Page:Contemporary Opinion of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, p1.djvu/7

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51
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

violated? If congress can annul a contract with a foreign nation because of its violation, will not the same justice operate to modifying or annulling a contract between States, which is no longer regarded?"[1]

Legislative action upon the resolutions was not so prompt in Pennsylvania as in Maryland, but when taken was not less decisive. On January 25 the governor transmitted to the legislature the resolutions of Kentucky. In the Senate a motion was at once made to lay them upon the table, apparently for the purpose of securing some discussion of the resolutions. But even this scant courtesy was refused and the motion was defeated by a vote of fourteen to eight.[2] In the House of Representatives no action was taken until February 1, when a course different in sort but similar in purpose was pursued. Six counter-resolutions were adopted "by a considerable majority." These counter-resolutions are devoted almost exclusively to Kentucky's protest and remedy for the Alien and Sedition Laws. These laws are "just rules of civil conduct, and component parts of a system against the aggressions of a nation, aiming at the dominion of the world"; the favorite Federalist argument, that no well-behaved citizen need fear the operation of the Alien and Sedition Laws, is repeated at length. Disapproval of the Kentucky remedy is even more strongly expressed: a declaration by a state legislature that an act of the federal government is void and of no effect is a "revolutionary measure" as dangerous as unwarranted. The House does not stop, however, with denying the Kentucky doctrine but proceeds to enunciate its own counter-doctrine. "Resolved, That in the opinion of this House, the people of the United States have vested in their President and Congress, the right and the power of determining on the intent and construction of the Constitution, as on the ordinary subjects of legislation, and the defence of the Union; and have committed to the Supreme Judiciary of the nation the high authority, of ultimately and exclusively deciding on the constitutionality of all legislative acts."[3]

When the Virginia Resolutions were received, on March 9, the Senate repeated its former action; "voted them under the table" is the description of the Federalist press. The House, as before, dismissed them by resolution, but this time no argument was indulged in.[4] The principles of Virginia "are calculated to excite unwarrantable discontents, and to destroy the very existence of

  1. The Observatory, August 9, 1799. H. U.
  2. The Philadelphia Gazette, January 26, 1799. H. U.
  3. These resolutions will appear in the next number of the Review.
  4. Ibid.