Contemporary Opinion of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions/Appendix
Report concurred in by the Maryland House of Delegates, December 28, 1798.
That it is with deep concern this House observes, in any section of our country, a disposition so hostile to her peace and dignity, as that which appears to have dictated the resolutions of the Legislature of Kentucky. Questions of so much delicacy and magnitude might have been agitated in a manner more conformable to the character of an enlightened people, flourishing under a government adopted by themselves, and administered by the men of their choice.
That this House view, as particularly inauspicious to the general principles of liberty and good government, the formal declaration by a legislative body, "that confidence is every where the parent of despotism, and that free governments are founded in jealousy." The prevalence of such an opinion cuts asunder all the endearing relations in life, and renews, in the field of science and amity, the savage scenes of darker ages. Governments truly republican and free are eminently founded on opinion and confidence; their execution is committed to representatives, selected by voluntary preference, and exalted by a knowledge of their virtues and their talents. No portion of the people can assume the province of the whole, nor resist the expression of its combined will. This House therefore protests against principles, calculated only to check the spirit of confidence, and overwhelm with dismay the lovers of peace, liberty and order.
That this House consider the laws of the United States, which are the subjects of so much complaint, as just rules of civil conduct, and as component parts of a system of defence against the aggressions of a nation, aiming at the dominion of the world—conducting her attacks more by the arts of intrigue, than by her skill in arms—never striking, until she has deeply wounded or destroyed the confidence of a people in their government—and, in fact, subduing more by the infamous aids of seduction, than by the strength of her numerous legions. The sedition and alien acts this House conceive contain nothing terrifying, but to the ilagitious and designing. Under the former, no criminality can be infered or punishment inflicted, but for writing, printing, uttering, or publishing false, scandalous and malicious aspersions against the government, either House of Congress, or the President of the United States, with an intent to defame and bring them into contempt. Under the latter, the citizens of the United States have not any thing more to fear, inasmuch as its operation will only remove foreigners, whose views and conduct are inimical to a government, instituted only for the protection and benefit of the citizens of the United States, and others, whose quiet and submission give them some claim to the blessing. Yet these laws are subjects of loud complaint. But this House forbears an examination into the cause, and only expresses its surprise that such an opposition to them exists! Our country's dearest interest demands every where unanimity and harmony in her councils, and this House is unable to discover any means more favourable to those important objects, than confidence in the wise and honest labours of those, in whose hands is reposed the sacred charge of preserving her peace and independence. The voice of the greater number the constitution declares shall pronounce the national will; but in the opinion of this House the provision is vain, unless it be followed by the unfeigned and practical acquiescence of the minor part. Loud and concerted appeals to the passions of the community are calculated to produce discussions more boisterous than wise, and effects more violent than useful. Our prayer therefore is, that our country may be saved from foreign war and domestic strife.
That it is the opinion of this House, that it ought not to concur in the design of the resolutions of the Legislature of Kentucky.
On motion of Mr. Kelly, seconded by Mr. Strickler,Resolved, That the foregoing resolution be signed by the Speaker, and that the Governor be requested to transmit the same to the Governor of Kentucky. (Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Vol. IX., Philadelphia, 1799, pp. 198–200.)
The following is an extract from the message of Governor Daniel Rogers of Delaware, submitted to the General Assembly of the State on January 7, 1799. It was not known to me at the time of publication of the previous article.
Report concurred in and Resolution adopted by the Maryland House of Delegates, January 16, 1799, and by the Senate, January 19, 1799.
Reply of the New York House of Representatives.
Tuesday, the 5th of November, 1799. 9 o'clock, A. M.
We, the undersigned, being a part of the fifty, who refused their assent to the acceptance of the reports, recommended by the grand committee of the Legislature to this House, on the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, respecting the acts commonly known by the titles of the "alien and sedition bill," do assign the following, as some of the reasons which occasioned our dissent.
Because, although we zealously urged at an early period of the session, and again earnestly solicited, when this important business was last before us, that all the official papers which had been presented to the House on this subject, be printed for the use of the members, previous to their entering into argument, or deciding on the question, this very reasonable request was refused, as will appear from the journals. Notwithstanding which refusal, the report of this House, on the Kentucky resolutions, commences with declaring "That we have maturely considered them."
Because, therefore, impressed with an opinion, that truth never shuns the light, and that sound argument never evades investigation, we could not believe that these resolutions, had time and opportunity been afforded for freely comparing each article with the others, would [have] appeared to the House, fraught with all the bad consequences attributed to them, in the two separate reports addressed to the Legislatures of these states.
Because, without going into an investigation of the constitutionality of what is generally termed the "Sedition Bill," we have ever been of an opinion, with that much and deservedly respected statesman, Mr. Marshal, (whose abilities and integrity have been doubted by no party, and whose spirited and patriotic defence of his country's rights, has been universally admired) that "it was calculated to create unnecessarily, discontents and jealousies, at a time, when our very existence as a nation may depend on our union."
Because, the "Alien Bill," as it is generally termed, grants to the President a power unknown to, and inconsistent with the general features of the constitution of the United States, through the whole whereof is displayed the divine principles of mildness, freedom, and liberality.
Because likewise, at the time it was passed, it could not refer to alien enemies, and must therefore, of course, involve alien friends in all the disastrous consequences, which may arise from this excess of power, unprecedented, we believe, on any similar occasion, in a free government.
It would here be improper to neglect observing, that it was but eleven days after this act passed, before another was enacted, which respected alien enemies, against which last act, the breath of discontent has never been known to be uttered.
Because, by the ninth section of the constitution of the United States, it is declared, "The migration or importation of such persons, as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress, prior to the year eighteen hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each persons."
Migration is an appropriate term, and we hesitate not to affirm, constantly implies a freedom of will in the person migrating, and is therefore contra-distinguished from importation, which must have had respect to slaves only; which distinction is clearly evinced to have been contemplated, in the above section of the constitution, for in the latter part thereof it is declared, "that a tax or duty, may be imposed by Congress, on the importation of such persons," while it is perfectly silent as to that tax, on the migration of persons.
Because, by this law, alien friends, and the President is empowered, it is true, not to interdict their landing, but to banish them as soon as he shall think proper, after they are landed, and inflict that severe punishment, without their being heard—without even the color of trial—without the pretence of their having committed any crime, except that very extraordinary one of being suspected—without, in short, assigning any reason why he does so. By which power, the intention of that part of the constitution, as far as it respects the migration of persons, though still in force, may absolutely and completely be defeated, and we therefore should esteem ourselves highly deficient in the duty we owe to our constituents—unfaithful to the sacred trust reposed in us by them—unmindful of the solemn oath we have taken, "Not to do, or consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen, or abridge the rights and privileges of the people, as declared by the constitution of this state," were we to refrain from expressing our decided opinion that the act granting this power, is an undisguised breach of the constitution of the United States, because it deprives the states individually, of a privilege, which we think, clearly remains vested in each of them, by the first article of the ninth section of the constitution, compared with the twelfth article of the amendments thereto.
Because, in addition to the above reasons, we maintain a lively sense of the admonition of our darling, our beloved WASHINGTON, who, in his farewell address to the militia, on the western insurrection, proclaims this fact, and his opinion thereon, with a warmth worthy his truly patriotic bosom, that "The dispensation of justice, against offenders, belongs to civil magistrates, and let it ever be our pride and our glory, to keep the sacred deposit there inviolated."
Because, we conceive that some of the expressions in the reports alluded to, are highly objectionable, of which we shall only mention two. In the report on the Virginia resolutions, is the following unequivical assertion; "It belongs not to state Legislatures to decide on the constitutionality of laws made by the general government."
Here we must observe, that the report came recommended for our acceptance, by the grand committee of the Legislature, with the words deliberate or between the words to and decide; but the prohibition of a state from deliberating 'on the constitutionality of the laws made by the general government,' appeared so radically erroneous and inconsistent, that a motion was made by one of the defenders of the report, as it now stands, to strike out the words 'deliberate or,' which was agreed to without a dissenting voice, none of those who had voted for printing the official papers, having interfered in the debate.
While, therefore, we highly respect the abilities and precision of the majority of this House, we are compelled to declare, that in our opinion, this amendment renders, if possible, the assertion still more palpably preprosperous, by subjecting each individual state to a degree of humiliation, incalculably painful, and immoderately degrading. For as it appears clearly by the twelfth article of the amendments to the constitution, as has been before observed, that the states individually, compose one of the parties to the federal compact or constitution, it does of course follow, that each state must have an interest in that constitution being pure and inviolate.
By the report, as amended and adopted by the House, each state is tacitly permitted the wretched, despicable prerogative of deliberating through their Legislature, on the real or supposed infraction of a compact, in which they are highly interested. But when they have deliberated, there they must stop, for they cannot communicate their sentiments in the common way, because that must necessarily involve their decision on the question; but this is declared in the report, to be an unconstitutional assumption of power, 'not belonging to state Legislatures.'
As we cannot yield our assent to this new method of tantalizing Legislative bodies, we willingly and cheerfully relinquish to the honorable inventors, all the profit and honor which may arise from the discovery.
Because, each state in the union, is by this diminutive explanation of their rights, debarred from a privilege, not only daily exercised by individual citizens, but in no instance attempted to be denied to them by the great legislative body of the union. As a proof of which we refer to the report of the committee of Congress, to whom was referred the memorials and petitions complaining of the act entitled 'An act concerning aliens,' on the twenty-fifth of February last, who admit in their report, that the memorialists declare this act to be unconstitutional, oppressive, and impolitic, 'and that some of the petitions are conceived in a style of vehement and acrimonious remonstrance,' but not a lisp of blame leaks out from this committee because the petitioners gave their decision, against the constitutionality of this law. From which it appears to us, that the report of this house voluntarily, though we are far from thinking intentionally, sacrifices a valuable prerogative of this state, not expected, much less demanded by the government of the union.
Let it not be supposed, that in advocating the power of each state to decide on the constitutionality of some laws of the union, we mean to extend that right to any laws, which do not infringe on the powers reserved to the states, by the twelfth article of the amendments to the constitution. We cannot, therefore, be charged with an intent to justify an opposition, in any manner or form whatever, to the operation of any act of the union. That we conceive to be rebellion, punishable by the courts of the United States.
Because, in the latter part of the report on the Kentucky resolutions, the term jealousy, which is therein affirmed 'to be the foundation of a free government,' is stigmatized in the report, 'as the meanest passion of narrow minds,' and a suggestion in our opinion ungenerous, is warmed in immediately afterwards, the intention of which, without entering deeply into the spirit of innuendoes, cannot be well misunderstood.
Whether jealousy, in a political sense, be a virtue or a vice, depends, we conceive, on the object by which it is produced, and the extent to which it is carried. As a proof of this, we will once more quote an admonition of our illustrious Washington, in his farewell address to his fellow-citizens. 'Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (says he) I conjure you to believe me fellow-citizens, the jealousy of a free people ought constantly to be awake.'
But from this part of the report we were compelled to dissent for another reason, still more cogent, for by our consent, we should have acknowledged that the great body of our general constituents, had justly incurred the obloquy of possessing 'the meanest passion of narrow minds.' In a late address of thanks to his Excellency the Governor, to which this House unanimously concurred, we say, 'That our constituents entertain too high a sense, are too jealous of their own rights, ever to infringe wantonly, or intentionally, on those of any friendly nation.' From which it follows, that either this House entertained a most ignominious and disrespectful opinion of their constituents—that what is virtuous in them, is vicious in the Legislature of Kentucky—or that the explanation of the term jealous, in the report to which we have given our dissent, as applied to the subject of the Kentucky resolutions is altogether erroneous, ungenerous, and unfounded. The last of which three propositions, is the only one of them to which we could or can give our assent.And lastly, we assign as a principal reason of our dissent, because we believe that the most pressing of our social duties, as citizens of the union, is to guard with a watchful scrupulosity, against the smallest breech of our federal constitution, to which we look up with admiration, with pleasure and respect, as the great and impregnable bulwark of [if] properly defended, of our political salvation.—(Journal of the General Assembly of the State of Vermont, October, 1799, pp. 148–152).