1798 Revisited?

Many proponents of immigrant rights complain about the long period of time that immigrants must wait before applying for citizenship. But how many of them are aware that that waiting period was extended to 14 years in 1798 as part of a group of laws known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, notorious in particular for the Sedition Act, which restricted free speech?

It seems like there are a lot of parallels to this turbulent time: the anticipation of war with powerful countries (today, I suppose that would be Iran and the countries named by Bush as the 'Axis of Evil' or whatever), a sense of low-grade fear spread out through the population--in 1798, the outrage was fueled by the XYZ affair and by the sudden turn the French Revolution took with the entry of the Directorate--the attempts to foster social change in other countries, discontentment with the President (Adams was rather weak on many counts) and, significantly, the domination of one party in all three branches of government.

Granted, the Democratic party then was nothing like its modern derivative: then, they had a strong leader in the form of Thomas Jefferson and his supporters, they had popular newspapers on their side (though some of these were shut down by the unpopular Sedition Act), and they were overall much more unified than today's weakened, passive Democrats.

But the Republicans have far more in common with the Federalist party besides full control of the government: they are fractured over issues (despite the lack of at least two differing leaders), and, with their actions increasingly questionable, they could be teetering on the brink of the same kind of collapse that the Federalist party experienced with what some like to call the 'Revolution of 1800'.

This 'revolution' is where my hopes lie: in that era, it was the first peaceful transition of power between two opposing parties and, though I don't hope for the kind of problems that occured in the 1810s as a result of inadequate policies followed by Jefferson, I can hope for change in the government.

After all, if one takes the patterns of history into account--which I fear we are increasingly forgetting to do--one-party rule in government never fares well for the country and, all appearances to the contrary, actually succeeds in fracturing it further.

No comments: