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of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States; or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the Constitution of the United States; or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act; or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Sect. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in the publication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.
SECT. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer : Provided, That the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.
II. RESOLUTIONS OF VIRGINIA
OF DECEMBER 21, 1798,
AND DEBATE AND VOTE THEREON.
RESOLUTIONS AS ADOPTED BY BOTH HOUSES OF
1. Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia doth 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 it will support the government of the United States in-all measures warranted by the former.
2. 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 its 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 its existence, and the public happiness.
3. 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 that compact; as no further valid than 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 the parties thereto, have the right, andare 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.
4. 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 indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of powers 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 sove. reignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable result of which would be to
transform the present republican system of the United States into an absolute, or at best, a mixed monarchy.
5. That the General Assembly doth particularly protest against the pal. pable 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 nowhere 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.
6. 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 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.'
7. That the good people of this commonwealth having ever felt, and continuing to feel the most sincere affection to 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 unconstitutionals and that the necessary and proper measure will be taken by each, for co-operating with this State in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
8. 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.
Q7 The original resolutions offered by Mr. John Taylor to the House of Delegates may be seen, post, p. 148.
DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES ON THE
Thursday, December 13, 1798.
The House resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, on the state of the commonwealth, Mr. Brackenridge in the chair; when the reso. lutions presented to the House by Mr. John Taylor, and referred to the committee, being taken up for its consideration
Mr. John Taylor began, by expressing great regret at the occasion which brought him forward. He conceived it to be an awful one. That liberty was in danger, and as that rested on the foundation of responsibility, every effort should be made to repel attempts to subvert it. He could as. sure them, that his feeble efforts should be used for that purpose. He said that two subjects were contemplated by the resolutions before them, to which he should chiefly confine his observations. He should consider the constitutionality of the laws referred to in the resolutions, and their correspondence with human rights, natural and civil. He compared the ex ecutive of Great Britain with the Congress of the United States. The prerogatives of the first were limited and defined by the constitution of . England, as were the powers of the latter by the Constitution of the United States; and if the king at any time overleaped his boundaries, it was always certainly opposed, and met with correction. He stated the case of ship-money imposed by Charles I. What was the consequence of that measure?' It was opposed. He applied that case to the Congress of the United States. The powers of Congress, by the Constitution, were defined, as clearly as were those prerogatives. That, in Great Britain, where the prerogatives were limited, wherever the executive overleaped their bounds, other organized bodies would always control and check it. So, if Congress overleaped their bounds, some organized body should certainly oppose it. Concluding the general government to be limited in its powers, he proceeded to inquire if Congress, in passing the alien and sedition laws, had overleaped its bounds. He mentioned a law, which Congress had passed at the same session, respecting alien enemies, as it had been sug. gested that the one particularly called the alien law was justifiable on account of danger to be apprehended from foreigners. This alien enemy law passed by Congress, as well as a law of Virginia, upon that subject, were made in favour of aliens. They were necessary, and found to be the usage of all nations. A contrary usage would be cruel and inhuman. Such laws as these were attended with mutual advantages to the nations at war. They constituted a mutual assurance that the persons and pro. perty of its own citizens would be safe in the country of the other. This was not the object of the law in contemplation. The other laws were sufficient for every purpose. That aliens, when arrested and made prisoners, were not dangerous. He said he would ask the question whether alien friends possessed any rights. If so, they might be secured by the Constitution. Then, if they were insringed, the Constitution was broken. If Congress could infringe the rights of those people, they might infringe the
rights of others. One usurpation begat another. We ourselves might as well be the victims as others. He said, that alien friends, by the common law, had the rights of life, liberty, and property; and that these common law rights were secured by the Constitution; to prove which, he quoted that clause of the Constitution by which those rights are secured, which Constitution literally reached aliens, by using in all places the term “persons,” not “natives." He then put the case of our population being increased by a considerable emigration of foreigners to this country, who might be disposed to retain their foreign citizenship: we should then have amongst us a body of men, of whom the President would be 'the despot : they would be entirely in his power. He further observed that, suppose government (never an enemy to power) should strengthen its hands by corruption, by patronage, by standing armies, by a system of fears, (he would not say that our government had done so, but in case a government should do so,) that in such case, this body of emigrants, thus dependent upon government, would be a proper instrument in the hands of the executive, to effect its purposes : that executive power was the greatest enemy which republican principles had. He asked, if any one would then assert that to strengthen executive power in this way, wholly unforeseen by those who formed the Constitution, so as to extend beyond their intention, could be agreeable to the Constitution : that republican principles were the great end of the Constitution. Then, if he had proved this law inimical to those principles, he said that he had attained the great end at which he aimed.
He next observed, that the Constitution cautiously attempted to distribute its powers. It was nothing more than a deed of trust made by the people to the government. The government, then, had no right to outstrip its powers:
Were they not defined ? Had the Constitution given any power to deprive any person of trial by jury? That if once we were to permit executive power to overleap its limits, where was it to stop? And, if the executive branch exercised powers not bestowed, it overleaped the Constitution. He asked if we had arrived to that situation, that the powers which the people possessed were to be surrendered. Were we approaching the system of Divine right. (He proceeded to construe the alien law, and said that the precedent estabNshed by it was dangerous, both as it affected individuals, and as it affected states. That a power inclined to usur. pation, to the injury of aliens, would be inclined to usurp, in the construction of the Constitution, to the injury of states ; and that the precedent in the one case, would soon ripen into a law, for justifying the other
He next read the sedition law, and proceeded to comment upon the words of it, especially the words counsel or advise. He asked how he could counsel or advise another, without speaking to him; consequently these words extended to words spoken. He put the case of his counselling his neighbour to withstand the two laws of Congress before mentioned. That, by the construction of the last-mentioned law, words were reached, and duties prevented: so that, if he should advise his neighbour in regard to those laws, the latter one enacted a punishment. He then asked, what was the case of a representative in State Legislatures. He had taken an oath to oppose unconstitutional laws. What was he to do? On one hand was perjury, on the other a prison. Suppose a law were to infringe the