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more than any other, ought to produce universal alarm, because it is levelled against the right of freely examining public characters and measures, ana of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.
That this state having, by its Convention, which ratified the Federal Constitution, expressly declared that, among other essential rights, "the liberty of conscience and 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 and ambition, having, with other states, recommended an amendment for that purpose, which amendment was, in due time, annexed to the Constitution, — it would mark a reproachful inconsistency, and criminal degeneracy, if an indifference were now shown to the most palpable violation of one of the rights thus declared and secured, and to the establishment of a precedent which may be fatal to the other.
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 mutual friendship, and the instrument of mutual happiness, – ihe 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 are unconstitutional; and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each for coöperating with this state, in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties, reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
That the governor be desired to transmit a copy of the foregsng resolutions to the executive authority of each of the other states, with a request that the same may be communicated to the legislature thereof, and that a copy be furnished to each of the senators and representatives representing this state in the Congress of the United States.
JOHN STEWART. 1798, December 24. Agreed to by the Senate.
H. BROOKE. A true copy from the original deposited in the office of the General Assembly
JOHN STEWART, Keeper of Rolls
EXTRACTS FROM THE ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLE,
WHICH ACCOMPANIED THE FOREGOING RESOLUTIONS.
Fellow-citizens : Unwilling to shrink from our representative responsibilities, conscious of the purity of our motives, but acknowledging your right to supervise our conduct, we invite your serious attention to the emergency which dictated the subjoined resolutions. Whilst we disdain to alarm you by ill-founded jealousies, we recommend an investigation guided by the coolness of wisdom, and a decision bottomed on firmness, but tempered with moderation. VOL. IV.
It would be perfidious in those intrusted with the GUARDIANSHIP OF THE STATE SOVEREIGNTY, and acting under the solemn obligation of the following oath, —“I do swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States," not to warn you of encroachments, which, theugh clothed with the pretext of necessity, or disguised by arguments of expediency, may yet establish precedents which may ultimately devote a generous and unsuspicious people to all the consequences of usurped power.
Encroachments springing from a government WHOSE ORGANI. ZATION CANNOT BE MAINTAINED WITHOUT THE COOPERATION OF THE STATES, furnish the strongest excitements upon the state legislatures to watchfulness, and impose upon them the strongest obligation TO PRESERVE UNIMPAIRED THE LINE OF PARTITION.
The acquiescence of the states, under infractions of the federal compact, would either beget a speedy consolidation, by precipitating the state governments into impotency and contempt, or prepare the way for a rero lution, by a repetition of these infractions until the people are aroused to appear in the majesty of their strength. It is to avoid these calamities that we exhibit to the people the momentous question, whether the Constitution of the United States shall yield to a construction which defies every restraint, and overwhelms the best hopes of republicanism.
Exhortations to disregard domestic usurpation, until foreign danger shall have passed, is an artifice which may be forever used; because the possessors of power, who are the advocates for its extension, can ever create national embarrassments, to be successively employed to soothe the people into sleep, whilst that power is swelling, silently, secretly, and fatally. Of the same character are insinuations of a foreign influence, which seize upon a laudable enthusiasm against danger from abroad, and distort it by an unnatural application, so as to blind your eyes against danger at home.
The Sedition Act presents a scene which was never expected by the carly friends of the Constitution. It was then admitted that the state sovereignties were only diminished by powers specifically enumerated, or necessary to carry the specified powers into effect. Now, federal authority is deduced from implication; and from the existence of state law, it is inferred that Congress possess a similar power of legislation ; whence Congress will be endowed with a power of legislation in all cases wbatsoever, and the states will be stripped of every right reserved, by the concurrent claims of a paramount legislature.
The Sedition Act is the offspring of these tremendous pretensions, which inflict a death-wound on the sovereignty of the states.
For the honor of American understanding, we will not believe that the people have been allured into the adoption of the Constitution by an affectation of defining powers, whilst the preamble would admit a construction which would erect the will of Congress into a power paramount in all cases, and therefore linited in none. On the contrary, it is evident that the objects for which the Constitution was formed were deemed attainable only by a particular enumeration and specification of each power granted to the federal government; reserving all others to the people, or to the states. And yet it is in vain we search for any specified power embracing the right of legislation against the freedom of the press.
Had the states been despoiled of their sovereignty by the generality of
the preamble, and had the federal government been endowed with whatever they should judge to be iustrumental towards the union, justice, tranquillity, common defence, general welfare, and the preservation of lib. erty, nothing could have been more frivolous than an enumeration of powers.
All the preceding arguments, arising from a deficiency of constitutiona. power in Congress, apply to the Alien Act; and this act is liable to other objections peculiar to itself
. If a suspicion that aliens are dangerous, con stitutes the justification of that power exercised over them by Congress, then a similar suspicion will justify the exercise of a similar power over natives; because there is nothing in the Constitution distinguishing between the power of a state to permit the residence of natives and aliens. It is, therefore, a right originally possessed, and never surrendered, by the respective states, and which is rendered dear and valuable to Virginia, because it is assailed through the bosom of the Constitution, and because her peculiar situation renders the easy admission of artisans and laborers an interest of vast importance.
But this bill contains other features, still more alarming and dangerous. It dispenses with the trial by jury; it violates the judicial system ; it confounds legislative, executive, and judicial powers; it punishes without trial; and it bestows upon the President despotic power over a numerous class of men. Are such measures consistent with our constitutional principles? And will an accumulation of power so extensive in the hands of the executive, over aliens, secure to natives the blessings of republican liberty?
If measures can mould governments, and if an uncontrolled power of construction is surrendered to those who administer them, their progress may be easily foreseen, and their end easily foretold. A lover of monarchy, who opens the treasures of corruption by distributing emolument among devoted partisans, may at the same time be approaching his object and deluding the people with professions of republicanism. He may confound monarchy and republicanism, by the art of definition. He may varnish over the dexterity which ambition never fails to display, with the pliancy of language, the seduction of expediency, or the prejudices of the times; and he may come at length to avow, that so extensive a territory as that of the United States can only be governed by the energies of monarchy; that it cannot be defended, except by standing armies; and that it cannot be united, except by consolidation.
Measures have already been adopted which may lead to these consequences. They consist
In fiscal systems and arrangements, which keep a host of commercial and wealthy individuals imbodied, and obedient to the mandates of the treasury;
In armies and navies, which will, on the one hand, enlist the tendency of man to pay homage to his fellow-creature who can feed or honor him; and on the other, employ the principle of fear, by punishing imaginary insurrections, under the pretext of preventive justice ;
In swarms of officers, civil and military, who can inculcate political tenets tending to consolidation and monarchy, both by indulgences and severities, and can act as spies over the free exercise of human reason;
In restraining the freedom of the press, and investing the executive with legislative, executive, and judicial powers, over a numerous body of men;
And, that we may shorten the catalogue, in establisbing, by successive precedents, such a mode of construing the Constitution as will rapidly remove every restraint upon federal power.
Let history be consulted ; let the man of experience reflect; nay, let the artificers of monarchy be asked what further materials they can need for building up their favorite system.
These are solemn but painful truths; and yet we recommend it to you not to forget the possibility of danger from without, although danger threatens us from within. Usurpation is indeed dreadful ; but against foreign invasion, if that should happen, let us rise with hearts and hands united, and repel the attack with the zeal of freemen who will strengthen their title to examine and correct domestic measures, by having defended their country against foreign aggression.
Pledged as we are, fellow-citizens, to these sacred engagements, we yet humbly, fervently implore the Almighty Disposer of events to avert from our land war and usurpation, the scourges of mankind; to permit our fields to be cultivated in peace; to instil into nations the love of friendly intercourse; to suffer our youth to be educated in virtue, and to preserve our morality from the pollution invariably incident to habits of war; to prevent the laborer and husbandman from being harassed by taxes and imposts; to remove from ambition the means of disturbing the commonwealth ; to annihilate all pretexts for power afforded by war; to maintain the Constitution; and to bless our nation with tranquillity, under whose benign influence we may reach the summit of happiness and glory, to which we are destined by nature and nature's God.
Attest, JOHN STEWART, C. H. D. 1799, January 23d. Agreed to by the Senate. H. BROOKE, C. S.
A true copy from the original deposited in the office of the General Assembly
JOHN STEWART, Keeper of Rolls.
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 fit subject for the further consideration of the General Assembly.
ISAAC DAVIS, Speaker of the Senate.
STEPHEN LEWIS, Speaker of the House of Representedives Test, JOHN FISHER, C. S. — JOHN CALDWELL, C. H. R.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTA
IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY, February, A. D. 1799. Certain resolutions of the legislature of Virginia, passed on 21st of December last, being communicated to this Assembly,
1. Resolved, That, in the opinion of this legislature, the second section of 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 States.
2. Resolved, That for any state legislature to assume that authority would be
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 opinions, but the strength of its own arm;
3d. Submitting most important questions of law to less competent tribunals; and,
4th. An infraction of the Constitution of the United States, expressed in plain terms.
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 i 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.
SAMUEL EDDY, Secretary,
A true copy,
HCOMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
In Senate, 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.