Sedition “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “sedition” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s Dictionary (1828):

 

 

(Ballantine’s)

A commotion, or the raising of a commotion, in the state, not amounting to an insurrection. Exciting discontent against the government, or resistance to lawful authority. To attempt by word, deed, or writing to promote public disorder or induce riot, rebellion, or civil war [State v. Shepard, 177 Mo 205, 76 SW 79]. The wilful and knowing utterance, writing, or publication of disloyal, scurrilous, or abusive matter against the United States or a state, or the flag, military forces, or uniform of the Armed Forces, which matter is designed and calculated to bring them into contempt, matter which aggregates, incites, fosters, or encourages antagonism, opposition, and hostility to organized government, or matter which obstructs or interferes with recruiting or enlistment services strengthening the Armed Forces [47 Am J1st Sed it etc § 2].

During the presidency of John Adams, Congress passed a sedition act making it an offense to libel the government, the Congress, or the President, and there were four prosecutions under it, but it was unpopular and was soon repealed [State v. Shepherd, 177 Mos 205, 221, 76 SW 79].

 

(Bouvier’s)

  1. The raising commotions or disturbances in the state; it is a revolt against legitimate authority [Ersk. Princ. Laws, Scotl. b. 4, t. 4, s. 14; Dig. Lib. 49, t. 16, 1.3, 19].

  2. The distinction between sedition and treason consists in this, that though its ultimate object is a violation of the public peace, or at least such a course of measures as evidently engenders it, yet it does not aim at direct and open violence against the laws, or the subversion of the constitution [Alis. Crim. Law of Scotl. 580].

  3. The obnoxious and obsolete act of July 14, 1798 was called the sedition law, because its professed object was to prevent disturbances [1 Story’s Laws US 543].

  4. In the Scotch law, sedition is either verbal or real. Verbal is inferred from the uttering of words tending to create discord between the king of his people; real sedition is generally committed by convocation together any considerable number of people, without lawful authority, under the pretence of redressing some public grievance, to the disturbing of the public peace [1 Ersk. ut supra].

 

(Black’s)

An insurrectionary movement tending towards treason, but wanting an overt act; attempts made by meetings or speeches, or by publications, to disturb the tranquility of the state.

  • The distinction between “sedition” and “treason” consists in this: that though the ultimate object of sedition is a violation of the public peace, or at least such a course of measures as evidently engenders it, yet it does not aim at direct and open violence against the laws or the subversion of the constitution [Alis. Crim. Law, 580].

In Scotch law, the raising commotions or disturbances in the state. It is a revolt against legitimate authority [Ersk. Inst. 4, 4, 14].

In English law, sedition is the offense of publishing, verbally or otherwise, any words or document with the intention of exciting disaffection, hatred, or contempt against the sovereign, or the government and constitution of the kingdom, or either house of parliament, or the administration of justice, or of exciting his majesty’s subjects to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, the alteration of any matter in church or state, or of exciting feelings of ill will and hostility between different classes of his majesty’s subjects [Sweet. And see State v. Shepherd, 177 Mo. 205, 76 SW 79, 99 Am. St. Rep. 624].

 

(Webster’s)

SEDI”TION, n. [L. seditio.]

The sense of this word is the contrary of that which is naturally deducible from sedo, or sedeo, denoting a rising or raging, rather than an appeasing. But to set is really to throw down, to drive, and sedition may be a setting or rushing together.] A factious commotion of the people, a tumultuous assembly of men rising in opposition to law or the administration of justice, and in disturbance of the public peace. Sedition is a rising or commotion of less extent than an insurrection, and both are less than rebellion; but some kinds of sedition, in Great Britain, amount to high treason. In general, sedition is a local or limited insurrection in opposition to civil authority, as mutiny is to military.

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