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What is Sedition?

Sedition is the act of revolting or inciting revolt against government. When the Government abuses its power, it incites revolt against the government.

In the United States, The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, within the Bill of Rights, is a recognition of the fundamental Human birthright to Free Speech, Free Press, the Free right of We the People of these United States of America to peaceably assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The solemn Oath, Sworn to the Oathsworn’s God, ensures that the Oathsworn recognizes, affirms, to We the People, the Citizens of the United States of America, that their intentions are to preserve, protect, and defend the US Constitution.

Governments have made sedition illegal since time immemorial…because governments have become corrupted since Time immemorial and the many specific acts that constitute sedition have varied. In the United States, Congress in the late eighteenth century believed that government should be protected from “false, scandalous and malicious” criticisms. Toward this end, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, which authorized the criminal prosecution of persons who wrote or spoke falsehoods about the government, Congress, the president, or the vice president. The act was to expire with the term of President John Adams.

The Sedition Act failed miserably. Thomas Jefferson opposed the act, and after he was narrowly elected president in 1800, public opposition to the act grew. The act expired in 1801, but not before it was used by President Adams to prosecute numerous public supporters of Jefferson, his challenger in the presidential election of 1800. One writer, Matthew Lyon, a congressman from Vermont, was found guilty of seditious libel for stating, in part, that he would not be the “humble advocate” of the Adams administration when he saw “every consideration of the public welfare swallowed up in a continual grasp for power, in an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” (Lyon’s Case, 15 F. Cas. 1183 [D. Vermont 1798] [No. 8646]). Vermont voters reelected Lyon while he was in jail. Jefferson, after winning the election and assuming office, pardoned all persons convicted under the act.

In the 1820s and 1830s, as the movement to abolish Slavery grew in size and force in the South, Southern states began to enact seditious libel laws. Most of these laws were used to prosecute persons critical of slavery, and they were abolished after the Civil War. The federal government was no less defensive; Congress enacted seditious conspiracy laws before the Civil War aimed at persons advocating secession from the United States. These laws were the precursors to the present-day federal seditious conspiracy statutes.

In the late nineteenth century, Congress and the states began to enact new limits on speech, most notably statutes prohibiting Obscenity. At the outset of World War I, Congress passed legislation designed to suppress antiwar speech. The Espionage Act of 1917 (ch. 30, tit. 1, § 3, 40 Stat. 219), as amended by ch. 75, § 1, 40 Stat 553, put a number of pacifists into prison. Socialist leader eugene v. debs was convicted for making an antiwar speech in Canton, Ohio (Debs v. United States, 249 U.S. 211, 39 S. Ct. 252, 63 L. Ed. 566 [1919]). Charles T. Schenck and Elizabeth Baer were convicted for circulating to military recruits a leaflet that advocated opposition to the draft and suggested that the draft violated the Thirteenth Amendment’s ban on Involuntary Servitude (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S. Ct. 247, 63 L. Ed. 470 [1919]).

The U.S. Supreme Court did little to protect the right to criticize the government until after 1927. That year, Justice louis d. brandeis wrote an influential concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 47 S. Ct. 641, 71 L. Ed. 1095 (1927), that was to guide First Amendment Jurisprudence for years to come. In Whitney the High Court upheld the convictions of political activists for violation of federal anti-syndicalism laws, or laws that prohibit the teaching of crime. In his concurring opinion, Brandeis maintained that even if a person advocates violation of the law, “it is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted on.” Beginning in the 1930s, the Court became more protective of political free speech rights.

The High Court has protected the speech of racial supremacists and separatists, labor organizers, advocates of racial Integration, and opponents of the draft for the Vietnam War. However, it has refused to declare unconstitutional all sedition statutes and prosecutions. In 1940, to silence radicals and quell Nazi or communist subversion during the burgeoning Second World War, Congress enacted the Smith Act (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 2385, 2387), which outlawed sedition and seditious conspiracy. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S. Ct. 857, 95 L. Ed. 1137 (1951)

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