State Documents on Federal Relations/10

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10. Resolutions of the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania to Kentucky, February 9, 1799.

Resolved, That in the opinion of this House the people of the United States have vested in their President and Congress, as well the right and 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 conclusively deciding upon the constitutionality of all legislative acts. The constitution does not contemplate, as vested or residing in the Legislatures of the several states, any right or power of declaring that any act of the general government "is not law, but is altogether void, and of no effect;" and this House considers such declaration as a revolutionary measure, destructive of the purest principles of our State and national compacts.

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 everywhere 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 the 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 flagitious 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 anything 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 everywhere 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, ix, 198–200. (Philadelphia, 1799.)]