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Posted on May 31, 2019 at 10:51 AM by Chester County Archives
One of the more rewarding aspects of working with archival collections is the experience of coming across a unique find—a particularly rare or valuable item that turns up in the course of cataloging the collections. Among the tens of thousands of records which comprise the Chester County Archives, many which are similar in appearance, there are those whose significance does not become apparent until they are examined in detail.
While working with nineteenth-century criminal court records in the Archives, former Archivist Jack McCarthy once discovered an important document signed by James Monroe, fifth president of the United States (1817-1825). The document was issued during the War of 1812, while Monroe served as Secretary of State. It related to the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts passed by President John Adams in 1798.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were a series of four laws concerning immigrant surveillance and the naturalization process. Federalists like Adams and former President George Washington supported these measures to defend against French and British nationals living inside the United States. Strong opposition to the laws helped elect President Thomas Jefferson and a Congressional Democratic-Republican majority in 1800. Once in office, the Democratic-Republicans quickly repealed two of the four acts.
The Alien Enemies Act, however, remains in effect today and has been enforced various times in the country’s history. The act gives the president power to imprison or deport citizens of a hostile nation during times of war.
During the War of 1812, President James Madison and his administration used the Alien Enemies Act to check British loyalists. It was common for British citizens living inside the U.S. to show their neutrality by registering with a local court. In New York, for example, approximately 1,500 British citizens registered with the district marshal including a 58-year-old British man who had been living in the U.S. for 35 years. (1)
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