When the United States Constitution was established and the various states entered into a union that included a federal structure with a national government and the various state governments, there was a period of some uncertainty regarding which level of government was the…
However this evolution came with a struggle that was marked by numerous constitutional crises. Perhaps the most important early constitutional crisis that dealt with this issue revolved around the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws, which dealt censorship in the press, immigration, treason, and related punishments, were established by national government and endorsed by a majority of the states as a means of securing the national safety and welfare during its time of early development, but they were believed by several key founding fathers – notably Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – to be unconstitutional. In response to the laws, Jefferson penned the Kentucky Resolution and Madison the Virginia Resolution – both documents that mapped out a protest against the national laws which eventually fed into those later constitutional fights. In this brief paper, the arguments Jefferson and Madison put forward will be compared and contrasted.
Both Jefferson and Madison relied on a theory of a national compact in the establishment of the US Constitution which argued that the states were the true representatives of the people and that they had endorsed the national constitution, but only so far as it went in carrying out its limited powers enumerated in the Constitution. Madison (1798) wrote that the Virginia Assembly viewed the national government’s role “as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact.” He argued that that the states had a “right” and in fact were “duty bound” to “interpose” when the national government overstepped its role and sought powers that the states believed were beyond the limits of its authority. Jefferson (1799) agreed, claiming that if the national government were the sole authority regarding the limits of its authority it would lead to the dissolution of the states and a ...
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