn and his departure from this life Croswell received a D.D. degree from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1846.
William Croswell was a respected man who contributed to his communities. Manton Eastburn, Bishop of Massachusetts from 1843 to 1872, censured our saint for taking certain liberties with the rites of the Church, but Croswell was an excellent pastor and public citizen. Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1818-1896), Bishop of Western New York from 1865 to 1896, who edited and published our saint’s Poems, Sacred and Secular (1859), wrote of him:
As a pastor, few have been more exemplary and devoted than Dr. Croswell. He delighted to find Christ in his poor; and yet he was always beloved and admired by many among the most refined and affluent. As a preacher, he was chaste and fervent in his style, felicitous in his illustrations and expositions of Holy Scripture, and clear and evangelical in his statements of doctrine.
Charles Dexter Cleveland (1802-1869) included some of Croswell’s hymns on pages 83-86 of Lyra Sacra Americana: or, Gems from American Sacred Poetry (1868). Harry Croswell had published the Memoir (1851) of his son in 1851. That volume contained many poetic works.
Our saint’s literary legacy is secure, fortunately.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MAY 17, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B
THE FEAST OF SAINT PASCHAL BAYLON, FRANCISCAN
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
William Croswell and others, who have composed hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH