portant topics. Come out, I pray you, in a manner at once so distinct and unequivocal, as to leave no pretence, either to friend or foe, for accusing you of duplicity or timidity.
I live in a very retired corner of the country, sir, and seldom get the news until it is news no longer, in other places. Hence, at the date of my last letter, I had only heard of the President's late message to Congress. That most weak and sophistical, yet most dangerous document, was never read by me, until this morning. It has sunk into a still deeper depth of depression, the few lingering hopes which I was permitted to cherish, that the constitution and public liberty, would survive the administration of Andrew Jackson. I shall have something to say to you upon that subject hereafter. I proceed now to redeem my promise, in proving, or at least endeavouring to prove, that the Virginia resolutions of 1798, cannot be carried out in any other manner than by nullification. In doing this, I shall go back no farther than to the resolutions themselves. I shall give to the language employed, no other construction than that which ever man of plain common sense will be compelled to give it. This is the only fair course of proceeding, for the resolutions were intended for the great body of the people, and must have been designed to be comprehensible by the meanest capacity. I will not do the Legislature the injustice of supposing, that they intended to wrap up in mystery which none but the statesman or the man of learning could penetrate, principles which they deemed essential to the preservation of constitutional liberty. So much of these resolutions as relates to the present subject, is in the following words:—
"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 them." "That the good people of this Commonwealth, having ever felt, and continuing to feel, the most sincere affection for their brethren of the other States; the truest anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all; and the most scrupulous fidelity to that constitution which is the pledge of natural 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, [the alien and sedition laws,] 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."
In these resolutions, the following principles are distinctly affirmed:
1. That the Constitution of the United States is a Compact between the States, as such.
2. That the Government established by that Compact, possesses no power whatever, except what "the plain sense and intention" of that Compact gives to it.
3. That every act done by that Government, not plainly within the limits of its powers, is void.
4. That each State has a right to say whether an act done by that Government, is plainly within the limits of its powers or not.
5. That the States are not bound to submit to, but may resist, any act of that Government, which it shall so decide to be beyond the limits of its powers.
All this is plain enough, and is, as I understand, fully admitted by yourself. The only difficulty is, to discover in what mode the Resolutions contemplated that resistance should be applied. On this subject, I have to remark, in limine, that the Resolutions contemplate that "the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each State" for itself. No uniform mode of resisting the encroachments of the Federal Government is pointed out or suggested. Having affirmed the right, each State is left to its own mode of asserting it in practice. Taking the terms of the Resolutions in their utmost latitude, they authorize any means of resistance whatever. Such, however, is clearly not their meaning. A very slight analysis will force upon us the conviction that no mode of resistance is contemplated, except such as will preserve the Union unimpaired, while it will effectually put down the usurped power. This is shown:—
1. By the profession of "sincere affection" for the people of the other States; of "anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all;" and of "the most scrupulous fidelity to the Constitution." It is upon the strength of these feelings, and with a view to these objects, that the co-operation of the other States is invited.
2. The interposition of the States must be in such mode as to "arrest the progress of the evil."
3. It must at the same time be such as to "maintain within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them."
4. It is to be remarked, that we have here a distinct declaration that there is within the Constitution of the United States, some principle, by which the encroachments and usurpations of the Federal Government may be resisted. I say, within the Constitution, and not extra-constitutional and revolutionary.
And now, Sir, will you be good enough to tell me in what manner that principle is to be applied? Permit me to examine all the modes of resistance which occur to my own mind, and to see which of them is within the principles thus asserted.
1. Petition, remonstrance, protest.—It cannot, I think, be seriously asserted, that these are any means of resistance at all. It is such a resistance as your slave may make, when you chastise him for an imputed fault. If all right of farther resistance be disclaimed, this is an implied admission that the party to whom the appeal is addressed, may, if he chooses, persevere in the wrong. In point of fact, however, remonstrance and protest are founded in the idea that there is such right of farther resistance. Petition is a simple appeal for mercy or forbearance; protest and remonstrance, affirm a right, and threaten the enforcement of it. But they do not in themselves enforce it, and therefore are not resistance.
2. An appeal to arms.—This is utterly against all notions of constitutional remedy. Our Government is founded in free choice, and is supported by public opinion alone. A resort to arms, therefore, would at once change the whole genius of the Constitution. A case might certainly arise, in which a State might rightfully resort to arms for the purpose of putting down or resisting the usurpations of the Federal