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The Sedition Act: The Bad Penny Returns - Jeff Thomas

The Sedition Act: The Bad Penny Returns - Jeff Thomas
By Jeff Thomas 4 years ago 9596 Views 1 comment

October 24, 2016

In much of what was formerly known as “the free world”, freedom is being dramatically curtailed by governments. Nowhere is this truer than in the US. I discussed the future of freedom of speech with an American recently. She postulated that it could never be taken from her, as she was assured freedom of speech under the Constitution. She’s correct in the latter part of her statement. Her Constitution clearly states,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech.”

But as to the former part of her statement, that she could never have her freedom of speech removed is, I believe, entirely incorrect. Not only is her freedom of speech currently at risk, but this is nothing new in the US. The first suspension of this constitutional right came as early as 1798.

Post-Revolution

The Sedition Act of 1798 was passed by John Adams’ Federalist government. It criminalised the making of statements that criticised the Federal Government. The Act was used by the Adams government to prosecute newspaper owners if they favoured the views of the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party.

One person who was attacked was David Brown, who was fined and imprisoned for publishing the words, “ "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America.” Another was James Callender, who accused the President as a, “repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor".

Those who opposed the passage of the Act stated that it violated the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed the right to free speech. They were quite correct.

The Act was repealed when Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801. He pardoned those who had been imprisoned and repaid their fines. But the silencing of citizens did not end there. It returned a mere sixty years later.

The Civil War

In 1861, President Lincoln unilaterally suspended the writ of habeas corpus (the right to appear before a judge, when accused of a crime). In essence, he ordered that persons could be arrested and held, without bringing formal charges against them. The claimed purpose was to allow the government the ability to hold prisoners of war, but it was subsequently used to muzzle the press. Newspapers that criticised the President were closed for seditious behaviour and their editors arrested and imprisoned.

Over 14,000 civilians were arrested by the Lincoln Administration. After the war, the suspension of the right to free speech was ended, but only until the next war.

World War One

The Sedition Act of 1918 made illegal, “ disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the US Government, the national flag or the military. Sentences ranged from five to twenty years.

Magazines that spoke out against the war were banned. In addition, many people were investigated and/or imprisoned. (As an example, a Connecticut clothing salesman was sentenced to six months in prison for saying that Vladimir Lenin was smart.)

The Sedition Act was purported to be needed only “when the United States is in war,” and it was repealed just two years after World War One (although the Supreme Court upheld the Sedition Act constitutionally in 1919 - Abrams v. the United States).

More Recently

Since then, the punishment for sedition has become more general. In 1950, McCarthyism began sedition persecution outside of wartime, paving the way for persecution under the claim of “domestic terrorism”.

As shown above, the stated reason for such punishment is rarely the true intent. The people of a nation will readily accept legislation that sounds as though it will protect them in time of war, but it has regularly been used to limit free speech, generally.

The Patriot Act of 2001 allowed for the arrest and detainment (without a hearing and without charges being made) if the person is “suspected” of being a terrorist. The key word here is “suspected”. (I may suspect my Aunt Tillie of being a Martian, but, hopefully, that does not give me the right to imprison her.)

This time around, the act was not repealed a few years later. In fact, the Patriot Act was extended in 2011, followed closely by the passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA). Together, these laws eclipsed all previous sedition acts in their breadth and have made possible a permanent and growing police state in the US.

The Future

Above, we can see that the suspension of freedom of speech during wartime is not a new idea. In fact, it’s been the norm. But what about the present day, when Congress no longer declares wars, but the US invades countries continually, by presidential edict alone? The US is now waging the “forever war” – the war on terrorism. Does that mean permanent suspension of the right to free speech? Well, actually, yes, and an entire department has been created to enforce it – the Department of Homeland Security.

Today, the US has a far greater ability to keep its people silent and cooperative than ever before. The numerous “terrorist attacks”, whether they be genuine, or false-flag attacks, have succeeded in creating subservience amongst the American people. As Joseph Stalin said,

“The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. [The public] will clamor for such laws if their personal security is threatened”.

This concept was later echoed by Hermann Goering:

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

And, of course, television news programmes in the US are rife with “experts” (politicians and retired generals) stating endlessly that the US must guard against domestic terrorism, by reporting any “suspicious” actions or conversation that may not be supportive of the government. For those who still believe in the concept of individual freedom, Adolf Hitler had this to say:

“Society’s needs come before the individual’s needs.”

This concept has been thoroughly supported by modern day American politicians of both parties. Hillary Clinton echoes the Fuehrer’s view as follows:

“We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for our society.”

The Sedition Act has now become a permanent condition in the US, and Europe is not far behind. Still, when such removals of freedom took place in the Soviet Union and Germany in the last century, most people remained there, hopeful that they could live with the outcome. As it turned out, that was a fatal mistake for literally millions of people.

For those who presently reside in a country where basic freedoms are disappearing, it’s instructive to note that there are many other countries in the world where this is not so. For many, the wise move is to vote with their feet and internationalise themselves.


Jeff Thomas is British and resides in the Caribbean. The son of an economist and historian, he learned early to be distrustful of governments as a general principle. Although he spent his career creating and developing businesses, for eight years, he penned a weekly newspaper column on the theme of limiting government. He began his study of economics around 1990, learning initially from Sir John Templeton, then Harry Schulz and Doug Casey and later others of an Austrian persuasion. He is now a regular feature writer for Casey Research’s International Man (http://www.internationalman.com) and Strategic Wealth Preservation in the Cayman Islands.


The author is not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by Sprott Money Ltd. The views and opinions expressed in this material are those of the author or guest speaker, are subject to change and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sprott Money Ltd. Sprott Money does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness and reliability of the information or any results from its use.

Moe 4 years ago at 6:34 PM
Great piece Jeff. Almost too scary too read.

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