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PLATFORM ENUNCIATED IN
THE FIRST POLITICAL ΤΟ COMMAND GENERAL ATTENTION WAS DRAWN BY MR. MADISON IN 1798, WHOSE OBJECT WAS TO PRONOUNCE THE ALIEN AND SEDITION LAWS UNCONSTITUTIONAL, AND TO DEFINE THE RIGHTS OF THE STATES.
Virginia Resolutions of 1798. Pronouncing the Alien and Sedition Laws to be unconstitutional, and Defining the rights of the States.-Drawn by
In the Virginia House af Delegates, Friday, Dec. 21, 1798. Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the constitution of this state, against every aggression er er reign or domestic; and that they w. support the government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former.
That this Assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the Union of the states, to maintain which it pledges its powers; and, that for this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a faithful observance of them can alone secure its existence and the public happi
That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, as no farther valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states, who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the
progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to
That the General Assembly doth also express its deep regret, that a spirit has, in sundry instances, been manifested by the federal government, to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and, that indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of powers in the former Articles of Confederation, were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect of the particular enumeration which necessarily "explains, and limits the general phrases, and so as to consolidate the states by degrees into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable result of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United States into an absolute, or at best, a mixed monarchy.
That the General Assembly doth particularly protest against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution, in the two late cases of the "Alien and Sedition Acts," passed at the last session of Congress; the first of which exercises a power nowhere delegated to the federal government, and which, by uniting legislative and judicial powers to those of executive, subverts the general principles of free government, as well as the particular organization and positive provisions of the Federal Constitution; and the other 3
of which acts exercises, in like manner, a Extracts from the Address to the People, power not delegated by the Constitution, which accompanied the foregoing resolu but on the contrary, expressly and positions :
tively forbidden by one of the amendments Fellow - Citizens: Unwilling to shrink thereto; a power which, more than any from our representative responsibility, other, ought to produce universal alarm, conscious of the purity of our motives, but because it is levelled against the right of acknowledging your right to supervise our freely examining public characters and conduct, we invite your serious attention measures, and of free communication to the emergency which dictated the subamong the people thereon, which has ever joined resolutions. Whilst we disdain to been justly deemed the only effectual alarm you by ill-founded jealousies, we guardian of every other right. recommend an investigation, guided by the coolness of wisdom, and a decision bottomed, on firmness but tempered with moderation.
That this state having by its Convention, which ratified the Federal Constitution, expressly declared, that among other essential rights, "the liberty of conscience It would be perfidious in those intrusted and the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, with the guardianship of the state soverrestrained, or modified by any authority eignty, and acting under the solemn obligaof the United States," and from its extreme tion of the following oath: "I do swear, anxiety to guard these rights from every that I will support the Constitution of the possible attack of sophistry and ambition, United States," not to warn you of encroachhaving with other states recommended an ments, which, though clothed with the amendment for that purpose, which amend- pretext of necessity, or disguised by argument was, in due time, annexed to the ments of expediency, may yet establish Constitution, it would mark a reproachful precedents, which may ultimately devote a inconsistency, and criminal degeneracy, if generous and unsuspicious people to all an indifference were now shown to the the consequences of usurped power. most palpable violation of one of the rights, thus declared and secured; and to the establishment of a precedent which may be fatal to the other.
Encroachments, springing from a government whose organization cannot be maintained without the co-operation of the states, furnish the strongest incitements
That the good people of this common-upon the state legislatures to watchfulness, wealth, having ever felt, and continuing to and impose upon them the strongest obligafeel the most sincere affection for their tion to preserve unimpaired the line of brethren of the other states; the truest partition. anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the Union of all: and the most scrupulous fidelity to that Constitution, which is the pledge of mutual friendship, and the instrument of mutual happiness; the General Assembly doth solemnly appeal to the like dispositions in the other States, in confidence that they will concur with this commonwealth, in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional; and, that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each for co-operating with this state, in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and Liberties, reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people.
That the governor be desired to transmit a copy of the foregoing resolutions to the executive authority of each of the other states, with a request that the same may be communicated to the legislature thereof; and that a copy be furnished to each of the Senators and Representatives representing this state in the Congress of the United States. Attest, JOHN STEWART. 1798. December 24th. Agreed to by the Senate. H. BROOKE.
A true copy from the original deposited in the office of the General Assembly.
JOHN STEWART, Keeper of Rolls.
The acquiescence of the states under infractions of the federal compact, would either beget a speedy consolidation, by precipitating the state governments into impotency and contempt; or prepare the way for a revolution, by a repetition of these infractions, until the people are aroused to appear in the majesty of their strength. It is to avoid these calamities, that we exhibit to the people the momentous question, whether the Constitution of the United States shall yield to a construction which defies every restraint and overwhelms the best hopes of republicanism.
Exhortations to disregard domestic usurpations until foreign danger shall have passed, is an artifice which may be for ever used; because the possessors of power, who are the advocates for its extension, can ever create national embarrassments, to be successively employed to soothe the people into sleep, whilst that power is swelling silently, secretly, and fatally. Of the same character are insinuations of a foreign influence, which seize upon a laudable enthusiasm against danger from a broad, and distort it by an unnatural application, so as to blind your eyes against danger at home.
The sedition act presents a scene which was never expected by the early friends of the Constitution. It was then admitted
that the state sovereignties were only diminished by powers specifically enumerated, or necessary to carry the specified powers into effect. Now federal authority is deduced from implication, and from the existence of state law it is inferred that Congress possesses a similar power of legislation; whence Congress will be endowed with a power of legislation in all cases whatsoever, and the states will be stript of every right reserved by the concurrent claims of a paramount legislature.
The sedition act is the offspring of these tremendous pretensions, which inflict a death wound on the sovereignty of these
For the honor of American understanding, we will not believe that the people have been allured into the adoption of the Constitution by an affectation of defining powers, whilst the preamble would admit à construction which would erect the will of Congress into a power paramount in all cases, and therefore limited in none. On the contrary, it is evident that the objects for which the Constitution was formed were deemed attainable only by a particular enumeration and specification of each power granted to the federal government; reserving all others to the people, or to the states. And yet it is in vain we search for any specified power, embracing the right of legislation against the freedom of the press.
Had the states been despoiled of their sovereignty by the generality of the preamble, and had the federal government been endowed with whatever they should judge to be instrumental towards union, justice, tranquillity, common defence, general welfare, and the preservation of liberty nothing could have been more frivolous than an enumeration of powers.
All the preceding arguments rising from a deficiency of constitutional power in Congress, apply to the alien act, and this act is liable to other objections peculiar to itself. If a suspicion that aliens are dangerous constitute the justification of that power exercised over them by Congress, then a similar suspicion will justify the exercise of a similar power over natives. Because there is nothing in the Constitution distinguishing between the power of a state to permit the residence of natives and aliens. It is therefore a right originally possessed, and never surrendered by the respective states, and which is rendered dear and valuable to Virginia, because it is assailed through the bosom of the Constitution, and because her peculiar situation renders the easy admission of artisans and laborers an interest of vast importance.
But this bill contains other features, still more alarming and dangerous. It dispenses with the trial by jury: it violates the judicial system; it confounds legislative,
executive, and judicial powers; it punishes without trial; and it bestows upon the President despotic power over a numerous class of men. Are such measures consistent with our constitutional principles? And will an accumulation of power so extensive in the hands of the executive, over aliens, secure to natives the blessings of republican liberty?
If measures can mould governments, and if an uncontrolled power of construction is surrendered to those who administer them, their progress may be easily foreseen and their end easily foretold. A lover of monarchy, who opens the treasures of corruption, by distributing emolument among devoted partisans, may at the same time be approaching his object, and deluding the people with professions of republicanism. He may confound monarchy and republicanism, by the art of definition. He may varnish over the dexterity which ambition never fails to display, with the pliancy of language, the seduction of expediency, or the prejudices of the times. And he may come at length to avow that so extensive a territory as that of the United States can only be governed by the energies of monarchy; that it cannot be defended, except by standing armies; and that it cannot be united, except by consolidation.
Measures have already been adopted which may lead to these consequences. They consist:
In fiscal systems and arrangements, which keep a host of commercial and wealthy individuals, embodied and obedient to the mandates of the treasury.
In armies and navies, which will, on the one hand, enlist the tendency of man to pay homage to his fellow-creature who can feed or honor him; and on the other, employ the principle of fear, by punishing imaginary insurrections, under the pretext of preventive justice.
In swarms of officers, civil and military, who can inculcate political tenets tending to consolidation and monarchy, both by indulgences and severities; and can act as spies over the free exercise of human reason.
In restraining the freedom of the press, and investing the executive with legislative, executive, and judicial powers, over a numerous body of men.
And, that we may shorten the catalogue, in establishing by successive precedents such a mode of construing the Constitution as will rapidly remove every restraint upon federal power.
Let history be consulted; let the man of experience reflect; nay, let the artificers of monarchy be asked what farther materials they can need for building up their favorite system?
These are solemn, but painful truths; and yet we recommend it to you not to for get the possibility of danger from without,
although danger threatens us from within. Usurpation is indeed dreadful, but against foreign invasion, if that should happen, let us rise with hearts and hands united, and repel the attack with the zeal of freemen, who will strengthen their title to examine and correct domestic measures by having detended their country against foreign agSTA 1.
1. Resolved, That in the opinion of this legislature, the second section of third article of the Constitution of the United States in these words, to wit : The judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the laws of the United States, vests in the federal courts, exclusively, and in the Supreme Court of the United States ultimately, the authority of deciding on the constitutionality of any act or law of the Congress of the United States.
Resolved, That for any state legisla ture to assume that authority, would be. 1st. Blending together legislative and judicial powers.
22 Hazarding an interruption of the peace of the states by civil discord, in case of a diversity of opinions among the state
Hedged a we are, fellow-citizens, to these suured ongagements, we yet humbly and fervently more the Almighty Dis per of events to avert from our land war and n-urpation, the scourges of mankind; ɔ permit our to cultivated in peace; to instill into nations the love of friendly intercourse; to suffer our youth to be educated in virtue; and to preserve our morality from the pollution invariably in- legislatures; each state having, in that cident to habits war; to prevent the case, no of resort for vindicating its OWL laborer and hu-bandman iron, being har-Lopinions, but to the strength of its own used by taxes an imposts; : remove arm. from ambition the man -et dis d. 3d. Submitting most important ques commonwealth; to annihilate all pretextstions of law to less competent tribunals; for power afforded by war; to maintain the Constitution; and to our natioz with tranquillity, under whose benign infunnœe we may reach the summit of hapand claw, to which we are destined - Nurture at Nature's God.
JOHN STEWART. C. H. D. 178), Jan. 23. Agreed to by the Senate. H. BROOKL. C. S. from the original deposited in the office of the General Assembly. JOHN STEWART, Keeper of Rolls.
A true c
ISAAC DAVIS. Speaker of the Senate.
4th. An infraction of the Constitution of the United States, expressed in pa terms.
3. Resolved, That although for the above reasons this legislature, in their public capacity, do not feel themselves authorized to consider and decide on the constitutionality of the sedition and alien laws (sc called); yet they are called upon by the
xigency of this occasion, to declare, that in their private opinions these laws are within the powers delegated to Congress, and promoave of the welfare of the United States.
JOHN FISHER, C. S.
JOHN CALDWELL, C. H. R. STATE OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS.-In General Assembly, February, A. D. 1792. Certain resolutions of the Legislature of Virginia, passed on 21st of December last, being communicated to this Assembly,
4. Resolved, That the governor communicate these resolutions to the supreme executive of the state of Virginia and at the same time express to him that this legisiature cannot contemplate, without extreme concern and regret, the many evil and fatal consequences which may flow from the very unwarrantable resolutions afore said, of the legislature of Virginia, passed on the twenty-first day of December last. A true copy. SANTEL EDDY. Sec.
Answers of the several State Legislatures.
STATE OF DELAWARE-In the House of Representatives. res. Feb. 1. 1799. Resolved, Ey the Senate and House of Representa tives of the state of Delaware, in General Assembly met, that they consider the rese lucions from the state of Virginia as a very lude unjustifiable interference with the general government and constituted authorities of the United States, and of dangerous tendency, and therefore not fit subject for the-In Senate, Feb. 9. 1799. The legisla further consideration of the General As-ture of Massachusetts having taken into sembly.
COMMONWEALTH OF MASKA CET SETTS.
serious consideration the resolutions of the State of Virginia, passed the 21st day of December last, and communicated by his excellency the governor. relative to certain supposed infractions of the Constitution of the United States, by the government thereof, and being convinced that the Federal Constitution is calculated to promote the happiness, prosperity, and safety of the people of these United States, and to maintain that union of the several states, so essential to the welfare of the whole; and being bound by solemn oath
to support and defend that Constitution, I The legislature of Massachusetts, alfeel it unnecessary to make any professions though they do not themselves claim the of their attachment to it, or of their firm right, nor admit the authority of any of determination to support it against every the state governments, to decide upon the aggression, foreign or domestic. constitutionality of the acts of the federal government, still, lest their silence should be construed into disapprobation, or at best into a doubt of the constitutionality of the acts referred to by the State of Virginia; and, as the General Assembly of Virginia has called for an expression of their sentiments, do explicitly declare, that they consider the acts of Congress, commonly called "the alien and sedition acts," not only constitutional, but expedient and necessary: That the former act respects a description of persons whose rights were not particularly contemplated in the Constitution of the United States, who are entitled only to a temporary protection, while they yield a temporary allegiance; a protection which ought to be withdrawn whenever they become "dangerous to the
But they deem it their duty solemnly to declare, that while they hold sacred the principle, that consent of the people is the only pure source of just and legitimate power, they cannot admit the right of the state legislatures to denounce the administration of that government to which the people themselves, by a solemn compact, have exclusively committed their national concerns: That, although a liberal and enlightened vigilance among the people is always to be cherished, yet an unreasonable jealousy of the men of their choice, and a recurrence to measures of extremity, upon groundless or trivial pretexts, have a strong tendency to destroy all rational liberty at home, and to deprive the United States of the most essential advantages in their relations abroad: That this legisla-public safety," or are found guilty of ture are persuaded that the decision of all treasonable machination" against the cases in law and equity, arising under the government: That Congress having been Constitution of the United States, and the especially intrusted by the people with the construction of all laws made in pursu-general defence of the nation, had not only ance thereof, are exclusively vested by the the right, but were bound to protect it people in the judicial courts of the United against internal as well as external foes. States. That the United States, at the time of passing the act concerning aliens, were threatened with actual invasion, had been driven by the unjust and ambitious conduct of the French government into warlike preparations, expensive and burthensome, and had then, within the bosom of the country, thousands of aliens, who, we doubt
That the people in that solemn compact, which is declared to be the supreme law of the land, have not constituted the state legislatures the judges of the acts or measures of the federal government, but have confided to them the power of proposing such amendments of the Constitution, as shall appear to them necessary to the in-not, were ready to co-operate in any exterests, or conformable to the wishes of ternal attack. the people whom they represent.
That by this construction of the Constitution, an amicable and dispassionate remedy is pointed out for any evil which experience may prove to exist, and the peace and prosperity of the United States may be preserved without interruption.
It cannot be seriously believed, that the United States should have waited till the poignard had in fact been plunged. The removal of aliens is the usual preliminary of hostility, and is justified by the invariable usages of nations. Actual hostility had unhappily long been experienced, and a formal declaration of it the government had reason daily to expect. The law, therefore, was just and salutary, and no officer could, with so much propriety, be intrusted with the execution of it, as the one in whom the Constitution has reposed the executive power of the United States.
The sedition act, so called, is, in the opinion of this legislature, equally defen
But, should the respectable state of Virginia persist in the assumption of the right to declare the acts of the national government unconstitutional, and should she oppose successfully her force and will to those of the nation, the Constitution would be reduced to a mere cipher, to the form and pageantry of authority, without the energy of power. Every act of the federal government which thwarted the sible. The General Assembly of Virginia, views or checked the ambitious projects of in their resolve under consideration, oba particular state, or of its leading and in-serve, that when that state by its convenfluential members, would be the object of tion ratified the Federal Constitution, it opposition and of remonstrance; while expressly declared, "That, among other the people, convulsed and confused by the essential rights, the liberty of conscience conflict between two hostile jurisdictions, and of the press cannot be cancelled, enjoying the protection of neither, would abridged, restrained, or modified by any be wearied into a submission to some bold authority of the United States," and from leader, who would establish himself on the its extreme anxiety to guard these rights ruins of both. from every possible attack of sophistry or