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Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

John Adams

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions: John Adams was the 2nd American President who served in office from March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1801. One of the important events during his presidency was the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.

Definition and Summary of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
Summary and definition:
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were authored in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison respectively and passed by the legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia.

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (Resolves) argued that the federal government had no authority to exercise power not specifically delegated to it in the Constitution - the Principle of Nullification.

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions - States Rights
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were the first attempts by the advocates of states rights to impose the rule of nullification to cancel actions taken by the central government.

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids - History and Background
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were drafted as a backlash and the strong opposition to the
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, a collection of four laws that were passed by Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the XYZ Affair and during the Quasi War with France. All of these events contributed to the suspicion of foreigners and the 'enemy within'. The Federalist political party led by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris initiated these 'war laws' to strengthen the Federal government, and making the nation safe for trade and wealthy men of property. The Republican political party was led by Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and James Madison. These men mainly represented the poorer Americans and recent immigrants, and were the fiercest opponents of the acts, which basically restricted the rights of immigrants to the US and violated the US Constitution and the right of free speech.

Opposition to the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts for kids - The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (1798 - 1799)
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison drafted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (Resolves) in fierce opposition to the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Thomas Jefferson was responsible for drafting the two Kentucky Resolutions that were proposed to the Kentucky Legislature and James Madison was responsible for the one Virginia Resolution that he proposed to the Virginia Legislature.

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids - Jefferson and Madison
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison looked to the recent history of the US when drafting the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. During the build up to the Revolutionary War of Independence the colonial legislatures had passed many resolutions condemning the laws and acts of the British government. Using this as an example for their actions the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures passed resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The Purpose of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
The purpose of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions was to question the constitutionality of the laws and:

  • Condemn the Sedition Act as a violation of the Free Speech Clause to the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (the Bill of Rights)
  • Argue that Congress had exceeded its powers by passing the law
  • Argue that Congress could only exercise those powers specifically delegated to it
  • To argue that according to Article I of the Constitution authority was given to the legislative branch to regulate political speech

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids - State Rights
The arguments of Jefferson and Madison was based on the belief that the Constitution was a compact (meaning a a formal agreement or contract) between the states. It therefore followed that a state could determine whether any act of Congress was constitutional or not. It therefore followed that any state could refuse to permit an Act of Congress to be enforced within its limits. (This argument was later used by John C. Calhoun in his 1828 South Carolina Exposition and the 1832 Nullification Crisis).

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids - Rule of Nullification
These assertions meant that any state could make cancel or nullify any Act of Congress that it saw fit to oppose. This last conclusion was found only in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799. But Thomas Jefferson wrote to this effect in the original draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

When were the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions passed?
The Kentucky state legislature passed its two resolutions on November 16, 1798 and November 22, 1999. The Virginia state legislature passed its one resolution on December 24, 1798.

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids - Abuse of Power by the Federalists
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions called the voter's attention to the
Federalists abuse of power and did much to form public opinion against the government and President John Adams. The public opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts was so great that they were in part responsible for the election of Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican Party) to the presidency in 1800. Once in office, Thomas Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under the Sedition Act, whilst Congress restored all fines imposed which were paid with interest.

US American History
1790-1800: The New Nation

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