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During the undeclared war against France, the policies of Adams were attacked by some in the press; several pamphlets written by French emigrants were especially vindictive. As a result, Adams and his administration supported several measures that would threaten the rights of Americans. The Alien Act gave the president the right to deport any immigrant who was felt to be “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” The Sedition Act stated that the administration could prohibit any attacks on the president or Congress that were deemed to be “malicious.” Twenty Republican journalists and politicians were arrested under the Sedition Act, with some going to jail. State legislatures in Virginia and Kentucky passed the Kentucky and Virginia Resolves, stating that states have the right to not enforce laws that were unconstitutional, such as the Sedition Act. This would later be the philosophy of some Southern states in the years leading up to the Civil War and again in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

The negative publicity generated by the Sedition Act certainly did not help John Adams as he ran for president against Thomas Jefferson in 1800.

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