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   Chapter 90 1800).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 2429

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Danger of disunion.]

[Sidenote: Madison's and Jefferson's resolutions.]

The elections of 1798 in the excited state of public feeling assured a Federalist majority in the Congress to sit from 1799 to 1801. The Republicans felt that their adversaries were using the power of the federal government to destroy the rights of the people. June 1, 1798, Jefferson wrote to a friend who thought that the time was come to withdraw from the Union; "If on the temporary superiority of one party the other is to resort to a scission of the Union, no federal government can exist." The remedy which lay in his mind was an appeal to the people through the State legislatures. In November and December, 1798, two series of resolutions were introduced,-one in the Virginia legislature, the other in the Kentucky legislature; the first drawn by Madison, and the second by Jefferson's own hand. They set forth that the Constitution was a compact to which the States were parties, and that "each party has an equal right to judge for itself as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress." The Alien and Sedition Acts and some other statutes were declared by Kentucky "not law … void and of no effect;"

and the other States were called upon to unite in so declaring them void, and in protesting to Congress. For the first time since the Constitution had been formed, a clear statement of the "compact" theory of government was now put forth. It was a reasonable implication from these resolutions that if the Federalist majority continued to override the Constitution, the States must take more decisive action; but the only distinct suggestion of an attack on the Union is found in a second series of Kentucky resolutions, passed in 1799, in which it is declared that "nullification … of all unauthorized acts … is the rightful remedy."

[Sidenote: Purpose of the resolutions.]

The constitutional doctrine in these resolutions was secondary. The real purpose was to arouse the public to the dangerous character of the Federalist legislation. Madison, many years afterward, explained that he meant only an appeal to the other States to unite in deprecation of the measures. The immediate effect was to set up a sort of political platform, about which the opponents of the Federalists might rally, and by the presentation of a definite issue to keep up the Republican organization against the electoral year 1800.

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