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administration, resolved to avail themselves of it to the utmost. With this view they proceeded vigorously with preparations for a war with France, and determined to take decisive steps to expel from the country all aliens who might be supposed hostile or dangerous to its institutions. Thus they hoped to keep up the excitement of anger against France, and
of jealousy against her apologists amongst our own people, whilst they:
got rid of the French propagandists, and unquiet English and Irish agitators,
consider those laws as merely an experiment on the American mind, to
see how it will bear an avowed violation of the Constitution. If this goes
ing the people to murmur, they hearkened readily to the vehement accusations with which the press, the hustings, and even conversation teemed. The Alien and Sedition Laws, the army and navy bills, and the large sums placed within reach of the President, were represented as parts of the same plan to perpetuate and enlarge his power. In proportion as ideas like these gained ground, the Alien and Sedition Laws became more odious. The zeal of the opposite party rising with the prospect of success, and stimulated by a sense of the importance of the principles supposed to be invaded, they addressed themselves, with renewed ardour, to the task of overthrowing the administration. Nor were its supporters idle or indifferent. The New England and the Middle States were generally favourable to the party in power; the Southern and Western States were for the most part Republican. But minorities imposing in numbers and in character existed on either side. Both parties hastened to call into action all the political machinery available for them respectively, of which the most efficient consisted in the solemn declarations of the several state legislatures touching the obnoxious laws. Important as the crisis really was, it was factitiously exaggerated by the partisanship on both sides. The advocates of administration, in order to maintain the constitutionality of the Sedition Act, amongst other arguments, insisted that the offence denounced by it was an offence at common law, and was therefore punishable in the courts of the United States, independently of the statute. The statute, it was said, was even more favourable to the accused than the common law. The assumption involved in this argument, that the common law constituted part of the federal jurisprudence, created more alarm than the main topics of complaint, the Alien and Sedition Laws themselves. It was regarded as an accumulation, at one stroke, of all, authority in the hands of the Federal Government, there being no subject, legislative, executive, or judicial, which the common law did not embrace; and it was anxiously urged that the effect would be an annihilation of state sovereignty, and the erection of a government consolidated, and therefore despotic. “Other assumptions of ungiven power,” said Mr. Jefferson, “have been in detail. The bank law, the treaty doctrine, the sedition act, alien act, the undertaking to change the state laws of evidence in the state courts, by certain parts of the stamp act, &c., &c., have been solitary, unconsequential, timid things, in comparison with the audacious, bare-faced, and sweeping pretension to a system of law for the United States, without the adoption of their legislature, and so infinitely beyond their power to adopt.”
The legislatures of the several states prepared to bear their parts in the drama. That of Virginia, which assembled in December, 1798, was looked to by both parties with peculiar interest. The plan of opposition to be pursued there was probably arranged by Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, though neither was a member. The plan was to resolve that the Alien and Sedition Laws were unconstitutional and merely void, (which latter phrase, however, was ultimately struck out of the resolutions, as actually adopted,) and to address the other states, to obtain similar declarations. It was not contemplated to commit the commonwealth to any foreshadowed course of action, but to reserve the power to shape future measures by the events which should happen. Mr. Jefferson drew the resolutions for Kentucky,” which was ready to act consentaneously with Virginia, (and did, in fact, act before her,) and they were proposed in her legislature by Mr. Breckenridge. The Virginia resolutions,t submitted and ably defended by Mr. John Taylor, of Caroline, were from the pen of Mr. Madison.
The Virginia resolutions, having been officially communicated to the legislatures of all the other states, encountered from some of them a disapproval so decided as to make it necessary to sustain the propriety of
them by argument. Accordingly, during the whole summer of 1799, the
state was agitated with preparations for the approaching conflict. The Republicans possessed a decided majority in the legislature, and amongst the people, but the minority, besides being respectable for numbers, comprehended many individuals eminent for public and private virtue, for capacity, and for services rendered their country, and were sustained also by the august name of WASHINGTON.
The General Assembly, which convened in December, 1799, contained an unusual weight of ability and experience. Virginia mustered for the occasion her strongest men. The author of the resolutions was chosen for the county of Orange, and against him was marshalled no less a champion than PATRICK HENRY, who was elected from the county of Charlotte, but died before taking his seat.
To that General Assembly was submitted from a committee, at the head of which was Mr. Madison, that dignified and lucid report vindicatory of the resolutions of the previous year, ever since known in Virginia, as “Madison’s Report,” and out of it, as “the Virginia Report of 1799.” It assisted materially in persecting the victory already, in effect, achieved
* See them, post, p. 163. The authorship of these resolutions has lately been claimed for the distinguished gentleman who offered them. t Post, p. 22.
by the Republican party. In the ensuing autumn, or rather winter, Mr. Jefferson was elected President, and the Alien and Sedition Laws having expired by their own limitation, no thought was entertained of renewing them, and, their policy was abandoned, probably for ever.
This pamphlet, as remarked in the beginning, contains, besides the “Report,” certain other publications calculated to illustrate it. The whole is arranged in the following order, viz.:
I. The Alien and Sedition Acts, 17 to 21. II. Resolutions of Virginia of 21st December, 1798, with the debate thereon, 22 to 161. III. Resolutions of Kentucky of 10th November, 1798, 162 to 167. IV. Counter-resolutions of several states in response to those of Virginia, 168 to 177. V. Report of 1799, preceded by an analysis thereof, 178 to 237. WI. Instructions to Virginia senators of January, 1800, and votes thereon, 238 to 248. VII. Appendix: containing 1. A letter from Mr. Madison to Mr. Everett, touching the con, struction of the first resolution of 1798, 249 to 256. 2. A letter from the same to Mr. Ingersoll, relative to the Bank question, 257. 3. A letter from the same to the same, on the same subject, 258 to 260.
In conclusion, it is proper to observe that this edition is intended especially for the use of students, and that the learned reader must expect to find in the notes, and in the analysis prefixed to the report, much with which he could dispense.
SECTION I. Confers power on the President to order aliens to depart. 1. What aliens. Such as the President shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect of treasonable or secret machinations against the government. 2. How proceeded against. By the President’s order to depart, served by the marshal or other person. But the President may grant a license to remain on proof by the alien, that he is not dangerous; and may require bond and security of such person. 3. Consequences of disobedience. Imprisonment, on conviction, not exceeding three years, and perpetual disability to become a citizen. SECTION II. Confers on the President power to remove aliens. 1. What aliens. o Such as are above described, who are 1. In prison, in pursuance of this Act. 2. Dangerous, and proper to be speedily removed. 2. Consequences of returning without President’s permission. Imprisonment, on conviction, as long as the President thinks the public safety requires it. SECTION III. Requires masters of ships to report to officers of customs, all aliens on board. |