COUNTER-RESOLUTIONS OF OTHER STATES
IN RESPONSE TO THOSE OF VIRGINIA, &c.
STATE OF DELAWARE.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
February 1, 1799.
Resolved, By the Senate and House of Representatives of the state of
Delaware, in General Assembly met, That they consider the resolutions from
the state of Virginia, as a very unjustifiable interference with the general
government and constituted authorities of the United States, and of dangerous
tendency, and therefore not a fit subject for the further consideration of the
Speaker of Senate.
Speaker of House of Representatives.
Clerk of Senate.
Clerk of House of Representatives.
Resolved, That the above resolutions be signed by the Speaker of the
Senate, and by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and that the
Governor of this state be requested to forward the same to the Governor of the
state of Virginia.
Clerk of Senate.
Clerk of House of Representatives.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE
IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY,
February, A. D. 1799.
Certain resolutions of the legislature of Virginia, passed on the
twenty-first day of December last, being communicated to this Assembly,
1. Resolved, That in the opinion of this legislature, the second
section of the third article of the Constitution of the United States, in these
words, to wit: The judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under
the laws of the United States, vests in the federal courts exclusively, and
in the Supreme Court of the United States ultimately, the authority of deciding
on the constitutionality of any act or law of the Congress of the United
2. Resolved, That for any state legislature to assume that authority
1st. Blending together legislative and judicial powers.
2d. Hazarding an interruption of the peace of the states by civil discord,
in case of a diversity of opinions among the state legislatures; each state
having, in that case, no resort for vindicating its own opinion, but to the
strength of its own arm.
3d. Submitting most important questions of law, to less competent tribunals;
4th. An infraction of the Constitution of the United States, expressed in
3. Resolved, That although, for the above reasons, this legislature,
in their public capacity, do not feel themselves authorized to consider and
decide on the constitutionality of the sedition and alien-laws (so called), yet
they are called upon by the exigency of this occasion, to declare, that in
their private opinions, these laws are within the powers delegated to Congress,
and promotive of the welfare of the United States.
4. Resolved, That the Governor communicate these resolutions to the
supreme executive of the state of Virginia, and, at the same time, express to
him, that this legislature cannot contemplate, without extreme concern and
regret, the many evil and fatal consequences which may flow from the very
unwarrantable resolutions aforesaid of the legislature of Virginia, passed on
the twenty-first day of December last. A true copy,
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
February 9, 1799.
The Legislature of Massachusetts, having taken into serious consideration
the resolutions of the state of Virginia, passed the 21st day of December last,
and communicated by his excellency the Governor, relative to certain supposed
infractions of the Constitution of the United States, by the government
thereof, and being convinced that the Federal Constitution is calculated to
promote the happiness, prosperity and safety of the people of these United
States, and to maintain that union of the several states, so essential to the
welfare of the whole; and, being bound by solemn oath to support and defend
that Constitution, feel it unnecessary to make any professions of their
attachment to it, or of their firm determination to support it against every
aggression, foreign or domestic.
But they deem it their duty solemnly to declare, that while they hold sacred
the principle, that the consent of the people is the only pure source of just
and legitimate power, they cannot admit the right of the state legislatures to
denounce the administration of that government to which the people themselves,
by a solemn compact, have exclusively committed their national concerns: That,
although a liberal and enlightened vigilance among the people is always to be
cherished, yet an unreasonable jealousy of the men of their choice, and a
recurrence to measures of extremity, upon groundless or trivial pretexts, have
a strong tendency to destroy all rational liberty at home, and to deprive the
United States of the most essential advantages in their relations abroad: That
this Legislature are persuaded, that the decision of all cases in law and
equity, arising under the Constitution of the United States, and the
construction of all laws made in pursuance thereof, are exclusively vested by
the people in the judicial courts of the United States.
That the people in that solemn compact, which is declared to be the supreme
law of the land, have not constituted the state legislatures the judges of the
acts or measures of the Federal Government, but have confided to them the power
of proposing such amendments of the Constitution, as shall appear to them
necessary to the interests, or conformable to the wishes of the people whom
That by this construction of the Constitution, an amicable and dispassionate
remedy is pointed out for any evil which experience may prove to exist, and the
peace and prosperity of the United States may be preserved without
But, should the respectable state of Virginia persist in the assumption of
the right to declare the acts of the national government unconstitutional, and
should she oppose successfully her force and will to those of the nation, the
Constitution would be reduced to a mere cypher, to the form and pageantry of
authority, without the energy of power. Every act of the Federal Government
which thwarted the views, or checked the ambitious projects of a particular
state, or of its leading and influential members, would be the object of
opposition and of remonstrance; while the people, convulsed and confused by the
conflict between two hostile jurisdictions, enjoying the protection of neither,
would be wearied into a submission to some bold leader, who would establish
himself on the ruins of both.
The Legislature of Massachusetts, although they do not themselves claim the
right, nor admit the authority, of any of the state governments to decide upon
the constitutionality of the acts of the Federal Government, still, lest their
silence should be construed into disapprobation, or at best into a doubt of the
constitutionality of the acts referred to by the state of Virginia; and, as the
General Assembly of Virginia has called for an expression of their sentiments,
do explicitly declare, that they consider the acts of Congress, commonly called
" the alien and sedition-acts," not only constitutional, but
expedient and necessary: That the former act respects a description of persons
whose rights were not particularly contemplated in the Constitution of the
United States, who are entitled only to a temporary protection, while they
yield a temporary allegiance: a protection, which ought to be withdrawn
whenever they become "dangerous to the public safety," or are found
guilty of "treasonable machinations" against the government: That
Congress having been especially entrusted by the people with the general
defence of the nation, had not only the right but were bound to protect it
against internal, as well as external foes.
That the United States, at the time of passing the act concerning
aliens, were threatened with actual invasion, had been driven by the unjust
and ambitious conduct of the French government into warlike preparations,
expensive and burdensome, and had then, within the bosom of the country,
thousands of aliens, who, we doubt not, were ready to co-operate in any
It cannot be seriously believed, that the United States should have waited
till the poniard had in fact been plunged. The removal of aliens is the usual
preliminary of hostility, and is justified by the invariable usages of nations.
Actual hostility had unhappily long been experienced, and a formal declaration
of it the government had reason daily to expect. The law, therefore, was just
and salutary, and no officer could, with so much propriety be entrusted with
the execution of it, as the one in whom the Constitution has reposed the
executive power of the United States.
The sedition-act, so called, is, in the opinion of this Legislature, equally
defensible. The General Assembly of Virginia, in their resolve under
consideration, observe, that when that state, by its convention, ratified the
Federal Constitution, it expressly declared, "That, among other essential
rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled,
abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States,"
and from its extreme anxiety to guard these rights from every possible attack
of sophistry or ambition, with other states, recommended an amendment for that
purpose; which amendment was, in due time, annexed to the Constitution; but
they did not surely expect that the proceedings of their state convention were
to explain the amendment adopted by the union. The words of that amendment, on
this subject, are, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press."
The act complained of is no abridgment of the freedom of either. The genuine
liberty of speech and the press, is the liberty to utter and publish the truth;
but the constitutional right of the citizen to utter and publish the truth, is
not to be confounded with the licentiousness in speaking and writing, that is
only employed in propagating falsehood and slander. This freedom of the press
has been explicitly secured by most, if not all the state constitutions; and of
this provision there has been generally but one construction among enlightened
men; that it is a security for the rational use and not the abuse of the press;
of which the courts of law, the juries and people will judge: this right is not
infringed, but confirmed and established by the late act of Congress.
By the Constitution, the legislative, executive, and judicial departments of
government are ordained and established; and general enumerated powers vested
in them respectively, including those which are prohibited to the several
states. Certain powers are granted in general terms by the people to their
General Government, for the purposes of their safety and protection. That
government is not only empowered, but it is made their duty, to repel invasions
and suppress insurrections; to guarantee to the several states a republican
form of government; to protect each state against invasion, and, when applied
to, against domestic violence; to hear and decide all cases in law and equity,
arising under the Constitution, and under any treaty or law made in pursuance
thereof; and all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and relating to
the law of nations. Whenever, therefore, it becomes necessary to effect any of
the objects designated, it is perfectly consonant to all just rules of
construction to infer, that the usual means and powers necessary to the
attainment of that object, are also granted: but the Constitution has left no
occasion to resort to implication for these powers; it has made an express
grant of them, in the eighth section of the first article, which ordains,
" That Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary
and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other
powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in
any department or officer thereof."
This Constitution has established a supreme court of the United States, but
has made no provision for its protection, even against such improper conduct in
its presence, as might disturb its proceedings, unless expressed in the section
before recited. But as no statute has been passed on this subject, this
protection is, and has been for nine years past, uniformly found in the
application of the principles and usages of the common law. The same protection
may unquestionably be afforded by a statute passed in virtue of the
before-mentioned section, as necessary and proper, for carrying into execution
the powers vested in that department. A construction of the different parts of
the Constitution, perfectly just and fair, will, on analogous principles,
extend protection and security against the offences in question, to the other
departments of government, in discharge of their respective trusts.
The President of the United States is bound by his oath "to preserve,
protect, and defend the Constitution," and it is expressly made his duty
"to take care that the laws be faithfully executed;" but this would
be impracticable by any created being, if there could be no legal restraint of
those scandalous misrepresentations of his measures and motives, which directly
tend to rob him of the public confidence. And equally impotent would be every
other public officer, if thus left to the mercy of the seditious.
It is holden to be a truth most clear, that the important trusts before
enumerated, cannot be discharged by the government to which they are committed,
without the power to restrain or punish seditious practices and unlawful
combinations against itself, and to protect the officers thereof from abusive
misrepresentations. Had the Constitution withheld this power, it would have
made the government responsible for the effects, without any control over the
causes which naturally produce them, and would have essentially failed of
answering the great ends for which the people of the United States declare, in
the first clause of that instrument, that they establish the same, viz: "
To form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity,
provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the
blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity."
Seditious practices and unlawful combinations against the federal
government, or any officer thereof, in the performance of his duty, as well as
licentiousness of speech and of the press, were punishable on the principles of
common law in the courts of the United States, before the act in question was
passed. This act, then, is an amelioration of that law in favour of the party
accused, as it mitigates the punishment which that authorizes, and admits of
any investigation of public men and measures which is regulated by truth. It is
not intended to protect men in office, only as they are agents of the people.
Its object is to afford legal security to public offices and trusts created for
the safety and happiness of the people, and therefore the security derived from
it is for the benefit of the people, and is their right.
This construction of the Constitution, and of the existing law of the land,
as well as the act complained of, the legislature of Massachusetts most
deliberately and firmly believe, results from a just and full view of the
several parts of that Constitution; and they consider that act to be wise and
necessary, as an audacious and unprincipled spirit of falsehood and abuse had
been too long unremittingly exerted for the purpose of perverting public
opinion, and threatened to undermine and destroy the whole fabric of the
The legislature further declare, that in the foregoing sentiments they have
expressed the general opinion of their constituents, who have not only
acquiesced without complaint in those particular measures of the federal
government, but have given their explicit approbation by re-electing those men
who voted for the adoption of them: nor is it apprehended, that the citizens of
this state will be accused of supineness, or of an indifference to their
constitutional rights; for, while on the one hand, they regard with due
vigilance, the conduct of the government: on the other, their freedom, safety,
and happiness require, that they should defend that government and its
constitutional measures against the open or insidious attacks of any foe,
whether foreign or domestic.
And lastly, that the Legislature of Massachusetts feel a strong conviction,
that the several United States are connected by a common interest, which ought
to render their union indissoluble, and that this state will always co-operate
with its confederate states, in rendering that union productive of mutual
security, freedom and happiness. Sent down for concurrence.
In the House of Representatives,
Feb. 13, 1799.
Read and concurred.
Speaker. A true copy.
Attest, JOHN AVERY,
STATE OF NEW YORK.
March 5, 1799.
Whereas the people of the United States have established for themselves a
free and independent national government. And whereas it is essential to the
existence of every government, that it have authority to defend and preserve
its constitutional powers inviolate, inasmuch as every infringement thereof
tends to its subversion. And whereas the judicial power extends expressly to
all cases of law and equity arising under the Constitution and the laws of the
United States, whereby the interference of the legislatures of the particular
states in those cases, is manifestly excluded. And whereas our peace,
prosperity, and happiness eminently depend on the preservation of the Union, in
order to which, a reasonable confidence in the constituted authorities and
chosen representatives of the people is indispensable. And whereas every
measure calculated to weaken that confidence, has a tendency to destroy the
usefulness of our public functionaries, and to excite jealousies equally
hostile to rational liberty and the principles of a good republican government.
And whereas the Senate, not perceiving that the rights of the particular states
have been violated, nor any unconstitutional powers assumed by the general
government, cannot forbear to express the anxiety and regret with which they
observe the inflammatory and pernicious sentiments and doctrines which are
contained in the resolutions of the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky,
sentiments and doctrines no less repugnant to the Constitution of the United
States, and the principles of their union, than destructive to the Federal
Government, and unjust to those whom the people have elected to administer it:
Resolved, That while the Senate feel themselves constrained to bear
unequivocal testimony against such sentiments and doctrines, they deem it a
duty no less indispensable, explicitly to declare their incompetency, as a
branch of the legislature of this state, to supervise the acts of the general
Resolved, That his excellency the Governor be, and he is hereby
requested to transmit a copy of the foregoing resolution to the executives of
the states of Virginia and Kentucky, to the end that the same may be
communicated to the legislatures thereof.
A true copy, ABM. B. BAUCKER, Clerk.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT.
At a general assembly of the state of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, in
the said state, on the second Thursday of May, Anno Domini, 1799, his
excellency the Governor having communicated to this Assembly sundry resolutions
of the legislature of Virginia, adopted in December 1798, which relate to the
measures of the general government, and the said resolutions having been
considered, it is
Resolved, That this Assembly views with deep regret, and explicitly
disavows, the principles contained in the aforesaid resolutions; and
particularly the opposition to the "alien and sedition-acts," acts,
which the Constitution authorized; which the exigency of the country rendered
necessary; which the constituted authorities have enacted, and which merit the
entire approbation of this Assembly. They therefore decidedly refuse to concur
with the legislature of Virginia, in promoting any of the objects attempted in
the aforesaid resolutions.
And it is further Resolved, that his excellency the Governor be
requested to transmit a copy of the foregoing resolution to the Governor of
Virginia, that it may be communicated to the legislature of that state.
Passed in the House of Representatives unanimously.
JOHN C. SMITH, Clerk.
Concurred unanimously, in the upper House. Teste,
SAMUEL WILLYS, Secretary.
STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
June 14, 1799.
The committee to take into consideration the resolutions of the General
Assembly of Virginia, dated December 21st, 1798; also certain resolutions of
the Legislature of Kentucky, of the 10th November, 1798, report as follows:
The Legislature of New Hampshire having taken into consideration certain
resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia, dated December 21, 1798; also
certain resolutions of the Legislature of Kentucky, of the 10th of November,
Resolved, That the Legislature of New Hampshire unequivocally express
a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States,
and the Constitution of this state, against every aggression, either foreign or
domestic, and that they will support the government of the United States in all
measures warranted by the former.
That the state legislatures are not the proper tribunals to determine the
constitutionality of the laws of the general government, that the duty of such
decision is properly and exclusively confided to the judicial department.
That if the Legislature of New Hampshire, for mere speculative purposes,
were to express an opinion on the acts of the general government, commonly
called "the alien and sedition-bills," that opinion would
unreservedly be, that those acts are constitutional, and in the present
critical situation of our country, highly expedient.
That the constitutionality and expediency of the acts aforesaid, have been
very ably advocated and clearly demonstrated by many citizens of the United
States, more especially by the minority of the General Assembly of Virginia.
The Legislature of New Hampshire, therefore, deem it unnecessary, by any train
of arguments, to attempt further illustration of the propositions, the truth of
which, it is confidently believed, at this day, is very generally seen and
Which report being read and considered, was unanimously received and
accepted, one hundred and thirty-seven members being present. Sent up for
JOHN PRENTICE, Speaker.
In Senate, the same day, read and concurred unanimously.
AMOS SHEPARD, President.
Approved, June 15th, 1799.
J. T. GILMAN, Governor. A true copy.
JOSEPH PEARSON, Secretary.
STATE OF VERMONT.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
October 30th, A. D. 1799.
THE House proceeded to take
under their consideration, the resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia,
relative to certain measures of the general government, transmitted to the
Legislature of this state, for their consideration: Whereupon,
Resolved, That the General Assembly of the state of Vermont do highly
disapprove of the resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia, as being
unconstitutional in their nature, and dangerous in their tendency. It belongs
not to state legislatures to decide on the constitutionality of laws made by
the general government; this power being exclusively vested in the judiciary
courts of the Union: That his excellency the Governor be requested to transmit
a copy of this resolution to the executive of Virginia, to be communicated to
the General Assembly of that state: And that the same be sent to the Governor
and Council for their concurrence.
SAMUEL C. CRAFTS, Clerk.
In Council, October 30, 1799.
Read and concurred unanimously.
RICHARD WHITNEY, Secretary.
Part V | Part III |
Randolph Contents | Text Version