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itself, as well of infractions, as of the mode and measure of redress ;** thus denying the common doctrine, which accords to the supreme court the ultimate right to judge whether a law is constitutional or otherwise : and, in conformity with these views of state rights, they declared the alien and sedition acts to be “not law, but altogether void, and of no
force.” And they farther made the broad assertion, " that in cases of an abuse of the delegated powers, the members of the general government being chosen by the people, a change by the people would be the constitutional remedy; but where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the right remedy: and that every state has a natural right, in cases not within the compact, to nullify of their own authority, all assumptions of power by others within their limits." These resolutions also proposed a
committee of conference and correspondence," to be appointed by each state legislature, to obtain the concurrence of the co-states “in declaring these acts void and of no force, and each to take measures of its own for providing that neither these acts, nor any other of the general government, not plainly and intentionally authorized by the constitution, shall be exercised within their respective territories.” The resolutions containing this last proposition being thought to go too far, they were so modified as to require their senators and representatives to lay the resolutions before congress, to use their best endeavors to procure a repeal of the obnoxious acts at the next session; and they also requested from other state legislatures the expression of their opinion in regard to these laws, and their concur rence in declaring them void, and in requesting their repeal by congress
A full discussion of the question of nullification, will be found in the history of Jackson's administration, in subsequent chapters.
Neither the Virginia resolutions, though accompanied by an address to the people in support of them, written by Mr. Madison, nor those of Kentucky, met with a favorable response in any other state. By the legislatures of the New England states, New York, and Delaware, they were expressly disapproved. They served, however, in a great degree, the purpose
of their authors. The legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky, at their next sessions, replied to the answers of the state legislatures, and, in these replies, reasserted the doctrines of their resolutions. The reply of the legisla. ture of Virginia consisted of a very able report prepared by Mr. Madison, concluding with the following resolution : “That the general assembly, having carefully and respectfully attended to the proceedings of a number of the states, in answer to the resolutions of December 21, 1793, and laying accurately and fully reëxamined and reconsidered the latter,
of that agency
find it to be their indispensable duty to adhere to the same, as founded in truth, as consonant with the constitution, and as conducive to its preservation; and more especially to be their duty to renew, as they do hereby renew, their protests against the alien and sedition acts, as palpable and alarming infractions of the constitution.” The report and resolution were adopted in February, 1800. A few months thereafter, (June 25,) the alien law expired by its own limitation, and the sedition act on the 4th of March, 1801.
From an address on the death of Mr. Madison, written by John Quincy Adams, in 1836, at request of the two houses of congress, we give the following extracts, relating to the alien and sedition laws, and to the resolutions whose history is sketched above :
" The agency of Mr. Jefferson in originating the measures of both the state legislatures, was at the time profoundly secret. It has been made known since his decease; but, in estimating the weight of the objections against the two laws on sound principles, as well of morals as of politics, the fact
is observable. The situation which he then held, and that to which he ascended by its operation, are considerations not to be overlooked in fixing the deliberate judgment of posterity upon the whole transaction. Mr. Madison's motives for the part which he acted in the drama, are not liable to the same scrutiny; nor did his public station at the time, nor the principles which he asserted in the
management of the controversy, nor the measures which he proposed, recommended and accomplished, subject his posthumous reputation and character to the same animadversions. Standing here as the sincere and faithful
of the sentiments of my fellow-citizens to honor a great and illustrious benefactor of his country, it would be as foreign from the honest and deliberate judgment of my soul, as from the sense of my duties on this occasion, to profess my assent to the reasoning of his report, or my acquiescence in the application of its unquestionable principles to the two acts of congressional legislation, which it arraigns. That because the states of this union, as well as their people, are parties to the constitutional compact of the federal government, therefore the state legislatures have the right to judge of infractions of the constitution by the organized government of the whole, and to declare acts of congress unconstitutional
, is as abhorrent to the conclusions of my judgment, as to the feelings of my heart: but holding the converse of those propositions with a conviction as firm as an article of religious faith, I too clearly see to admit of denial, that minds of the highest order of intellect, and hearts of the purest integrity of purpose, have been brought to different conclusions,
"If Jefferson and Madison deemed the alien and sedition acts plain
and palpable infractions of the constitution, Washington and Patrick Henry held them to be good and wholesome laws. These opinions were perhaps all formed under excitements and prepossessions which detract from the weight of the highest authority. The alien act was passed under feelings of honest indignation at the audacity with which foreign emissaries were practicing, within the bosom of the country, upon the passions of the people against their own government. The sedition act was intended as a curb upon the publication of malicious and incendiary slander upon the president or the two houses of congress, or either of them. But they were restrictive upon the personal liberty of foreign emissaries, and upon the political licentiousness of the press. The alien act produced its effect by its mere enactment, in the departure from the country of the most obnoxious foreigners, and the power conferred by it upon the president was never exercised. The prosecutions under the sedition act did but aggravate the evil which they were intended to repress. Without believing that either of those laws was an infraction of the constitution, it may be admitted without disparagement to the authority of Washington and Henry, or of the congress which passed the acts, that they were not good and wholesome laws, inasmuch as they were not suited to the temper of the people."
Among the persons prosecuted under the sedition act was Matthew Lyon, a member of congress from the western part of Vermont. In a letter published in a Vermont paper, he had used the following language : “Whenever I shall, on the part of the executive, see every consideration of the public welfare swallowed up in a continual grasp for power; in an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice; when I shall behold men of merit daily turned out of office, for no other cause but independency of sentiment; when I shall see men of firmness, years, abilities, and experience, discarded in their applications for office, for fear they possess that independence, and men of meanness preferred for the case with which they take up
and advocate opinions, the consequence of which they know but little of; when I shall see the sacred name of religion employed as a state engine to make men hate and persecute one another, I shall not be their humble advocate.” A second count in the indictment charged him with making use of a letter of Joel Barlow, then in France in some diplomatic agency, written to a friend, then a member of congress, Abraham Baldwin, of Georgia. Barlow was a devoted friend of France, and a bitter opponent of the federal party; and his letters to this country very severely berated the administration for non-compliance with the wishes of the French government. In this letter he indulged in strong censures of the speech of the president to congress, and said, "we wondered
that the answer of both houses had not been an order to send him to a mad-house : instead of this, the senate have echoed the speech with more servility than ever George III. experienced from either house of parliament." A third count in the indictment was for publishing and aiding in publishing the Barlow letter.
Lyon was convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment for four months, and to the payment of a fine of $1,000, a part of which was remitted in consequence of his pecuniary embarrassments. A petition said to have been signed by 3,000 republicans of Vermont was presented to the president for his liberation, which the president refused, unless Lyon himself should sign the petition. Disinclined to submission, he was compelled to suffer durance for the full term. During the pendency of the suit, he was reëlected to congress. After his discharge from prison, he went to Philadelphia, and served out the remainder of his first terni in congress.
Assurances were given to Lyon, that when the republicans should obtain the ascendency in congress, he should be compensated for his sufferings
. But for various causes, no relief had been granted, when, in 1818, he again petitioned congress, being then a resident of Kentucky, and
was again unsuccessful. In 1833, many years after his death, a law was passed for refunding to his heirs the amount of the fine levied upou him by the sedition law.
DIFFICULTIES WITH FRANCE.--TREATY NEGOTIATED.--DIVISION
FEDERALISTS. -PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
The 5th congress
commenced its 3d session on the 3d day of Decem. her, 1798. The president, in his annual speech to congress, said the in formation received from France since the close of the last session, would be made the subject of a future communication; from which it would appear that the attempt to adjust the differences with that power had failed. He proceeded : " You will at the same time perceive, that the French government appears solicitous to impress the opinion, that it is prerse to a rupture with this country, and that it has in a qualified manper declared itself willing to receive a minister from the United States or the purpose of restoring a good understanding. It is unfortunate
for professions of this kind, that they should be expressed in terms which may countenance the inadmissible pretension of a right to prescribe the qualifications which a minister from the United States should possess, and that, while France is asserting the existence of a disposition on her part to conciliate with sincerity the differences which have arisen, the sincerity of a like disposition on the part of the United States, of which so many demonstrative proofs have been given, should even be indirectly questioned. It is also worthy of observation, that the decree of the directory alleged to be intended to restrain the depredations of French cruisers on our commerce, has not given, and cannot give, any relief. It enjoins them to conform to all the laws of France relative to cruising and prizes, while these laws are themselves the sources of the depredation of which we have so long, so justly, and so fruitlessly complained.
“ The law of France, enacted in January last, which subjects to capture and condemnation neutral vessels and their
if of the latter are of British fabric or produce, although the entire property belong to neutrals, instead of being rescinded, has lately received a confirmation by the failure of a proposition for its repeal
. While this law, which is an unequivocal act of war on the commerce of the nations it attacks, continues in force, those nations can see in the French government only a power regardless of their essential rights, of their independence and sovereignty; and if they possess the means, they can reconcile nothing with their interest and honor but a firm resistance."
The president observed, farther, that we had no reason to regret the adoption of defensive measures; that there had been nothing in the conduct of France to induce us to change or relax them; and that " an efficient preparation for war could alone insure peace.” And in reference to a new mission, he said : “ To send another minister without more determinate assurances that he would be received, would be an act of humiliation to which the United States ought not to submit. It must therefore be left with France, (if she is indeed desirous of accommodation,) to take the requisite steps."
To the speech of the president, both houses returned answers of approval, which were adopted without any material opposition.
Although no war had been declared on the part of either government, several engagements had taken place on the ocean, and a large amount of property of American citizens was captured by French cruisers. There was no occasion, however, of calling out the army. Induced, probably
, by the war measures which had been adopted by congress, France indicated a willingness to relinquish her demand as a preliminary to negotiation, and to treat on reasonable terms; and in February, 1799, the