The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (or Resolves) were political statements drafted in 1798 and 1799, in which the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures resolved not to abide by Alien and Sedition Acts. They argued that the Acts were unconstitutional and therefore void, and in doing so, they argued for states' rights and strict constructionism of the Constitution. They were written secretly by Vice President Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, respectively.
The principles behind the resolutions became known as the "Principles of '98". Adherents argue that the individual states can judge the constitutionality of central government laws and decrees, and can refuse to enforce laws deemed unconstitutional. Such refusal was called nullification in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, while the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 refer to "interposition" to express the idea of the states’ right to "interpose" between the federal government and the people of the state.
The Resolutions have been controversial since their passage, first eliciting disapproval from seven state legislatures. In the years leading up the to the Nullification Crisis, the resolutions divided Jeffersonian democrats, with states' rights proponents such as John C. Calhoun supporting the Principles of '98 and President Andrew Jackson opposing them. Years later, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 led anti-slavery activists to quote the Resolutions to support their calls on Northern states to nullify what they considered unconstitutional enforcement of the law.
The resolutions opposed the federal Alien and Sedition Acts, which extended the powers of the federal government. They argued that the Constitution was a "compact" or agreement among the states. Therefore, the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it and that if the federal government assumed such powers, acts under them would be void. So, states could decide the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress.
A key provision of the Kentucky Resolutions was Resolution 2, which denied Congress more than a few penal powers:
That the Constitution of the United States, having delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies, and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations, and no other crimes, whatsoever; and it being true as a general principle, and one of the amendments to the Constitution having also declared, that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people," therefore the act of Congress, passed on the 14th day of July, 1798, and intituled "An Act in addition to the act intituled An Act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States," as also the act passed by them on the -- day of June, 1798, intituled "An Act to punish frauds committed on the bank of the United States," (and all their other acts which assume to create, define, or punish crimes, other than those so enumerated in the Constitution,) are altogether void, and of no force; and that the power to create, define, and punish such other crimes is reserved, and, of right, appertains solely and exclusively to the respective States, each within its own territory.
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