SEDITION (Lat. se or sed, apart, and ire, to go, a going apart, dissension), in law, an attempt to disturb the tranquillity of the state. In Roman law sedition was considered as majestas or treason. In English law it is a very elastic term, including offences ranging from libel to treason (q.v.). It is rarely used except in its adjectival form, e.g. seditious libel, seditious meeting or seditious conspiracy. " As to sedition itself," says Mr Justice Stephen, " I do not think that any such offence is known to English law " (Hist. Crim. Law, vol. ii. chap, xxiv.). 1 The principal enactments now in force dealing with seditious offences were all passed during the last twenty-five years of the reign of George III. They are the Unlawful Oaths Act 1797, prohibiting the administering or taking of unlawful oaths (see OATH) or the belonging to an unlawful confederacy; the Unlawful Drilling Act 1819-1820 prohibited unlawful drilling and military exercises; and the acts for the suppression of corresponding societies, the Unlawful Societies Act 1799 and the Seditious Meetings Act 1817. No proceedings can be instituted under these last two acts without the authority of the law officers of the crown (Corresponding Societies, etc., Act, 184^6). Under the head of statutes aimed at seditious offences may also be classed statutes of Richard II. (1378, 1388) against scandalum magnalum or slander of great men, such as peers, judges or great officers of state, whereby discord may arise within the realm, and a statute of Charles II. (1661) against tumultuous petitioning (see PETI- TION) . There has been no prosecution for many years for seditious words as distinguished from seditious libel, but such words have been admitted as evidence in proceedings for seditious conspiracy (q.v.), as in the prosecution of O'Connell in 1844 and of C. Parnell and others in 1880 (see Reg. v. Parnell, Cox's Criminal Cases, vol. xiv. 508). By the Prison Act 1877, any prisoner under sentence for sedition or seditious libel is to be treated as a misdemeanant of the first division.
'The word " sedition " occurs, however, in the Prison Act 1877, s. 40.
Scotland. " All acts by which the minds of the people may be incited to defeat the government or control legislation by violent or unconstitutional means are seditious " (Macdonald, Criminal Law, 229). Sedition is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both (Punishment of Leasing-making, etc., 1825). A very large number of acts of the Scottish parliament dealt with sedition, beginning as early as 1184 with the assize of William the Lion, c. 29. Leasingmaking is to be distinguished from sedition, as it attacked only the sovereign individually, not the government.
United States. In the acts of Congress the word " sedition " appears to occur only in the army and navy articles. A soldier joining any sedition or who, being present at any sedition, does not use his utmost endeavour to suppress the same, is punishable with death or such other punishment as a court-martial shall direct (U.S. Rev. Stats. 1342, arts. 22, 23). A sailor uttering seditious words is punishable at the discretion of a court-martial. In 1798 an act of Congress called the Sedition Act was passed, which expired by effluxion of time in 1801. Its constitutionality was violently assailed at the time and it "was beyond all question condemned by public sentiment " as " susceptible of being used for purposes of oppression and terrorism." (See Story on the constitution of the United States, 1293-1294.) Several prosecutions under the act will be found in Wharton's State Trials. Sedition is also dealt with by the state laws mostly in a very liberal spirit. Thus the Louisiana Code, 394, enacted that " there is no such offence known to our law as defamation of the government or either of its branches, either under the name of libel, slander, seditious writing or other appellation." By in, to constitute the offence of sedition " there must be not only a design to dismember the state, or to subvert or change its constitution, but an attempt must be made to do it by force. It has been held that publications which tend to degrade and vilify the constitution, to promote insurrection and circulate discontent through its members, to asperse its justice and anywise impair the exercise of its functions are seditious and are visited with the peculiar rigour of the law (1805, Respub. v. Dennie, 4 Yeates (Penna), 267). The defendant was indicted " as a factitious and seditious person of a wicked mind and unquiet and turbulent disposition and conversation, seditiously, maliciously and wilfully intending as much as in him lay to bring into contempt and hatred the independence of the United States, the constitution of this commonwealth and of the United States, to excite popular discontent and dissatisfaction against the scheme of polity instituted and upon trial in the said United States and in the said commonwealth, to molest, disturb and destroy the peace and public tranquillity of the said United States ... to condemn the principles of revolution and revile, depreciate and scandalize the characters of the revolutionary patriots and statesmen, to endanger, subvert and totally destroy the republican constitutions and free governments of the United States ... to involve (it) ... in civil war, desolation and anarchy and to procure by art and force a radical change and alteration in the principles and forms of the said constitutions and governments without the free will and concurrence of the people o? the United States, and to fulfil, perfect and bring to effect his wicked, seditious and detestable intentions aforesaid he the said Joseph Dennie on the 23rd of April 1803 at the city of Philadelphia falsely, maliciously, factiously and seditiously did make, compose, write and publish the following libel, to wit, ' a democracy is scarcely tolerable at any period of national history. Its omens are always sinister and its powers are unpropitious ; it was weak and wicked at Athens, it was bad in Sparta and worse in Rome. ... It was tried in England and rejected with the utmost loathing and abhorrence. It is on its trial here and its issue will be civil war, desolation and anarchy. . . . No honest man but proclaims its fraud, and no brave man but draws his sword against its force,' etc., etc." The defendant was found not guilty.
Continent of Europe. The continental codes as a rule are little more definite than English law in their treatment of sedition. In Germany a distinction is drawn between Auflauf, the remaining together of a mob after the authorities have thrice bid it disperse, and Aufruhr or Auf stand, an organized resistance to the authorities; but no definition is given of the terms. The Hungarian penal code defines Auf stand to be an armed assembly which has the intention of attacking a class of citizens, a nationality or a religious body. The French penal code recognizes a difference between sedition and reunion s6ditieu^e. If carried out with sufficient numbers and sufficient force sedition becomes rebellion. Section 100 exempts from the penalties of sedition those who have merely been present at a seditious meeting without taking any active part therein, and have dispersed at the first warning of the military or civil authorities.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)