Alien Enemies Act of 1798

The Alien Enemies Act of 1798 was part of four laws known as the Alien and Sedition Acts that enacted increasing press regulations and restrictions against aliens. It was used as the basis for incarcerating enemy aliens and confiscating their property during World War II. As a result, a number of Japanese, Germans, and Italians were arrested and interned for the duration of the war and were later deported to their nations of origins.

In 1798, the United States was on the verge of war with France. The Federalists, America's first political party, believed that Democratic-Republican criticism of their policies was disloyal. Additionally, they feared that aliens living in the United States would sympathize with the French during a war. As a result, a Federalist-controlled Congress passed four laws, collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws raised the residency requirements for citizenship from five to fourteen years and made aliens "liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured, and removed" in the Alien Enemies Act of 1798. [1] However, these acts set off a firestorm of criticism against the Federalists as they revealed the limits of freedom of speech and the press and contributed to their defeat in the election of 1800. Currently, the Alien Enemies Act of 1798 is still in force in modified form and authorizes the President to detain, relocate, or deport enemy aliens in time of war.

In 1941, the Alien Enemies Act was utilized by government officials to incarcerate Japanese Americans. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Proclamation 2525 in accordance with the Alien Enemies Act, giving the government the authority to detain enemy aliens and confiscate enemy property. The Proclamation permitted immediate apprehension of "alien enemies deemed dangerous to the public health or safety of the United States by the Attorney General or Secretary of War." [2] On December 8, 1941, similar proclamations were issued for the arrest of suspect Germans and Italians. By February 16, 1942, the Department of Justice held 2,192 Japanese, 1,393 Germans, and 264 Italians, and arrests continued even after that date. Many arrested were Issei leaders of the Japanese American community and its organizations.

Upon conclusion of World War II, some internees used the Alien Enemies Act to block their deportation to Axis states. Some German internees from Latin American countries filed habeas corpus petitions challenging their detention by the United States, claiming that they were not "alien enemies" as defined by the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, because they were not natives or citizens of an enemy country. In January 1946, this effort failed when a federal district court ruled that the Latin American internees were "alien enemies" who could legally be detained. After this decision, 513 Japanese (over ninety percent from Peru), 897 Germans and 37 Italians from Latin America in United States internment camps were granted hearings pending deportation. [3] The hearings were a formality leading to their deportation to Axis countries, although most of the remaining Latin American Japanese wished to return to Peru. Voluntary repatriation continued into 1946, with at least 130 Peruvian Japanese returning to Japan by June. (See Japanese Latin Americans .)

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Christensen, Erika L. "Face of the Enemy: the Japanese-American Internment and its Significance on Ethnic Conflict in America." Master's thesis, Utah State University, 2010.

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

German American Internee Coalition.

Miller, John Chester. Crisis in Freedom: the Alien and Sedition Acts . Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.

Miyake, Lika C. "Forsaken and Forgotten: The U.S. Internment of Japanese Peruvians During World War II" (May 2002): 18666 words.

Neuman, Gerald L., and Charles F. Hobson. "John Marshall and the Enemy Alien." The Green Bag (Autumn 2005).

Peltner, Arndt. "Unforgettable Justice." The Atlantic Times , May 2007.

Presidential Proclamation 2525.

Stone, Geoffrey R. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism . New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.

United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives . New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.


  1. United States, National Archives and Records Administration, Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 10.
  2. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 54.
  3. Personal Justice Denied , 312.

Last updated June 20, 2024, 2:26 a.m..