In 1798 the Federalists pushed through Congress a Sedition Act making it a crime to publish false, malicious comments about the President or Congress. (They exempted Vice President Jefferson from this protection against abuse.)
The aim of the law was to silence the country's main Jeffersonian newspapers in the run-up to the election of 1800. Their editors and owners were indeed prosecuted, some for mere critical opinions or lampooning of President Adams.
Jefferson and James Madison, the author of the First Amendment, worked to rouse the public against the Sedition Act. They argued that the Federalists, by trying to silence speech critical of politicians, were taking America back to the British system — the tyranny of George III. And their arguments persuaded many, contributing to Jefferson's defeat of Adams.
When Jefferson took office, on March 4, 1801, he pardoned all those who had been convicted under the Sedition Act. In his Inaugural Address he opened his arms to his bitter opponents — and set out what I think is the true American attitude toward freedom of speech