Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Very little has been written about the political career of Matthew Lyon, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1796 to 1800. Only a few biographies of his life have been written, which has contributed to the general lack of knowledge concerning his political affairs. The purpose of this thesis, then, is to identify Matthew Lyon the man, as well as his time in history, the Federalist Era. Special attention will be dedicated to Lyon’s controversial presence in the U.S. House, his violation of the Sedition Act of 1798, and the status of freedom of speech during the latter part of the Federalist Era. Cluster Bloc analysis will be used in order to ascertain the level of opposition Lyon encountered during his expulsion proceedings, as well as the level of support achieved for the Sedition Act.
Matthew Lyon arrived in America in the 18th Century as an indentured servant from Ireland. After being released from the requirements of his indentured servitude Lyon began a life-long struggle for status and recognition. He was viewed as an outsider who relentlessly fought to become an insider. He attempted to become an insider in Federalist America through business ventures and political exploits. Lyon would eventually own many businesses and factories throughout New England. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Revolutionary War, Lyon believed that he was ideally suited for politics, both local and national. Once in the U.S. House of Representatives he continued his quest for acceptance and recognition through actions largely negative in nature. Expulsion proceedings were put into motion on more than one occasion to oust him from Congress, with the most celebrated cause being a physical altercation with his Federalist enemy Roger Griswold on the House floor.
Lyon believed himself to be a complete Republican. His Federalist enemies saw him as a Republican as well, but for different reasons. In short, the Federalists detested his presence in Congress, and this attitude towards Lyon was reflected in the passage of the Sedition Act, as well as his prosecution for violating the act. After his stormy four years in Congress and his jail sentence, Lyon moved west to Kentucky where he again took up his entrepreneurial and political activities.
Through the use of Cluster Bloc and other primary and secondary sources, the analysis will show that the group of Congressmen who voted in favor of Matthew Lyon’s expulsion will be the same one that voted in support of the Sedition Act, and that the Federalist Era, although not the only period of American History to witness repressive legislation, was embarrassingly intolerant of the First Amendment rights of American citizens.
Ingvalson, Chris Allen, "Matthew Lyon, The Sedition Act, and Freedom of Speech in Federalist America" (1995). Theses and Dissertations. 3735.