The infamous Sedition Act, which criminalized speech critical of the federal government and which was passed by the Federalists during another of America’s undeclared wars (that time, against France), lasted only three years, from 1798 to 1801. However, if the congressional critics of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have their way, a new and revised version of the Sedition Act may be in the offing.
Thomas Jefferson, who became our third president in 1801, was not only a vocal critic of the Sedition Act, but pardoned those who had been punished pursuant to its terms. Jefferson was, of course, right in his view of this law (which expired before its constitutionality could be determined by the Supreme Court). His wisdom is well-needed today to quell the blood thirst of those clamoring for Assange’s head because of WikiLeaks’ release of cables and e-mails critical of and embarrassing to, the government.
The primary vehicle these modern-day Federalists are looking to employ in order to criminalize the publication of information critical of government policies and actions is the venerable, but little-used 1917 Espionage Act.