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President Donald Trump recently tweeted: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.” In addition to his continuing condemnation of the media, the President has implied that the First Amendment might be too protective of the press. There are those who would have agreed with him about the liberties taken by the press, including the very Founding Fathers who enacted the First Amendment.

Today we take the First Amendment as prohibiting any law that abridges free speech or a free press, but did the drafters of the First Amendment really mean that the press was at liberty to insult and demean the president of the United States without penalty? Apparently not, because those same founders, seven years after the ratification of the First Amendment, enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which made it a crime, punishable by a $5,000 fine and five years in prison “if any person shall write, print, utter or publish … writings against the government of the United States … or the President … to bring them into contempt or disrepute.”

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