Right-Wing Sedition

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

In 1798, during the Quasi-war with France, Congress, with President John Adams’ support, passed the Sedition Act. Outraged by attacks on her husband, Abigail Adams supported the act, which was opposed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others.

“Let us not establish a tyranny,” wrote an alarmed Alexander Hamilton to an ally in Congress. Indeed, the Sedition Act, an obvious violation of the First Amendment, made a permanent blot on the Adams presidency. Here is part of its text:

“If any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or publishing, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in its writing, printing, uttering, or publishing any false, scandalous, and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt and disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States or to stir up sedition within the United States…shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars and by imprisonment not exceeding two years” (italics added).

False, scandalous, malicious, defamatory, exciting hatred, stirring up sedition…Why, it’s like a run-of-the-mill report on Fox News!

When Jefferson became president, he too found the attacks on his presidency intolerable and prosecuted two Federalist journalists . One of them was defended in court by Alexander Hamilton, who won the case.

These days it’s hard not to sympathize with Abigail Adams. She was worried about the safety of her husband. A frightened Congress feared that the newly formed country would erupt into civil war. Inflammatory rhetoric, ad-hominem attacks, demagoguery … these are both tests of free speech and violations of its intent.

It’s ironic, although not surprising, that blowhards like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are spouting sedition these days. Even members of Congress, who should know better, are engaging in fear-mongering.

When one of their own was president, the Right had nothing but awe for the highest office in the land and the man who held it. Dissent, however thoughtful and earnest, seemed to them wildly unpatriotic. Ann Coulter wrote a “book” about liberal dissent and called it Treason.  Who is treasonous now?

Right-wing rumors have it that Obama is not an American citizen, that he’s going to abolish the Second Amendment (or at least seize all guns) and that attempts to rescue American business from bankruptcy are really “socialism,” as is the plan to give America citizens what other wealthy, civilized countries have—a health care system that puts people before profits.

And as a result of this hysterical climate, armed lunatics, in a frenzy of paranoia, are attacking and killing law-abiding Americans. How long before there is an assassination attempt on a high public figure? How long until another Timothy McVeigh blows up a government building with a day care center?

McVeigh’s atrocity, like the atrocity of 9/11, killed people regardless of their political allegiances. Like army bureaucrats, like Émile Henry, the anarchist who in 1894 threw a bomb into a Paris nightclub, violent zealots consider the deaths of innocents “collateral damage.”

The Founders of this country set up our system of government so that demagoguery could be defused before it exploded. As students of Roman history, they worried about potential Caesars; as witnesses to the French Revolution, they worried about enraged mobs directed by icy zealots like Robespierre.

The average 18th-century Frenchman had serious grievances. The rich paid no taxes, so workers, peasants, and shopkeepers had to supply the luxuries and privileges of an extravagant monarchy and aristocracy. Compared to pre-revolutionary France, George III’s England was a paradise of individual liberties, legal rights, and parliamentary representation.

What’s driving our current hysteria? Nothing that you would find in that French revolutionary document, “The Rights of Man.” Instead, when a sobbing Glenn Beck says that he fears for his country, he means that he’s horrified that we have a black president. “They” are taking over.

Never mind that our president was reared by his white mother and grandparents, that his white ancestors also came to this country as humble immigrants, that he’s brilliant and eloquent, that he has studied and taught the Constitution, that the rest of the world admires him, and that our international reputation was greatly enhanced by his election.

The Limbaugh/Fox News rhetoric shows the Southern strategy operating on the national level. Hard-working, provincial white folks, those historically in competition with blacks for jobs, are being incited by wealthy tax-evaders into an orgy of racist fear, exacerbated by high unemployment and globalization. Although they didn’t object when wily Republicans strategically placed African-Americans in high offices, they’re terrified by President Obama.

When I was a child watching debates and conventions with my parents, there were creatures known as “moderate Republicans.” They seemed to have little in common with Goldwater or Nixon, who then represented the extreme right of the party.



Are there any statesmanlike conservatives out there who respect the rule of law and the offices of high elected officials, who fear assassination attempts and a lynch-mob mentality? If so, they urgently need to speak out.  If they do not, they will be complicit in whatever violence this seditious rhetoric continues to inspire.


Carol V. Hamilton

Ms. Hamilton has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley. Her website: http://www.carolvanderveerhamilton.com.

Reprinted from the History Network News, where it first appeared.


  1. says

    When you ask, “How long before there is an assassination attempt on a high public figure?”, just three weeks ago, there was a crazed right-wing gunmen who shot at the White House in an attempt to assassinate President Obama because “He was the Antichrist”. How do you get “666” out of Barack Hussein Obama? You don’t. And Obama’s actions have been, for the most part, in line with what Jesus would do.

    On the other hand, Ronald(6 letters) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) was very antichrist! He helped the rich and hurt the poor, greatly increased funding for the military while creating huge budget deficits, etc. The Revelation Chapter 13, “The Beast is the ruler of the world, lies to all nations, and was wounded, yet lived (3x)”. Yep! That was Reagan. (Google: Reagan 666). George Walker Bush Jr was/is the “2nd Beast who imitates the 1st Beast and makes fire come down from the heavens with the ‘destruction of Babylon’ (War In Iraq).” United(6) States(6) Dollar(6) is the “mark of the Beast that everyone must have to buy or sell with”.

    – Brad Watson, Miami

  2. Leslie PIper says

    Thank you for your recognition of the intensive and long term subversion effort originated by an American
    personal student of Joseph Stalin…yes, I mean the father of the white, pasty, lying Koch brothers, without whose money and paid traitors there would be no hundreds of wrongwinger nests of treason, such as ‘Heritage’.

    Clever devils. Americans are waking up, and I hope to live to see the trials of these weak-kneed totalitarian clowns for “Crimes against Humanity…” the Wall Street rip-offs and financial crash of ’08
    as the mere tip of the iceberg.

    The phone hacking scandals of Britain lead directly to Fox, and O’Reilly and Limbaugh and assorted pukes may be facing justice very soon…along with just-a$$ Thomass of the once-Supreme Court and several of his immediate associates…Uncle Sam may be waking up and the bribes may not have corrupted everyone in the FBI…and ‘Occupy’ gives me hope. GOTP delenda est…

    you can hide and corrupt, you horrible treasonous anti-Americans, but you can’t hide much longer…there really is an American spirit of liberty, and you wrongwingers are going down. I hope to build the guillotines and push them to Wall Street myself…GOTP delenda est!

  3. Shandra Duval says

    Why is the official White House portrait of Lucy Webb Hayes (wife of Rutherford B. Hayes) on a site for Abigail Smith Adams (wife of John Adams & mother of John Quincey Adams)?

  4. TheAgeofReason says

    The author of this article is under a terrific delusion. I’m sorry she is teaching students but her propaganda is not unique. I imagine if she went back to school and studied modern economic science, she may be in a better position to frame history in contemporary perspective. But, I’m not delusional. That will never happen. Brain donors will continue to squander the precious time our youngest American minds pouring them into the world with impoverished minds & ten years of hard knocks before they are capable of forming their own thoughts. The ability to read is not sufficient qualification for literacy.


  5. Wayne says

    The real sedition is coming from within the Democratic Party, which is now rapidly becoming the party of Crony the Corporate Clown show. They have bailed on the Republicans for their massive failures and started funneling their corporate cash from their need for greed efforts of the past 20 years to the Demo’s who just can’t seem to get enough. The Fox Fake news and other media horns for the Republicans are the diversion to keep our eyes and anger away from the Blue Dogs who are giving away the store and continuing the downfall of our nation!

    Wake up people, the new enemy isn’t the radical loony right, it is the conservative corporate and weak kneed Democrats! They have the power to change our nation and they are blocking it right and left FOR THE MONEY THEY FUNNEL INTO THEIR CAMPAIGN CHESTS!

    Money is the destructive force in politics and until this is removed from the campaign game, NOTHING WILL REALLY CHANGE FOR THE PEOPLE!

    In the mean time, maybe it’s time for the people of this nation to do what the Iranian’s are doing… hit the streets in peaceful rallies and march for change. For it sure as heck isn’t going to come from waiting around for the politico’s of either party to remove their mouths from the tit of Crony the Corporate Clown!

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