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guarantee made by the Constitution, of a republican-form of government. What was a representative to do? Was he not to withstand it? If such law should tend to destroy that guarantee, were we to wait until the ene. my's detachments closed us in on every side? This sedition law said yes. In the construction of this law we were placed in the hands of lawyers. The judge would construe the law. There were two kinds of construction, a strict construction, and a liberal construction. The judge might · 'put upon it a liberal construction. He stated an historical fact. That sedition was forbidden by the common law. That the law of England respecting treason, went no sarther in describing that offence, than our law does in describing sedition. He then cited the case of Algernon Sidney. That Algernon Sidney wrote a book in answer to Filmer, to prove that the authority of kings was not of divine original (a thing in those days deemed necessary to be proved). He wished a necessity might never appear for a new edition of this book. For this he was prosecuted and tried, condemned and executed. And this was a liberal construction of the law. He thought that this case might well be applied in an argument on the subject of this law of ours. However, the law was said to be harmless. That to bring themselves within it, men must unlawfully combine, they must conspire, they must lie, for that they might still tell truth without danger. But this could never satisfy him that it was not dangerous, when he recollected that the best patriots had been sacrificed by sedition laws, with the help of construction.
He then said that another distinction had been set up, that this law was not to restrain the freedom, but the licentiousness of speech. This, he observed, was an epithet which might be applied to any attempt to restrain usurpation. Men find no difficulty in pronouncing opinions to be both false and licentious, which differ from their own. That this same distinc. tion (if it was just) would empower Congress to regulate religion, the freedom of which is secured by the same article which secures the freedom of speech. They might in the end be induced to regulate the mode of petitioning, that it might be performed orderly, and not licentiously, as it is in some countries, by crawling on the belly towards a throne, and licking the dust. He then observed, that a power to restrain treason, was more necessary in a government, than to regulate sedition : that our Constitution had yet limited the power over treason to a few cases, which he stated. However, Congress might still regulate the punishment in case of treason ; and it was possible, that they might establish in such case a punishment short of death; a punishment even inferior to that for sedition. What then would result? Treason was the genus; sedition a species. If the first were limited, and the second not, what security had we? He then read the third article of the amendments to the Constitution, concerning freedom of speech, &c., and asked in what sense this clause was understood at the time of adoption ? Could it then have been contemplated by any one, that such a law as this would ever have been passed? The adoption of the Constitution by this state was accompanied by a condition containing a reservation of these very rights : so that they must have been understood in a very different sense then, than when these laws of Congress passed. He read the ratification of the Constitution by the convention of
this state, and said that the same ought to be looked upon as a contemporaneous exposition of the part of the Constitution referred to. He then asked, if the sedition law did in no respect cancel, restrain, or infringe the liberty of the press! And concluded his observations upon the first of the two subjects, to which he had before mentioned he should confine them, by saying that, if he had proved the laws spoken of to be unconstitutional, the objection to them on that ground was strong; and by asking further, could they then be justified upon the ground of necessity, or that they He began his observations upon the second subject, by asking if those laws were correspondent with human rights? Those rights, he said, were, freedom of speech, freedom of person, a right to justice, and to a fair trial. If an alien possessed those rights, he asked, could he avail himself of them under the present law? Could a citizen, under the sedition law, ex. ercise the freedom of speech, or of religion, which last, a few days before, he had heard called a social right? It was not so.
It was either a na. tural duty, or a natural right. Was it possible that at this day, religious worship could be restrained by law? The right of opinion, he said, should be held sacred. It ought never to be given up in any one instance. Religion was only a branch of opinion. With what propriety could that range of thought, bestowed by the Creator upon the human mind, be controlled by law. He deemed it a sacrilege for government to undertake to regulate the mind of man. It was a subject by no means within its powers.. What would be the consequence of such a measure? Universal ignorance amongst the people. He then asked, if ignorance was a desirable thing? And were the free exercise of the faculties of the human mind, to be once restrained and shut up, he would ask them, then, what was man? He was therefore opposed to those laws, as being destructive of the most essential human rights. He again asked, if such laws were ever contemplated at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and what would be the consequence of the destruction of those essential human rights, of which he had spoken? What would be the probable effects of those laws? They would establish executive influence, and executive influence would produce a revolution. There was great danger in throwing too great weight in any one scale. He then proceeded to inquire whether those laws would increase executive influence, and concluded that they would. That they would by begetting fear. If public opinion were to be directed by government, by means of fines, penalties and punishments, on the one hand, and patronage on the other, public opinion itself would be made the stepping stone for usurpation. If Congress should undertake to regulate public opinion, they would be sure to regulate it so as to detach the people from the state governments, and attach them to the general government. But, he said, the most dangerous effect of those laws would be, the abolition of the right to examine public servants. He again referred to Sidney's case, and recited the doctrine of Filmer, to illustrate this subject. To bring about such a measure as this, he said, it would be necessary for Congress, in the first place, to establish the point, that they were the mas. ters, and not the servants, of the people. He said, government might do wrong. Could a criminal be ever brought to justice, who had a power to
regulate the mode of his own examination? And is it not criminal in a government to oppress a people? If its acts were wrong, they would produce discontent: discontent was the only road to redress. But redress could never be obtained, because the sedition law prohibited the only mode of obtaining it, by punishing that very matter of exciting discontent. He asked what was despotism ? He defined it to be, a concentration of powers in one man, or in a body of men. The manner of concentrating them was unimportant: the end was the same. Individuals and states were equally affected by such concentration of power. The concentration of it in an individual, would enslave other individuals, a concentration of it in Congress, would operate to the destruction of the state governments ; and that, if the balance of power which the state governments ought to hold against Congress, were once lost, we must be precipitated into a revolution. He adverted to the vast power concentrated in the Senate of the United States. This had been seriously yiewed at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and since. That, at the time of framing the Constitution, mutual concessions were made between the states, which he believed to be the sole reason for admitting the small states to an equal share of power 'in that body, with the large, the real counterbalance of which concession, was the existence of state governments. Thence he concluded, that being thus situated, if the balance which the states ought to hold, should happen to be lost, the small Senate of the United States, might govern America. He further said, that although he had read in pamphlets and newspapers, and also had heard it reported, that such principles as he held, led to commotion, still he would assert that it was more likely to happen that a majority of small states might adopt measures which would oppress the rest, although they should contain the greatest number of citizens: and that the result of this would be a civil war. The many would not submit to the few, and all history would show, that a majority armed with power, would never yield it without a struggle. He said that oppression was the road to civil war: To prove which, he asked what produced the war between Britain and America ? Oppression. What produced the revolution of France ? Oppression. What produced the revolt of the United Provinces from Spain? Oppression. He said, the way to keep a nation quiet, was to make it happy : that oppression goaded it on to civil war. In justification of which opinion, he stated that the people of the United States were at this time under the pressure of certain grievances. The way then to stop civil war, would be to stop oppression. But, said gentlemen, we must not disunite. To this he would answer, remove oppression, and union would take place. He had observed it asserted in a pamphlet circulated at this place, that these late measures of the government might be justified on the ground of self-defence. Under such a pretence as that, he said, Congress might pass any law whatever. This never could have been the object of the Constitution. He said, that the old instrument of confederation contained the same language, but no such power as that contended for was ever claimed. Had it ever possessed it, its want of energy would not have suggested the present Constitution. (He then read the preamble of the articles of consederation, reciting that the same was entered into for the public good, &c.)
By adopting a different construction from that made by himself, he said the propriety of no law which Congress should ever pass could be denied. He then concluded by saying, that our rights were the offspring of pangs and peril. Let them never then be wrested from us. It was the custom in some countries, for the prince to send for the first born child of every subject, to have him trained as a soldier for his army. In that case, could the distressed parent be assured that by surrendering his first-born, he would secure the rest? The first-born of American rights, was the free examination of public servants. Were we to surrender that, could we be certain that the rest would be secured? That these rights were the fruit of victory, and recompense of blood. We had defended them against the arms of Britain. Never then let us surrender them to the arts of sophistry and ambition.
Mr. George K. Taylor moved that the committee might rise, in order to give time to himself and the other members to consider well the subject before them. He said, it was an important one, as the object of inquiry seemed to be, to impeach with unconstitutionality, two laws passed by both Houses of Congress, and by them declared to be constitutional.
Mr. Foushee made a few remarks in opposition to those of Mr. George K. Taylor in regard to the probable constitutionality of the laws, by reason of their having passed both Houses of Congress.
Mr. Nicholas hoped that the gentleman from Prince George did not intend, by moving to rise, to preclude from speaking any person then disposed to speak.
Mr. George K. Taylor said that he did not; but (after waiting some time and no member rising to speak) he renewed his motion for the committee's rising.
The committee rose accordingly, reported progress, and had leave to sit again.
IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES,
Friday, December 14, 1798. The House resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, on the state of the Commonwealth, Mr. Brackenridge in the chair, when, Mr. John Taylor's resolutions being still under consideration, Mr. Magill said, if he were in order, he would move that the resolutions should be read.
The chairman declared the same to be in order, and the resolutions were read accordingly by the clerk. Whereupon,
Mr. George K, TAYLOR arose, and said that he never felt himself impressed with more awe than on that occasion. The subject was of itself sufficiently momentous ; but the resolutions before them rendered it still more so. They contained a declaration, not of opinion, but of fact. They declared the acts of Congress, called the alien and sedition laws, to
be unconstitutional, and not law. These laws, he said, had been passed by both houses of Congress. One of those houses was formed of the immediate representatives of the whole American people, the other of members chosen by the state legislatures. These two houses thus formed, and thus representing the whole people, and the respective state sovereignties, had passed those laws after solemn deliberation and discussion, and declared them to be constitutional. In such case, he conceived, the Legislature of Virginia, the representative of a part only of the American people, ought to deliberate seriously before they undertook to give an opinion upon them; and if their opinion should be such as the resolutions stated, they should still endeavour to couch that opinion in different language; for, by those resolutions, as they then stood, the people were encouraged most openly to make resistance. He compared the two legislative bodies, Congress and the Assembly of Virginia, together. He presumed the former to be as wise, as watchful of the public interests, as the latter. He then called the attention of the committee to what had been the determination of the legistatures of the other states. All which had taken these laws under their consideration, had given them their decided approbation, either by way of resolution, or address to the President. It could not be denied but that they had some wisdom, and that it was not exclusively confined to the Legislature of Virginia. As the legislatures then, of so many states, had' concurred in the approbation of them, he thought .it necessary for the Legislature of this state to hesitate in expressing its opinion of their ynconstitutionality, especially when they reflected on the consequence attending it. For if these laws were unconstitutional, the resolutions made it the duty of the people to defend themselves against them. He said he would then proceed to show to the committee, that those laws were not unconstitutional. In that attempt he was not certain whether or not he should succeed. He possibly might bring them to doubt, and should he do that, he should feel in some measure satisfied. On the other hand, they might be assured that the consequences of pursuing the advice of the resolutions, would be insurrection, confusion, and anarchy. The business upon which they were acting, he said, was of an extensive nature. The gentleman from Caroline had spoken upon both laws. He should confine himself to the alien law only. He conceived that would be as much as he could perform. For in doing that, he should fatigue himself, and he expected the committee also.
He proceeded then to examine the situation of aliens coming into this country. He said, they had no more rights here, than they had else. where. He asked upon what footing aliens came into any country? By right, or by permission ? Still it was said, that their rights were to be affected by this law of Congress. He then cited and read Vattel, page 157, section 94, to show that a nation may prohibit foreigners from entering its territory; and from that authority concluded, that their admission into a country was by no means a matter of right, but of favour. He said, the alien did not come within the scope of the general laws of the country into which he came. During his stay therein, he was to be protected indeed by those laws; but was not the object of them. He cited