IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES,
Tuesday, December 18, 1798.
The House resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, on the state of the commonwealth, Mr. Breckenridge in the chair, when Mr. John Taylor's resolutions being still still under consideration,
Mr. MAGILL said, that he arose with sensations never before experienced by him; that he conceived the peace of the United States to be involved in the decision which the committee were about to make; for the question appeared to him to be whether the states should remain united under the federal Constitution, or that instrument which they were bound to support, be declared of no force or effect; that in delivering his sentiments to the committee, he would address himself to the reason of the members, and avoid an appeal to their passions; for if the opinion he advocated could not be supported upon this ground, he would not resort to any other. That he had attended to the arguments of the gentleman from Orange, and those of the gentlemen who preceded him on the same side: with their eloquence he was pleased, and their talents he admired, but the judgment he had formed upon the laws, after the most serious reflection, so far from being shaken, had received additional force by the manner in which the debate had been conducted. When gentlemen of first-rate talents amuse the fancy with eloquent harangues, instead of attempting to inform the understanding, to him it was evident that they thought their positions untenable. He said we are to decide upon the constitutionality of the "alien and sedition laws," as they are generally called, and in so doing are we not erecting ourselves into a court of justice, particularly so as (he resolutions declare those laws null and void; for where is the department of the government, except the judiciary, that can exercise this power? He said that the present Assembly was chosen by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation, and he begged to know the source from whence their judicial powers, even over a law passed by themselves, in a case where their jurisdiction was complete, could be derived. If, said he, it be admitted that we cannot judicially act upon a law passed by this or any other Assembly of this commonwealth, and that our courts alone can do so, where is that law, point out that feature in the federal Constitution, that gives to this body the power now about to be exercised? He said that the public papers had teemed with invectives against Congress for passing these laws. Could gentlemen say this was a criterion to judge them by? He said, that in all the publications he had seen, and the arguments he had heard used, the authors had taken for granted what remained to be proved. Admit the premises, and the conclusion may fairly be drawn. The gentleman from Orange, Mr. Magill said, had observed that the President of the United States was a friend to monarchy, or in favour of a monarchical government. Admitting this, for argument's sake, to be correct, what relation, said he, can it have to the subject now under consideration? Will it en. lighten the mind of a man when he is called upon to form an opinion upon an important point, to have his judgment drawn from that object, by suggesting one foreign and entirely unconnected with it? He said, that for his own part, Mr. Adams possessed his highest confidence; that he viewed him as the tried and true friend of his country; that the happiness of his fellow-citizens was his first object; that he looked up to the virtues and talents of Mr. Adams with veneration, and would only add, that his administration had in his opinion been pure and uncorrupt. These sentiments, though unpopular here, I ever have and will avow, said Mr. Magill so long as the measures heretofore pursued, be continued. He then contended, that the statement of the gentleman from Prince George, respecting the rights of aliens, was correct, and the contrary one of the gentleman from Orange not so, and gave his reasons for this opinion. He observed, that he meant to be concise in his replies to the arguments against the alien-law, as the gentleman from Prince George had opened that part of the debate, and would, in concluding it, notice all such as he should omit. He said that he adopted this mode, supposing that the opening of the sedition act, which had been assigned to him, would take up as much time as the House could on that day allow him. He then defined as necessary to a perfect knowledge of the subject, the powers of the general and, state governments. He observed, that the only true and natural foundations of society are the wants of individuals. He said this rule applied to the states, considered as such, at the time this Constitution of the United States was formed. The insufficiency of the old confederation, said he, evinced their wants, and to prevent again experiencing these wants, this Constitution was formed. He observed, that to him the Constitution of the United States should be thus explained, as giving to the Federal government a control over the national affairs; to the state governments, the care of state or local concerns. Upon this definition, and the Constitution taken together, he proceeded to inquire if the alien-law had violated the Constitution in any respect; and he agreed with the gentleman from Prince George in his statement respecting aliens, that Vattel's doctrine was solid, and to be relied upon. He insisted, that the safety of a nation could not be secured, without such a power as this law gave being deposited somewhere. He agreed with the gentleman from Spottsylvania, that the dispute with France, if it could be avoided, ought not to be introduced; but how, said he, can this be done? The unjust and infamous conduct of France, should make our government careful how its citizens introduce themselves amongst us, with their diplomatic skill; and to guard against attempts of that nation and its citizens, this law perhaps was passed. He then adverted to Volney and Talleyrand, of whom the gentleman from Prince George had spoken, and said, that that gentleman had not been correctly understood by the gentleman from Prince William, and others, when they alluded to his remarks upon Talleyrand and Volney. The gentleman from Spottsylvania had mentioned the independence of the state governments at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. He admitted that to be true, but said the argument was of no weight, unless it could be proved that they were independent now, as their situation at that period was the subject. He then made some remarks in answer to the gentleman from Brunswick, upon the first clause of the ninth section of the Constitution, restraining Congress from prohibiting migration; and he said, the gentleman from Caroline had not relied upon that clause, but the gentleman from Orange had. He said, that he thought the clause last mentioned, related only to slaves, and his reason for thinking so, was founded upon. the language used in the latter part of the clause, and the whole Constitution taken together. He then quoted the opinion of Mr. George Nicholas, delivered at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, in effect the same as his own. He here read the opinion delivered by Mr. George Mason, in the debates of the convention in Virginia, in regard to the clause referred to, respecting migration and importation extending to slaves only. He took this to be the opinion of Mr. Mason, inasmuch as his observations, as well as those of others, were confined to that description of persons alone. He then mentioned the alien-law of Virginia, not, he said, with a wish that if it were erroneous, it should be a precedent, but to show what was the opinion of the legislature of this state at that time. They had been told, that the Legislature of Virginia had a right to pass such a law, and that Congress had not. He contended on the contrary, from the Constitution, that the state had a power to pass such a law, only until Congress should interfere, by passing one upon the subject. He assimilated this to the case of citizenship, upon which laws had been passed by the state, that were set aside when Congress passed a general law, by the force of that law. He then said, that the clauses in the Constitution of the United States, and in the bill of rights of Virginia, securing the trial by jury, were couched in general terms, and neither were ever supposed to be infringed until the passage of the alien-law by Congress. The people of this state had passed such a law for the same reason, as had induced Congress to pass one, to wit, to insure domestic tranquillity. Let me ask, said he, if here we ought not to pause, and not hastily condemn a former legislature of our own state. He then proceeded to show, that by the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, (which the Constitution warranted in a particular case,) the trial by jury was taken away even from a citizen. Would not then, he said, the true meaning and spirit of the same instrument allow it to be taken away from an alien, a person entitled to no absolute rights, and who was no party to the compact, in a similar case. He then stated at large, the proceedings which took place in the case of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus; and observed, that a person then charged, must remain in prison without a hearing, until the emergency had ceased. That case then, he said, was in principle the same as the alien-law. The cause for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was temporary, and when the cause had no longer an existence, the effect would also cease. He then contended, that when the alien-law had passed, there was good cause to apprehend danger from without, and from aliens within our territory: to guard against their attempts was proper. He said, the gentleman from James City had urged the necessity of aliens being informed of the rule of conduct which should govern them upon their arrival in America. In reply to this, he, Mr. Magill, would observe, that aliens must know that rule from the law of nations, which is a part of the law of every country, and is simply this, "interfere not in the governmental affairs of a foreign country, and confine your attention to your individual concerns whilst in that country." He thought this power given by the law, of removing aliens, properly vested in the President. He stated his responsibility, and the eminent services rendered by the present President, together with his known attachment to his country, as a pledge that he would not act cruelly or unjustly.
The gentleman from Caroline had argued upon the condition upon which the Constitution was adopted in Virginia, and upon that point he had understood him to say, that the condition being broken, we were no longer bound by the ratification. This, Mr. Magill said, was an alarming doctrine. He then recapitulated his several arguments, in order, he said, to impress upon them what he attempted to prove, and said, that he would then consider the sedition-law: and here he requested the attention of the committee, this law being in its nature particularly important, citizens being affected by it. The freedom of the press, correctly understood, and as it was considered by the framers of the Constitution, he contended was not abridged by the law. He then read the sedition-act, and said the passage of this law was opposed in Congress by those gentlemen who had opposed the defensive measures adopted against a foreign nation, and in Virginia it was reprobated on the ground of its being unwarranted by the Constitution. Ho asked, is there by this law an addition to our penal code, and said, that in his judgment no new offence was created by it, everything it forbids being before an offence at common law. He said, here it will be proper to inquire, whether the doctrines of (he common law apply, or form the basis of our laws: that they do so, he took to be clear and evident; such was the opinion entertained in the Virginia Convention. He said, that what the doctrines of the common law were prior to, and at the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, must then be the rule, and the term liberty of the press, as then understood, an important consideration. He then read the history of the liberty of the press, as laid down by Blackstone, in the fourth volume of his Commentaries, and said, this then is the history of the term freedom of the press. It was an exemption from all power over publications, unless previously approved by licensers. To show that it did not extend to an exemption from legal punishment, according to the principles of the common law, he said, let us again return to the same author: "Libels are malicious defamations of any person, and especially a magistrate, made public, by either printing, writing, signs or pictures, in order to provoke him to wrath." He proceeded to read Blackstone's definition, with the mode of proceeding against persons charged with libellous publications. The liberty of the press, as he had stated it, he said was essential to a free state, and drew the distinction between the liberty and licentiousness of the press. Ho said, with this definition of the freedom of the press, as it was before them, with Blackstone's rational observations in their view, can we for a moment suppose that Congress, when they concurred in recommending the third article of the amendments, and the assemblies of the different states, when they ratified and approved that article, intended to procure an exemption for writings false, scandalous, and malicious, from punishment, according to the principles of the common law. Doth not the judicial power of the United States expressly extend to controversies, to which the United States shall be a party? Can there be a case, in which the United States shall be called a party, if not to those which are offences against the United States, their people and government? Was it intended that the government should be destitute of the means of defending itself or its members7 Have not Congress power, "to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers vested by the Constitution in any department of the government of the United States?" He said, let us now see what construction hath been put upon the twelfth clause of the bill of rights in Virginia, by the Assembly of that state, for a law by that body is an express declaration of the opinion it entertains. The twelfth clause is, " That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments." The Constitution of the United States says, in the third article of the amendments, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, &c." In substance the language is the same. Amongst the laws passed in 1792, is one to be seen in page 219 of the Revised Code, entitled, "An act against divulgers of false news;" which law enacts, "That whereas," &c. He then read the law. The legislature was then of opinion, that divulgers of false news, whether printers or others, were not protected by this clause in the bill of rights. Are we, he asked, wiser than a former Assembly? This law in our code, upon being compared with the law of Congress, will be found much more severe than the latter. By the law of Congress, the accused may give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in the publication charged against him, &c. But, said he, is it known to the people that in a prosecution for a libel in Virginia, under the state laws, you can neither plead nor give in evidence the truth of the matter contained in the libel. He said, in a civil action, the truth could be pleaded in bar of the suit, and upon proving the plea, a verdict would be found for the defendant. He here pointed out the mode of proceeding by indictment against a person accused and tried under the state law for a libel; and said here is a material distinction between the two laws. He contended, that the freedom of the press was not abridged, no new offence being created. He asked, how can the officers of government carry the laws of the union into effect, without possessing the confidence of the people? He said, what is this law designed to prevent, is it the circulation of false and malicious slanders? And if so, can any man wish to exercise such a right, even admitting him to possess it, the bare use of which would cover him with infamy? He said a law passed by us is right, but a similar law passed by Congress, having equal power upon the subject-matter, is wrong. He repeated his several arguments in order, and said that the committee had been so indulgent, that he would now pass on to the resolutions offered: And here, he said, it appeared to him that the wisdom of man could not devise a more certain mode of preventing a repeal of the laws complained of, than that which the resolutions pointed out. Are gentlemen serious, he said, in wishing a repeal? He said, the moment that the paper under consideration was adopted, he should consider as giving birth to a serious and alarming contest. He said, are we sincere in our professions of friendship to the government of the United States? If so, why snatch with avidity an opportunity of resorting to a measure violent in its nature, before we have made an attempt, moderate and temperate. Would this conduct, he said, be pursued by an individual wishing to be reconciled to his friend? He said the resolutions are certainly incorrect. The states alone are parties! What, are the people entirely excluded? He contended, that there is not a state in the Union that hath so unequal a representation in the state legislature as Virginia. Are the people of Virginia represented according to numbers? No! It is the name of a county. Two hundred freeholders have the same voice in this Assembly, as one thousand. This statement, he said, the committee knew was accurate, and the two counties could be named. He then referred to the third amendment to the Constitution of the United Slates, which secures the right of petitioning for a redress of grievances. The states, he said, could never be injured whilst that power existed; and could he be convinced that the people were aggrieved, he would join in a constitutional, moderate way to obtain a redress. He said, the Kentucky resolutions, us did ours, declared these laws null and void. If they are so, let the proper courts say so. He then proceeded to show that the states could not form a coalition; for by the Constitution they are prohibited from entering into any confederacy, or making any agreement with each other. In substance, he said, this was forming a confederacy. He then read an extract from the Federalist, in the writing of which the gentleman from Spottsylvania had said. Mr. Madison was concerned.
He said he thought the laws constitutional, and then enumerated the consequences of adopting the resolutions before the committee. He enlarged upon this subject, and again entreated the committee to pause and seriously to reflect upon the awful question before them, for such he really considered it.
Mr. FOUSHEE arose next, and asked if it would be necessary for him to tell the committee that the subject was important, after what the gentleman last up had said: "that peace or war was to be the consequence." And being so important, he (Mr. Foushee) thought that they should most seriously consider the matter previous to a decision on the resolutions before the committee. He then made some remarks upon the quotations from the law of nations, used by Mr. George K. Taylor and Mr. Magill, to show that sovereignty must reside in every independent nation, and the power consequently attached to sovereignty. This doctrine he did not deny, but said, if the states individually were sovereign before and at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, which he contended they then were, and still are, he asked could any one lay his finger on that part of the Constitution of the United States which had taken away their sovereignty in those cases embraced by the alien and sedition laws? That the Constitution was a limited compact, and contained no powers but those granted. But the common law and implication had been resorted to by gentlemen, in support of a contrary doctrine. By admitting the common law and this construction to have force, he said, Congress might, under these, and the terms general welfare, pass any act whatever; thereby setting the Constitution at naught, and making it a dead letter; and nothing would be reserved to the states, or to the people. He was alarmed, he said, at the method which the gentleman from Prince George had adopted, in selecting the alien from the sedition law, in his arguments, and confining himself to the former. In doing so, he (Mr. Foushee) feared he discovered an intention, under the guise of attacking aliens only, who were certainly the roost unpopular inhabitants amongst us, to lay a foundation for inflicting similar injuries, in future, on such of our citizens as might give offence, and that he thought the selection of this law might keep the danger he apprehended out of general view. Mr. Foushee made several observations in answer to Mr. G. K. Taylor, respecting the rights of aliens; and observed, that, by the alien law, they were deprived unconstitutionally of liberty, which he (Mr. Foushee) contended was one of their rights, as well as life and property, to which it was acknowledged they were entitled; for the loss of their liberty, however, he said, the gentleman from Prince George expressed no pity nor offered any excuse, except one, which might be the plea of any tyrant. Mr. Foushee then said, he thought and feared, that the alien law was but a step to something else, to wit, a precedent under which citizens might in future be attacked. Danger too, he said, had been assigned as the cause of passing those laws. That cause, he observed, might be raised up at any time by an artful President, who could perhaps previously get such a treaty made as to suit his purpose; and, under the idea of danger, to produce a state of preparation, by which his power might be increased, and which might become injurious by the extension of influence arising from patronage; for instance, &c. What direful acts and effects of usurpation, said he, may not ensue under the pretence alone of danger? The unconstitutionality of these laws, he observed, had been so fully proved, that it would be unnecessary then for him to say anything further on that head; and that, if there was an act at which the human mind could revolt, it would be, in his judgment, the denial of such unconstitutionality. He then said, that if the doctrine of some gentlemen on the floor of Congress, and that contended for by a certain modest pamphleteer, as lately published, and which some days past had been so copiously detailed by the member from Prince George, and which he (Mr. Foushee) had since seen, could be established, he admitted the resolutions must be wrong; but, as he was well satisfied such doctrine could not be supported, he thought the resolutions ought to receive the sanction of the committee. He mentioned the subject of implication again, and dwelt on its direful consequences, many of which he particularly enumerated. He then proceeded to answer quotations made by gentlemen from certain laws of Virginia, particularly the alien-bill, endeavouring, as he supposed, to deduce from thence, power to the general government over aliens. He urged, that the latter particularly was a proof that the state, and state only, had a right to pass such a law; and consequently, that Congress had not the right.
But, he said, the gentleman from Prince George had urged, that if Congress had not the power of passing such a law, Virginia might admit under the description of aliens, an army of soldiers, for instance, Bonaparte and his whole army (if they could get out of Egypt). Mr. Foushee asked, what idea must that gentlemen have of the virtue and patriotism of his fellow-citizens, in urging such an argument? He said, it might justly be called, in the gentleman's own words, a monstrous idea. He then asked, where would those doctrines contended for by gentlemen in opposition to the resolutions, leave us? Would it not be in a mass of consolidation? Could not freemen, he said, assert their rights, without being charged with an intention or wish of dissolving the government of the United States? He then stated the observations of several gentlemen, in regard to the consequences of opposition, as they termed it. That he differed, however, from them in regard to the consequences they apprehended, to wit, an invitation of foreign invasion, &c.; and he contended strongly for the right of free communication and consultation. He observed, that the gentleman from Prince George had said, that these acts of Congress having been passed by a majority of that body, the members of which had taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, could we suppose they were unmindful of it? The members of this Assembly, Mr. Foushee said, had taken the same oath, in addition to other obligations. That they must therefore pursue their duty, in discharge of their solemn obligations to this state and the United States, without regard to the conduct of other people, although they may have acted also under oath. He then recapitulated various arguments of those who approved the resolutions, and observed, it had been said by the member from Prince George, that this law (meaning the alien-law), although passed, would affect very few comparatively, indeed it would be almost as one man only. In this light, he (Mr. Foushee) considered it so much the more to be dreaded, as an exertion for its repeal might not be sufficiently made, and thus a precedent be established. Small beginnings, he said, often produced great ends, and required, therefore, to be more narrowly watched. He then made a comparison between the structure of the Constitution and the universe. The latter he represented to be a system composed of atoms. If, said he, it were once to be ascertained that we had a power to destroy or annihilate one atom, it would soon be seen that we had a power to destroy more atoms; and thereby we should establish a principle, which might go to the total destruction of the universe. The same consequences as to the right of power over the Constitution, he said, might ensue, for the power over each was limited. Danger too, he said, had been repeatedly assigned as a cause for those laws. He again asked, what would be the consequence of subscribing implicitly to that doctrine? The principles of such a measure, he repeated, would be to establish in a designing man, or set of men, at the head of the government, all power, which might be continued, even when the danger spoken of no longer existed. Precedent, he again said, would be thus founded and resorted to; and be urged upon us on every occasion, by saying, the same thing has been done before. But if danger alone, added he, had been the cause of passing those laws, and they could be justified, even on that score, that danger, he said, was now nearly over, or greatly lessened. He then referred to historical facts to prove the force of his remarks. These, he said. were worthy of being attended to. He again declared himself in favour of the resolutions, especially the first. After which he observed, that he had confined his observations generally to the alien-law, as he had understood the gentleman from Prince George to say, early in the debate, that the arguments on the sedition-law would not be gone into, until those on the alien-law had been urged and decided on. However, he said, he considered the sedition-law of much the greater consequence of the two, as the evils were by that law, in his judgment, much aggravated; and that all the arguments urged against the alien-law applied with accumulated force against the sedition-law; and that he could as yet only account for the selection of the alien-law in argument, as being the most distant from, and least to be felt by, the citizens at large. Ho then proceeded to state the purport of the sedition-law, the construction which had been given to it, and the consequences resulting from its operation. And although he admitted, that speaking might not be expressly enumerated, yet he said the free communication of opinion was prevented, and particularly in the mode of writing, printing, &c. He then stated the beneficial effects resulting from a free communication of sentiment, and the greater benefits still, flowing particularly from the freedom of the press; by means of which, knowledge was most extensively diffused. He made several observations in favour of the manly language of the resolutions, particularly the first, as holding out our express determination to resist usurpation by every constitutional mode, as well as invasion; and which he thought would be the most effectual means of curing the present evil, as well as preventing similar attempts in future. He then made a short recapitulation of the unconstitutionality and inexpediency of those laws, and observed, that injustice and deception were particularly evident, in his judgment, on the face of the sedition-law, to wit: four specified acts, "writing, printing, uttering, and publishing," independent of other prohibitions, were made punishable. That it had been urged, those various acts might be justified, if they contained the truth. He urged in reply, that the justificatory clause only enumerated two items, "writing and publishing." That printing and uttering were not in that clause; and therefore, justification could not be pleaded in excuse for a prosecution founded on either of these.
Mr. BROOKE arose next, and said that he never could consent to sanction the passage of resolutions having so alarming and dangerous a tendency as those which had been presented to them by the gentleman from Caroline; and before ho gave his vote upon the subject, he would beg leave to state to the committee, without adverting to the particular merits of the laws that were the subject of those resolutions, the reasons that would govern him in his vote upon that occasion.
Resolutions such as these, said Mr. Brooke, declaring laws which had been made by the government of the United States to be unconstitutional, null, and void, were in his opinion, in the highest extreme dangerous and improper, inasmuch as they had not only a tendency to inflame the public mind; they had not only a tendency to lessen that confidence that ought to subsist between the representatives of the people in the general government and their constituents, but they had a tendency to sap the very foundation of the government, by producing resistance to its laws, and were in the eyes of all foreign nations evidence, fatal evidence, of internal discord in this country, and of imbecility in our government to protect itself against domestic violence and usurpation. For these reasons, he said, he was opposed to these resolutions, and did not hesitate to declare himself equally opposed to any modification whatsoever of such resolutions, that might be intended as an expression of the general sentiment upon this subject, because he conceived it to be an improper mode by which to express the wishes of the people of this state upon the subject. By what mode then, said he, were this Assembly to understand and to express the will of the people of Virginia upon the laws that had been called in question? By an act of the Virginia Legislature, declaring these laws to be unconstitutional, null, and void? No! But by the laws of the general government, to whom the power properly belonged of making these laws; and by which their will had been already expressed. The government of the United States, he said, was one organ of the will of the people; the Legislature of Virginia was another organ of the public will. Those two organs, then, of the public will were at variance. One of these organs made laws for the government of the United States: another of these organs, the inferior one, declared these laws to be unconstitutional, null, and void; and the question then was, which of these organs were they to obey? The government of the United States, he said, most indubitably; because in the government of the United States, the representation of the people of this state is more pure and more equal than it is or could possibly be in the state government, under the existing state Constitution. In the general government, said he, every thirty thousand persons are represented; but in the state government, from the great inequality in the representation, under the existing state Constitution, it was utterly impossible, under existing circumstances, by this mode to express the sentiments and wishes of the people of Virginia upon the laws that had been called in question. In some counties in the state, said he, fifteen hundred or two thousand freeholders constitute the number of electors, who are entitled to but two representatives: in other smaller counties, one hundred and fifty or two hundred freeholders constitute the number of electors, who are entitled to the same number of representatives: so that, from this apparent inequality in the representation, circumstanced as he was, and a number of other gentlemen in the House, how could they form any sort of estimate of the general will of the people upon the subject of the laws in question. In the county of Prince William, he knew not what the people thought of the laws. The representation from Loudoun, Berkeley, Frederic, and many other large counties, were in the same situation. To what standard then were they to resort in order to ascertain the general will upon the subject? To the laws themselves, he said, he would again reply, which have been passed by the general government, where we are equally represented, and to whom the authority properly belongs by the Constitution. Since the representatives of the people in the general government, then, had made these laws, as a good citizen he would obey; as a good citizen he valued the Constitution of the United States, which he had sworn to support, and which he conceived to be invaded by the resolutions before them; and when the people of that part of the country which he had the honour to represent, became so exceedingly degenerate, so lost to all regard for the great advantages and benefits resulting from a connexion between the states under the federal Constitution, as to give him instructions to vote for the adoption of resolutions having so alarming and dangerous a tendency as those which had been offered by the gentleman from Caroline, he should go in mourning for them; he should bid adieu to legislation, and seek an asylum in some other region of the globe, among a race of men who had more respect for peace and order, and who set a higher value upon the blessings of good government. But sensible as he was that his constituents would have discernment and patriotism enough to think with him that the resolutions offered for our adoption by the worthy member from Caroline, teem with principles hostile to the very existence of the general government; that they would think with him that any attempt in the state legislature to control the operations of the general government by the adoption of resolutions inviting the sister states to a cooperation in resisting its laws, was equally dangerous and improper as it is unnecessary, he should give a negative to these resolutions, and before he sat down, beg leave to offer a resolution as a substitute for those which had been presented by the member from Caroline. He offered it, he said, at this stage of the business, because the tocsin of rebellion had been that day sounded in the House by the resolutions accompanying the Governor's letter from the state of Kentucky. The sooner then, he said, our determination not to co-operate in resisting the laws of the general government should be announced to that state, the sooner our determination to support the American government should be announced to the nations of the earth, the better. And for this purpose he would offer the resolution which he had before referred to. He then read his resolution, in the following words: "Resolved, That as it is established by the Constitution of the United States, that the people thereof have a right to assemble peaceably, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, it therefore appears properly to belong to the people themselves to petition when they consider their rights to be invaded by any acts of the general government; and it should of right be left to them if they conceive the laws lately passed by the Congress of the United States, commonly called the ' alien and sedition bills,' to be unconstitutional, or an invasion of their rights, to petition for a repeal of the said laws." After reading the said resolution, Mr. Brooke handed it in to the clerk's table, where the same being again read, was laid upon the table.
On motion of Mr. Johnson, the committee then rose, the chairman reported progress, asked, and had leave for the committee to sit again.
Part II | Debate Dec. 17 | Debate Dec. 19 | Randolph Contents | Text Version