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ciples of pure republicanism, and an asylum of her persecuted votaries."
Mr. Breckinridge, the Representative from Fayette county, was appointed chairman of the committee of three to consider the address and make a report to the House. He gave notice that on the next day he proposed to move that the House should go into committee of the whole on the state of the commonwealth, to take into consideration that portion of the governor's address which referred to certain unconstitutional laws passed at the late session of Congress, and that he would then move certain resolutions on the subject. These resolutions, introduced the next day, were the famous Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.1
The little scene had been carefully set, and the actors knew well their parts. The governor's address had been planned in consultation with the mover of the resolutions, and the resolutions themselves had been carefully devised by the leaders of the movement which was, through these resolutions, to find definite organization as the Democratic-Republican party."
The choice of Kentucky as the place where the scene should be enacted is somewhat remarkable. It would have been entirely inexplicable upon the earlier theory of the origin of the resolutions, which attributed the idea primarily to Mr. Jefferson himself, and sought without success the actual mover of the resolutions in George Nicholas, one of Jefferson's most devoted followers, who had found a too early grave a few months before. Many efforts have been made to explain why resolutions of this character were introduced first in the Kentucky legislature. The true solution is certainly to be found in the personality of John Breckinridge, the mover, his active interest in the matter itself, and the probability that he initiated the whole plan of campaign.
1 Palladium, Frankfort, Kentucky, November 13, 1798.
A curious bit of internal evidence of this is found in the disingenuous reference in the governor's speech and in the fifth resolution to the clause in the Constitution with regard to the "migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit." (See Warfield, "Kentucky Resolutions, page 108, and McElroy, "Kentucky in the Nation's History," page 243, note.)
The Kentucky Resolutions were provoked by the act of Congress passed in the violent anti-French reaction of 1798, produced by the publication of the X. Y. Z. dispatches. These acts, consisting of what have come to be known as the Alien and Sedition laws, together with a naturalization act which was primarily intended to discriminate against French immigrants, and other laws of less importance,1 were a remarkable stretch of authority. Not only so, but they represented an extraordinary failure on the part of the national Government, and particularly of the President and the Federal party, to read the signs of the times. Instead of taking advantage of the wholesome reaction which had taken place in popular opinion, and winning the confidence of the more conservative elements in the democratic drift, the Federalist party proved itself as intemperate as the sympathizers with the French incendiaries. The bills as presented in Congress, especially the Sedition act, were of the most extreme character. The Sedition act was So amended as to remove the more radical features, but enough remained to give point to all that was said against the acts themselves and the party that enacted them.
Mr. Jefferson had already separated himself from the traditions of the past, had recognized fully that the need of the country was not merely the negation of antiFederalism, and had formulated for himself a policy that was ripe for enunciation. It had also become sufficiently clear that his position was acceptable to the great mass of the people, and that it did not represent hostility to the Constitution so much as the tendency to read into that document greater powers than a reasonable interpretation would justify. The choice of a name for the new party also showed Mr. Jefferson's recognition of the
'A notable difference between the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions is that the Virginia Resolutions deal only with the Alien and Sedition laws, while the Kentucky Resolutions denounce the whole body of objectionable laws seriatim. Warfield, "Kentucky Resolutions," p. 107.
rôle it was to play. Democratic in nature, it was to be republican in form. The prevalence of the idea of democracy gave to that name less distinction than the name Republican, and the French influences which were operating upon Mr. Jefferson also contributed to accent the Republican half of the name. To accept the Constitution for what it was, and to limit its meaning strictly to what it said, and to secure the largest freedom of action to the people and to the States became the settled policy of the Jeffersonian era. But, by a remarkable failure to clearly penetrate the true nature of the democracy of which he was then believed, and has ever since been believed, to be the protagonist, Mr. Jefferson sought to safeguard popular government by erecting a barrier to the Federal Government in the States. The independence and sovereignty of the States, the respective powers of the ordinary government of the States and the State in sovereign convention became, under the vague conditions of a half-digested political theory, the staple of debate and the occasion of much windy rhetoric.
Mr. Jefferson pursued his main policy with sufficient detachment from the side-issues that attended his progress to enable him to use every kind of profession of democratic faith to promote his ambition. And despite large use of the implied powers of the Constitution and the support of the most intense advocates of narrow provincialism and of freedom for the white man only he substantially advanced the popular ideals of a great and growing country.
The Kentucky Resolutions were primarily intended to promote the Jeffersonian campaign and to give it a platform. They professed to be an attack upon specific encroachments by the central Government. Their significance lies in the fact that they declared a particular theory of the origin and nature of the national Government. Unhappily this theory was hastily put together and capable of the greatest diversity of interpretation. This has rendered the history of the genesis of the movement, the authorship of the resolutions, and the responsibility for the doctrines put forth of the highest interest,
The genesis of any great movement must always be subject to different interpretations. The meaning of the Kentucky Resolutions and of those which immediately followed has been befogged by partisan controversy. The authorship also must remain an insoluble problem because it has become colored by political considerations. Probably all the facts that will ever be known have been laid before the public, and there remains a gap in the evidence which is essential to determine two main points: the origin of the idea of offering resolutions in the State legislatures, and the authorship of the first draft of the resolutions offered in Kentucky.
The first point is not very significant, perhaps, but it has a bearing on the initiative in the whole campaign. The facts that resolutions protesting against the Alien and Sedition laws were passed by various local meetings in Kentucky in 1798, that John Breckinridge went to Virginia and was in conference with Mr. Jefferson in the summer of that year, that he offered the resolutions, and for nearly a generation was accepted as their author constitute the basis of the claim that to him belongs the initial step.1
The controversy with reference to the authorship grew out of the effort of partisans to secure Mr. Jefferson's prestige for their interpretation of the resolutions, and is largely dependent upon the letter written by Mr. Jefferson on December 11, 1821, to Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, in which Mr. Jefferson asserts his authorship. The advocates of Mr. Breckinridge's claim assert that Mr. Jefferson was old, in failing health, and never generous in admitting the debts he owed to his colleagues and lieutenants. More recent discussion turns upon a very simple set of circumstances.
It is highly probable that there was a conference in Virginia in the summer of 1798 between Mr. Breckin
'Warfield, "Kentucky Resolutions," Chapter II.
'In Mr. Jefferson's published writings this letter appears as to
ridge, Mr. Jefferson, and Wilson Cary Nicholas, at which time it was determined that a definite movement should be undertaken for a popular denunciation of the Alien and Sedition laws, and that the first action should be taken by the Kentucky legislature and resolutions introduced there by John Breckinridge, and that Mr. Madison should be interested in the movement and should be consulted with reference to a further development of the plan. It would also appear that a second conference which had been planned failed to take place, and that the final arrangements were made by correspondence. It cannot be absolutely certain from the documents at hand that Mr. Breckinridge and Mr. Jefferson discussed the matter in detail. The Jefferson papers contain a set of resolutions similar to those introduced into the legislature by Mr. Breckinridge. It is a matter of difference of opinion whether these resolutions originated with Mr. Breckinridge, who communicated them to Mr. Jefferson, or whether they originated with Mr. Jefferson and were communicated to Mr. Breckinridge. Certain divergencies between the draft and the resolutions presented in the legislature are very significant as to the state of mind of Mr. Jefferson, especially as the weight of opinion has been that the portions contained in the Jefferson draft and omitted from the resolutions that were adopted were stricken out by Mr. Breckinridge on Mr. Jefferson's revision of his original proposal.
The chief omission is that of the eighth resolution of the draft: a long, labored, and turgid diatribe, the authorship of which cannot add anything to the reputation of either claimant. In form and in substance it has all the defects of a hastily drawn and half-considered proposal which was expected to receive searching revision. This resolution contains the word nullification-which did not find official enactment until the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, of which Mr. Breckinridge was indisputably the author-and a fully developed form of the idea of nullification.
A part of the language of this resolution is also found in the report of Mr. Breckinridge's speech in the Kentucky legislature, printed in the Palladium in its re