On an A&E program about Thomas Jefferson thursday night, there was mention of a law while Adams was Prez. that made it illegal to criticize public officials. In fact, they mentioned one guy who went to jail for it. I wasn’t watching the show very closely so I didn’t get the actual details. What gives? Didn’t the First Amendment count back then? Can anyone clarify this for me.
Well, they were still working on the exact nature of judicial review back then.
The Alien and Sedition laws were enacted when Adams was president to help defend the Federalists against Jefferson an the Democrat-Republicans.
There were arrests and all that. I don’t remember the details but I believe that when Jefferson was elected he pardoned them and the law later expired.
So yes, the first amendment counted, but there were still some quirks in figuring out how it could be enforced.
Is it illegal for military personnel to criticize the president?
No, as an American citizen you can say anything you like as long as it is not slanderous or something that is harmful to the general public such as “Fire” in a movie theater.
As WiredGuy siad it is not illegal but it can still be unwise. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the military. If you are in the military and critcize him (or her) that’d be like you criticizing the president of your company. This is usually considered a bad move as regards your career (although the further away your are on the corporate ladder the less repercussions you might expect…i.e. a private would fear less from the president than a 1-star general bucking for his or her next star).
Here’s the actual wording of the Sedition Act of 1798:
Section 2 was the part of the act that the Republicans objected to, and most of the prosecutions took place under that section.
Unless, of course, the theater actually is on fire.
Isn’t it a violation of rules of conduct, at the very least, to incite insubordination? Political free speech is protected, but criticism of one’s Commander in Chief in such a way as to suggest his orders need not be followed enthusiastically seems like it ought to be considered more than merely rude.
Any uniform-wearers out there know better?
There is an excellent book on this subject, called American Aurora which you can get at any bookstore. John Adams’s administration actually jailed persons who published newspapers that were anti-Adams. Benjamin Franklin’s own son was jailed and his partner was kicked out of the country.
It is a fascinating piece of history that few Americans know about.
According to Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
If some general goes on CNN and says “Clinton is an idiot and Cohen is a twit,” s/he looks to be in a heap of trouble.
Someone recently told me a US Naval officer was busted because he refused to salute the Commander-in-Chief when he visited an aircraft carrier (this occurred during the Lewinsky Scandal.) Anyone know the SD on this?
Thanks, BobT. I thought I heard it was a court-martial offense.