Government Censorship Isn’t New — But It’s Getting More Personal

Feb 6, 2024 | Political News

The U.S. has the distinction the world over for being home to the First Amendment, which guarantees free expression.

And yet a mere seven years after its ratification in 1791, Congress violated it in the most severe way with the “Alien and Sedition Acts” of 1798, which made it a crime to engage in “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against government officials.

The Sedition Act mentioned Congress, the president (John Adams), government generally as protected, but was silent about the vice president, who was Thomas Jefferson. Upon the election of Jefferson in 1800, it was repealed immediately.

Indeed, the censorship was so controversial that Jefferson’s opposition contributed to his victory.

The experience taught an important lesson. Governments tend to want to control speech, meaning writing in those days, even if it means trampling on the rules that bind them.