On this day, July 14, in 1798, the Sedition Act became law in the United States, making it a federal crime to write, publish, or utter false or malicious statements about the United States government.

The act was passed by the Federalist Congress in anticipation of war with France. President John Adams hoped the law would stifle the opposition. But it backfired after Napoleon's defeat in Egypt in late 1798.

Twenty-one people were indicted, most notably Benjamin Franklin's grandson, and 11 were convicted, receiving sentences of up to 18 months behind bars and fines of $1,000 or more.

The Sedition Act had an expiration date of March 3, 1801 -- the day before Adams' presidential term was to end.

Incoming President Thomas Jefferson pardoned all of those convicted under the Sedition Act and helped pay their fines.

- Scott McCabe