Specific scholarly interest in the period after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and its implications for contemporary controversies has followed a pattern not dissimilar to that of Halley’s Comet: It tends to recycle regularly, a few years after a half-century or so of obscurity. There are good reasons for this recurrence, many of which are demonstrated by Bird’s recent contribution to the genre.

The episode involved the passage of four laws, a series of contemplated and actual prosecutions and deportations, and a spirited debate including well-known state-based responses led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others. Though brief—essentially ending with Jefferson’s electoral victory in 1800—

The period evinces prototypical problems concerning the limits of free speech; the optimal relationship(s) between liberty, order, and democracy (and between legitimate dissent and sedition); recurrent vituperative, political factionalism (inspired by what George Washington called “the baneful effects of...

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