The following resolution was adopted by the Virginia Senate on December
24, 1798, as a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by
Congress. It was authored by James Madison, in collaboration with Thomas
Jefferson, who authored a set of resolutions for Kentucky.
Virginia Resolution of 1798
RESOLVED, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocably
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 this assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the Union
of the States, to maintain which it pledges all its powers; and that for
this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of
those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a
faithful observance of them, can alone secure it's existence and the
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 the compact; as no further valid
that 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 General Assembly doth also express its deep regret, that a
spirit has in sundry instances, been manifested by the federal government,
to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional
charter which defines them; and that implications have appeared of a
design to expound certain general phrases (which having been copied from
the very limited grant of power, in the former articles of confederation
were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and
effect, of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains and
limits the general phrases; and so as to consolidate the states by
degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable
consequence of which would be, to transform the present republican system
of the United States, into an absolute, or at best a mixed monarchy.
That the General Assembly doth particularly protest against the palpable
and alarming infractions of the Constitution, in the two late cases of the
"Alien and Sedition Acts" passed at the last session of
Congress; the first of which exercises a power no where delegated to the
federal government, and which by uniting legislative and judicial powers
to those of executive, subverts the general principles of free government;
as well as the particular organization, and positive provisions of the
federal constitution; and the other of which acts, exercises in like
manner, a power not delegated by the constitution, but on the contrary,
expressly and positively forbidden by one of the amendments thereto; a
power, which more than any other, ought to produce universal alarm,
because it is levelled against that right of freely examining public
characters and measures, and 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 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, having with other states, recommended an
amendment for that purpose, which amendment was, in due time, annexed to
the Constitution; it would mark a reproachable inconsistency, and criminal
degeneracy, if an indifference were now shewn, 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; the General Assembly doth solemnly appeal to the like
dispositions of 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 co-operating with this state, in
maintaining the Authorities, Rights, and Liberties, referred to the States
respectively, or to the people.
That the Governor be desired, to transmit a copy of the foregoing
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.
Agreed to by the Senate, December 24, 1798.
Also see the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798,
authored by Thomas Jefferson, for the same purpose, and a follow-up
Kentucky Resolution of 1799 adopted by the
Kentucky Legislature a year later in 1799.
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