by Derek Sheriff
The Tenth Amendment Center
March 9, 2010
As we fight on against the deplorable agenda of the current administration, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution is becoming one of our most important tools. In our Founding Father’s wisdom they created, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” With that declaration, over 30 states are in the process or have completed the process of nullification. Simply stated, any state can take back any power they have allowed the federal government to usurp. It is currently being used to add additional amendments to state constitutions, to nullify any federal control over gun laws, obeying the EPA on carbon emissions, as well as, mandating that their citizens not be placed nor fined for non-participation in the currently debated health care-denial plan. Random thoughts while observing the passing parade, J.C.
Most Americans know that Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of “The Declaration of Independence”, the most important of all our founding documents.
Yet few of them have even heard of another document that I would say might be the second most important declaration he ever wrote: The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. He drafted them secretly while he was serving as vice president. It was written in response to the hated Alien and Sedition Acts which were passed under the Adams administration during an undeclared war with France.
The acts authorized the president to deport any resident alien considered dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States, and criminalized any speech which might defame Congress, the President, or bring either of them into contempt or disrepute. You could compare it to the Patriot Act, but really it was much worse. Either way, The Alien and Sedition Acts were probably Thomas Jefferson’s worst nightmare.
Some people are surprised to learn that in response to these acts, Jefferson did not hold up the First Amendment in protest. Rather he invoked the Tenth Amendment, which states that:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Essentially, he argued that by passing and enforcing the Alien and Sedition Acts, the federal government had over stepped its bounds and was exercising powers which belonged to the states.
In other words, the Alien and Sedition Acts were acts of usurpation.
James Madison corresponded with Jefferson about these issues, (they suspected that their mail was being secretly opened and read by the way). As a result of their correspondence, James Madison penned another series of resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were passed by the Virginia legislature in 1798 and 1799.
As important as these resolutions were in objecting to the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts, their lasting importance was due to the the fact that they were strong statements in defense of federalism, the sovereignty of the people of the several states, and the authority of state governments to check or resist the tyrannical proclivities of the federal government.
Jefferson began the Kentucky Resolutions by explaining the exact nature of the relationship between the new federal, or general government and the states that predated it:
“Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.” Complete Story: