In 1798, when the frenzy over the impending war with France was at its peak, Congress passed several laws that gained John Adams’s administration the name “Federalist Reign of Terror,” a reference to the dark days in Paris after the fall of the Bastille. Of the Naturalization, Alien, and Sedition Acts, the Sedition Act, passed July 14, 1798, was the most oppressive of citizens’ personal liberties and freedom of the press. It imposed fines and called for imprisonment of anyone who wrote or said anything critical of the president or the government. It was one of the most unpopular moves of Adams’s Federalist administration. A number of persons, most of them Republican editors and printers, were convicted under the act. When Jefferson became president in 1801, he pardoned them all and the Democratic-Republican-controlled Congress restored the fines with interest.
This Democratic-Republican lyric was published in the American Republican Harmonist (1803) as “The War-worn Soldier, Written Under the Reign of the Anglo-Federalism” (87-89). The Coverly copy is a close variant of this printing. The language is strong and knowledgeable, likely the work of a sophisticated political writer, not a common man. While the Sedition Act was not enforced after Jefferson took office in 1801, it was not repealed, determined to be a state right. The fact that Coverly reprinted this political song and dated it ten years after the act suggests that old political feelings were being aroused to fight new battles.
Coverly welcomed customers from both camps in his shop. For him any business that came through his door was business he was interested in. He did not seem to care about political affiliation as he accepted work for his press and he evidently was not worried about trouble over what he printed from opposing parties.