In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to” lawful authority.” Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition.
Typically, sedition is considered a subversive act, and the overt acts that may be prosecutable under sedition laws vary from one legal code to another. Where the history of these legal codes has been traced, there is also a record of the change in the definition of the elements constituting sedition at certain points in history. This overview has served to develop a sociological definition of sedition as well, within the study of state persecution.
History in common law jurisdictions
The term sedition in its modern meaning first appeared in the Elizabethan Era (c. 1590) as the “notion of inciting by words or writings disaffection towards the state or constituted authority.” “Sedition complements treason and martial law: while treason controls primarily the privileged, ecclesiastical opponents, priests, and Jesuits, as well as certain commoners; and martial law frightens commoners, sedition frightens intellectuals.”
In 1798, President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts which sets out punishments and imprisonment for “opposing or resisting any law of the United States” or writing or publishing “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the President or the U.S. Congress.
In 1940, the Alien and Sedition Acts, or “Smith Act,“ was passed, which made it “a federal crime to advocate or to teach the desirability of overthrowing the United States Government, or to be a member of any organization which does the same.” The “Smith Act” remains a Federal law to this day.
Civilian: In the Espionage Act of 1917, Section 3 This Act of Congress was amended Sedition Act of 1918, which expanded the scope of the Espionage Act to “any statement criticizing the Government of the United States.” These Acts made it a federal crime to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States” or to “willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production” of the things “necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war.” The act, along with other similar federal laws, was used to convict at least 877 people in 1919 and 1920, according to a report by the attorney general. In 1919, the Court heard several important free speech cases — including Debs v. United States and Abrams v. United States — involving the constitutionality of the law. In both cases, the Court upheld the convictions as well as the law.”
Sec. 3. Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements, or say or do anything except by way of bona fide and not disloyal advice to an investor or investors, with intent to obstruct the sale by the United States of bonds or other securities of the United States or the making of loans by or to the United States, and whoever when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause, or incite or attempt to incite, insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct or attempt to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, or shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any language intended to incite, provoke, or encourage resistance to the United States, or to promote the cause of its enemies, or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully by utterance, writing, printing, publication, or language spoken, urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production in this country of any thing or things, product or products, necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war in which the United States may be engaged, with intent by such curtailment to cripple or hinder the United States in the prosecution of war, and whoever shall willfully advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated, and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or the imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both: Provided, That any employee or official of the United States Government who commits any disloyal act or utters any unpatriotic or disloyal language, or who, in an abusive and violent manner criticizes the Army or Navy or the flag of the United States shall be at once dismissed from the service. . . .
Sec. 4. When the United States is at war, the Postmaster General may, upon evidence satisfactory to him that any person or concern is using the mails in violation of any of the provisions of this Act, instruct the postmaster at any post office at which mail is received addressed to such person or concern to return to the postmaster at the office at which they were originally mailed all letters or other matter so addressed, with the words ‘Mail to this address undeliverable under Espionage Act’ plainly written or stamped upon the outside thereof, and all such letters or other matter so returned to such postmasters shall be by them returned to the senders thereof under such regulations as the Postmaster General may prescribe.
Rule(s) of law:
Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
Rebellion or Insurrection — 18 U.S.C. § 2383. Section 2383 of Title 18, U.S.C., makes it unlawful to incite, assist or engage in any rebellion against the authority or laws of the United States.
Sedition and Seditious Conspiracy — 18 U.S.C. §§ 2384, 2387 et seq. Sedition and related offenses are covered in 18 U.S.C. §§ 2387 to 2391. Seditious conspiracy is covered in 18 U.S.C. § 2384.
Advocating the Overthrow of the Government — 18 U.S.C. § 2385. The Smith Act proscribes teaching or advocating the duty or necessity of overthrowing or destroying the Government of the United States by force or violence, publishing or circulating literature which so teaches or advocates, joining or organizing any group which so teaches or advocates, knowing the purposes thereof, or conspiring to do any of the foregoing. See 18 U.S.C. § 2385.
- Coup d’état
- Criminal anarchy
- Free speech
- Guerrilla warfare
- Kangaroo court
- Police state
- Political repression
- Resistance movement
- Sedition Act (disambiguation)
- Seditious libel
- Single-party state