How Did the French Revolution Affect the United States?

The French Revolution had an impact on the politics and laws of the United States. It was also a primary motivator behind the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.

When the French Revolution began in 1789, Americans were largely supportive of it. The United States was allied with France at that time, and the hope was that democratic reforms would turn France into a more powerful ally against Britain. As the revolution became more radical and violent, however, opinion became more divided. This led to political division between the Democratic-Republican party who supported the revolution and the Federalist Party who wanted to maintain a good trade relationship with Britain.

When the other European powers went to war with France in 1793, however, both parties agreed that taking sides would lead to economic devastation and potential invasion for the country. The United States thus remained formally neutral despite heavy pressure from both sides.

The political activities of French citizens in the United States and the proliferation of spies led the Federalists, who controlled Congress, to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These laws collectively raised the residency requirement for citizenship, gave the president the power to deport aliens considered dangerous and male citizens of hostile nations above the age of 14 during wartime and restricted speech that was critical of the government. Most of the provisions of the acts had expired by 1801.