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adoption of the Constitution had no other restraint than the responsibility of the author to the individual who might be injured by his writing or printing ; that they destroyed all inquiry into political motives, silenced scrutiny, weakened the responsibility of public servants, and established political and executive infallibility; that the solicitude discovered by the government to defend itself against the attacks of its own citizens, was an evidence that its acts would not deserve their confidence and esteem ; that the solicitude thus expressed by threats of fine and imprisonment, to keep the President for the time being, from coming “ into disrepute,” was evidence of a fear that a comparison of motives and views would prove favourable to his competitor, and was calculated to keep the real merits of competition out of view, inasmuch as the merits of one of the proposed candidates could not be insisted on to advantage, without exposing the demerits of the other, which would tend to bring him “into disrepute." And if the one to whom the want of merit should be ascribed, should be President for the time being, thus to bring him into “disrepute," would be to bring the person discussing the subject into the pains of fine and imprisonment.
It had been contended, said Mr. Daniel, by the gentleman from Frederic, that the adoption of the resolutions would be an infringement of the right of the people to petition. He, Mr. Daniel, would state, that this right might be exercised by an individual, by an assemblage of individuals, or by the representatives of the people; which last mode was preferable, when the sovereignty of the state, as well as the appropriate rights of the people were attacked, as in the present case. He conceived, however, ihat the law in question had very much abridged the right of the people to petition and remonstrate. The necessity and propriety of petitions and remonstrances could not be seen but by discussion: the right itself could not be effectually used, without “counselling and advising together." Three or more persons would constitute an “unlawful assembly;" for it would be easily said, that they were unlawfully assembled, when they intended, by discussing certain acts of the President, or laws of the government, “ to defeat the same, by inducing the people to petition and remonstrate ; or if the same were not defeated, by virtue of such petition and remonstrance, to bring the government and President into “disrepute,” for continuing such acts and laws in operation, against which the people had petitioned and remonstrated. But those things being offences, and so enumerated in one clause of the law, an assembly of three or more persons, contemplating the objects just described, would be “unlawful,” within the purview of the act, and subject to fine and imprisonment. Again, he said, the dangerous and ruinous tendency of certain measures, might not be observed by the people of any particular district. A few, however, might wish a petition to be made, to remove the grievance of the measures; in order to which, they would individually address the district by writing, in wbich they would expose and censure the evil tendency of the said measures, to excite the people to petition and remonstrate, “ to defeat” the same, or necessarily to bring the friends of the continuance thereof into “disrepute.” This would be an offence within the purview of the second clause of the law, Thus, said he, by one act we have seen, that that clause of the Constitution, which secures the right of speech, of the press,
of petition, or the free exercise of religious opinion to the people, is prostrated in every respect, except as it relates to religion. And this last and most invaluable right, he had no doubt would soon be invaded, inasmuch as he had been informed, that the friends of the present measures had already begun to insinuate, that an “established church was one of the strongest props' to government;" and inasmuch, that the same reasons might be urged in its favour, as in favour of the abridgment of the liberty of the press. But it was said, that the press was still left free to print truth : “ its licentiousness and abuse” are only forbid. So it might be said of religion: true religion only ought to be tolerated : the abuse of religion ought to be forbidden: the licentiousness" of particular sectaries ought to be restrained.
He said, he was fearful that he had already trespassed upon the patience of the committee, and he would hasten to a conclusion, with a few remarks on the particular shape and address of the resolutions. It had been objected by gentlemen, that it was going too far to declare the acts in question, to be " no law, null, void, and of no effect:" that it was sufficient to say they were unconstitutional. He said, if they were unconstitutional, it fol. lowed necessarily that they were not law, but null, void, and of no effect." But, if those particular words were offensive to gentlemen he had no objection to any modification, so the principle were retained. As to the objection, that they were improperly addressed to the other states, Mr. De iel said, he supposed that this mode was extremely eligible. If the other states think with this, that the laws are unconstitutional, the laws will be repealed, and the constitutional question will be settled by this declaration of a majority of the states: thereby destroying the force of this precedent, and precluding from any future Congress, who might be disposed to carry the principle to a more pernicious and ruinous extent, the force of any argument which might be derived from these laws. If, on the contrary, a sufficient majority of the
states should declare their opinion, that the Constitution gave Congress · authority to pass these laws, the constitutional question would still be
settled; but an attempt might be made so to amend the Constitution, as to take from Congress this authority, which in our opinion was so pernicious and dangerous.
He then concluded by saying, that something must be done: the people were not satisfied: they expected that this Legislature would adopt some measure on this subject : that the Constitution of the United States was the basis of public tranquillity ; the pledge of the sovereignty of the states, and of the liberties of the people. But, said he, this basis of public tran. quillity, this pledge of liberty and security is but a name, a mere phantom, unless it be strictly observed. It became our duty to watch attentively, to see that it was not violated; to see that it was equally observed by those who govern, and by those who are destined to obey. To attack the Constitution was an offence against society ; and if those guilty of it were invested with authority, they added to the offence a perfidious abuse of the power with which they were intrusted. It was our duty, said he, to suppress this abuse with our utmost vigour and vigilance. It was strange to: see a free Constitution openly and boldly attacked by those who were put in power under it. It was generally by silent and slow attacks, that free
governments had progressively changed, till very little of their original tex. ture and principles remained: that the doctrine of implication had introduced innovations, under the influence and operation of which, the freest governments had been enslaved. It was our duty to guard against innovations. The people of Virginia had been attentive to this subject. The petitions and remonstrances, which had been read to the committee, proved that the people were seriously alarmed at the innovations of the Federal Government. He said they proved more: they proved that the people thought that their servants, in the administration of the Federal Government, were not even modest enough to wait the increase of their power by progressive change. That their ambition exceeded the resources of the doctrine of implication : that their thirst of power could not be satiated, but by a direct attack upon the Constitution, and a prostration of the great rights of the people. He said, this apprehension of the people, which he thought just, would be satisfied. He thought the mode proposed by the resolutions was most likely to effect this purpose, as well as other important purposes. He said, if they who were the representatives of the people, would not act for them when called upon, the people will speak for them. selves; and as the voice of God, they would be heard. He hoped this final and dreadful appeal would never be necessary. He preferred the resolutions, and hoped they would be adopted by the committee.
Mr. CURETON arose next, and said, that he wished to make some few observations. He confessed, that he had before had some doubt about the alien-law; but that the gentleman last up had convinced him of the propriety of it, and was proceeding to show how, but observed, that as the committee appeared to be impatient, he would not trouble them any longer, and therefore moved that the committee should rise, but upon General Lee's rising to speak, he withdrew his motion.
General Lee then proceeded to observe, that as the subject required the fullest deliberation, he hoped that all the papers respecting it would be read that evening, to prevent any interruption in the debate the next day. By this arrangement time would be saved, and perspicuity in argument promoted. It was too late in the evening then, to enter at large upon the subject. This he would defer till the next day, when he should with frankness and candour deliver his sentiments, with a view of showing the pernicious tendency of the resolutions on the table.
He begged to know how many counties in the state had presented petitions to the Assembly on this subject; any one of which petitions, with the alien-law, he must trouble the clerk, he said, to read, as he believed this law particularly, to be much misunderstood. He himself considered it as going only to enable the chief magistrate to remove dangerous aliens, thereby preventing the commission of crime, and not punishing crimes committed.
The sedition-law, he said, so far as he' recollected it, was free from the charges contained in the resolutions. If then, on examination, it was found that these laws were constitutional, the resolutions proposed must be rejected. If they were found unconstitutional, it was proper to interfere
and restore the Constitution to its original purity. In this salutary wish he would cheerfully join, but he must take steps becoming a portion of the same people to take, full of friendship, full of mutual respect, and tending to perpetuate union and brotherly love, not disunion and hatred.
Mr. NICHOLAS arose next, and said that the gentleman last up wished to save time, by having all the papers read that evening, but he wished to know how that would save time? The gentleman had said too that the alien law extended to prevent only, and not to punish crimes. Mr. Nicholas asked, if banishment was no punishment? He had always understood, he said, that it was; and then observed, that he should have been glad that the gentleman had been present from the commencement of the dis. cussion, that he might perfectly have understood the nature of it.
Mr. John Taylor's resolutions were then read, together with those laid upon the table by other gentlemen, and the memorial from the people of Caroline County
Mr. BROOKE then arose, and observed, that labouring under all the diffidence that a person unaccustomed to public speaking would naturally feel, in delivering his sentiments upon so momentous an occasion as the present, he was sensible of the disadvantage he must have laboured under, in delivering his sentiments upon the subject the day before; and on this account, he felt more sensibly the attack made upon him by his colleague, and the attempt made by him to distort the observations, which, in the midst of his confusion and embarrassment, Mr. Brooke said, had fallen from him. These observations that gentleman had undertaken to caricature. A more proper person for a task of this kind could not have undertaken it. He would do justice to every subject he ever did undertake. Mr. Brooke then said, that he would proceed to repeat to the committee his observations just as they were expressed, which, notwithstanding the diffidence he felt on the occasion, he perfectly recollected; and he believed that other gentlemen, not disposed to distort his meaning, would agree with him in his statement. He had observed, he said, that he was opposed to the resolutions offered by the gentleman from Caroline, however modified; that he was under no instructions; and that if the people of his county should be so degenerate (to the best of his recollection was the term ; but if the term debased, which his colleague had stated as a stronger expression, would suit his purpose better, it might be so) as to instruct him to vote for resolutions having so dangerous and alarming a tendency as those referred to, he should go into mourning; he should bid adieu to legislation, and seek an asylum in some other region of the globe, amongst a race of mortals who had more respect for peace and order, and who set a higher value upon the blessings of good government. Mr. Brooke then concluded by observing, that he had thus recapitulated the observations used by him, no less to gratify his colleague who had called upon him, than that the people of his county might know that these were his sentiments.
Mr. BOOKER then moved that the committee should rise.
Mr. John Taylor hoped that the committee would not rise, but that they would proceed. Several days, he said, had already been spent in the discussion of the business before them; and much more time might be spent, unless they should adopt a different mode. They had, until then, been in the habit of receiving only one speech a day; and the only way to dispatch the business he thought, would be to meet early and sit late.
Mr. George K. Taylor said, that he intended to say something further upon the subject, but wished not to hurry the committee.
Mr. Cowan also observed, that he intended to deliver his sentiments to the committee, tending to show that the alien law was constitutional, but wished not to press the matter then.
Mr. Nicholas hoped that the committee would not rise. They had as yet proceeded but slowly. He hoped, therefore, that the gentleman last up would proceed : he should be glad to hear him,
The same being also requested by others at the same time,
Mr. Cowan proceeded, by observing that much had been said upon the subject already. It was a question of great importance, and the great attention which had been given by the committee, was a proof of the talents of the speakers. He confessed that he had no such claim, but came forward on another ground. He felt it a duty to his constituents and the whole community, to engage in the discussion. He had noticed, he said, that the observations of the gentleman from Prince George had been objected to on one particular ground, that of their mingling the affairs of France with the subject of the laws under consideration.
But he (Mr. Cowan) thought that could not be avoided. The present question, he said, had its root in French transactions. The rights of citizens and aliens, he thought, had been confounded; and in order to have a clear apprehension of them, a standard ought to be fixed upon to try them. That standard he pronounced to be, as to citizens, the Constitution; as to aliens, the law of nations. Every sovereign nation, he said, was possessed of certain rights. Amongst them the right to govern aliens was a perfect right. It vested a power to restrain them. That right, he said, contained two things; the first was that of obliging aliens to depart, the second was to allow them to remain.
An alien, said Mr. Cowan, entering into a country, as the condition of such entrance, doth agree to submit to the laws of its sovereignty. Submitting to them did imply, that when required, he was bound to retire. Where did the exercise of this power rest? By the Constitution, the power to exclude remains in the states for a limited time. It was true that the powers not particularly granted are reserved. It had been said that the states were sovereign. It was so, but not in the latitude contended for. For, if it were so, the clause in the Constitution respecting the migration and importation of persons, was an argument to the contrary. How did the states derive this right? If they had it before the adoption of the Constitution, the Constitution gave it to no purpose. It was a supererogation. By the adoption of the Constitution, Mr. Cowan conceived, the states