Virginia Resolutions [December 24, 1798] - History

Virginia Resolutions [December 24, 1798] - History

Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this State, against every aggression either foreign or domestic; and that they will support the Government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former.

That this Assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the Union of the States, to maintain which it pledges all its powers; and that, for this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a faithful observance of them can alone secure its existence and the public happiness.

That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare that it views the powers of the Federal Government as resulting from the compact to which the States are parties, as limited be the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact; as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers not granted by the said compact, the States, who are parties thereto, have the right and are in duty bound to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.

That the General Assembly doth also express its deep regret, that a spirit has in sundry instances been manifested by the Federal Government to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and that indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of powers in the former Articles of Confederation, were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains and limits the general phrases; and so as to consolidate the States, by degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable consequence of which would be to transform the present republican system of the United States into an absolute, or, at best, a mixed monarchy.

That the General Assembly doth particularly protest against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution in the two late cases of the "Alien and Sedition Acts," passed at the last session of Congress; the first of which exercises a power nowhere delegated to the Federal Government, and which, by uniting legislative and judicial powers to those of [the] executive, subvert the general principles of free government, as well as the particular organization and positive provisions of the Federal Constitution: and the other of which acts exercises, in like manner, a power not delegated by the Constitution, but, on the contrary, expressly and positively forbidden by one of the amendments thereto,—a power which, more than any other, ought to produce universal alarm, because it is levelled against the right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other tight.

That this State having by its Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution expressly declared that, among other essential rights, "the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority or the United States," and from its extreme anxiety to guard these rights from every possible attack of sophistry or ambition, having, with other States, recommended an amendment for that purpose, which amendment was in due time annexed to the Constitution, —it would mark a reproachful inconsistency and criminal degeneracy, if an indifference were now shown to the palpable violation of one of the rights thus declared and secured, and to the establishment of a precedent which may be fatal to the other.

That the good people of this Commonwealth, having ever felt and continuing to feel the most sincere affection for their brethren of the other States, the truest anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all and the most scrupulous fidelity to that Constitution, which is the pledge of mutual friendship, and the instrument of mutual happiness, the General Assembly doth solemnly appeal to the like dispositions of the other States, in confidence that they will concur with this Commonwealth in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional; and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each for co-operating with this State, in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


Virginia Resolutions of 1798

The Virginia Resolutions of 1798 were written secretly by James Madison in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by the federal government. The laws were judged to be unconstitutional by Virginia and Kentucky (see also the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and Kentucky Resolutions of 1799). This edition of the resolutions is from Jonathan Elliot's Debates.

For more on the resolutions, including context and impact, see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.

In addition, an address that accompanied the resolutions and was approved by the Virginia Senate is available, as are answers from Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

VIRGINIA RESOLUTIONS OF 1798,

PRONOUNCING THE ALIEN AND SEDITION LAWS TO BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL, AND DEFINING THE RIGHTS OF THE STATES.

Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this state, against every aggression, either foreign or domestic and that they will support the government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former.

That this Assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the union of the states, to maintain which it pledges its powers and that, for this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a faithful observance of them can alone secure its existence and the public happiness.

That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states, who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining, within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties, appertaining to them.

That the General Assembly doth also express its deep regret, that a spirit has, in sundry instances, been manifested by the federal government to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them and that indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of power in the former Articles of Confederation, were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains and limits the general phrases, and so as to consolidate the states, by degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable result of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United States, into an absolute, or, at best, a mixed monarchy.

That the General Assembly doth particularly PROTEST against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution, in the two late cases of the "Alien and Sedition Acts," passed at the last session of Congress the first of which exercises a power no where delegated to the federal government, and which by uniting legislative and judicial powers to those of executive, subverts the general principles of free government as well as the particular organization and positive provisions of the Federal Constitution and the other of which acts exercises, in like manner, a power not delegated by the Constitution, but, on the contrary, expressly and positively forbidden by one of the amendments thereto,—a power whichmore than any other, ought to produce universal alarm, because it is levelled against that right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.

That this state having, by its Convention, which ratified the Federal Constitution, expressly declared that, among other essential rights, "the liberty of conscience and the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained, or modified, by any authority of the United States," and from its extreme anxiety to guard these rights from every possible attack of sophistry and ambition, having, with other states, recommended an amendment for that purpose, which amendment was, in due time, annexed to the Constitution,—it would mark a reproachable inconsistency, and criminal degeneracy, if an indifference were now shown to the most palpable violation of one of the rights thus declared and secured, and to the establishment of a precedent which may be fatal to the other.

That the good people of this commonwealth, having ever felt, and continuing to feel, the most sincere affection for their brethren of the other states the truest anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all and the most scrupulous fidelity to that Constitution, which is the pledge of mutual friendship, and the instrument of mutual happiness,—the General Assembly doth solemnly appeal to the like dispositions in the other states, in confidence that they will concur with this commonwealth in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each, for coöperating with this state, in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties, reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

That the Governor be desired, to transmit a copy of the foregoing resolutions to the executive authority of each of the other states, with a request that the same may be communicated to the legislature thereof, and that a copy be furnished to each of the senators and representatives representing this state in the Congress of the United States.


Early Revolutionary History of Virginia, 1773-1774

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Early Revolutionary History of Virginia, 1773-1774

By James Mercer Garnett, published in 1892

THE COMMITTEE OF CORRESPONDENCE AND THE CALL FOR THE FIRST CONGRESS.

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It has been often made a reproach to Virginians that they have neglected the history of their own State and people, and I fear it is a reproach but too wcll deserved. They have been content to make history and to let others write it, and as a consequence much of it has been left unwritten, and the records have perished irretrievably. The investigator of any particular point in the history of Virginia is hampered by the lack of original materials, and must often take his evidence at second or third hand. This defect is, however, gradually being remedied, as far as it is now possible to remedy it. The publications of this Society during the past ten years, and the work done by its learned President, its Secretary, and the chairman of its Committee of Arrangements, [1] the publication at intervals for the past sixteen years of the "Calendar of Virginia State Papers," and the recent valuable work on "The Genesis of the United States," by a member of this Society, [2] show that there is historical activity in the State, and that we are waking up to the importance of bringing the records of the past to the attention of the present generation, and of interesting the people of this day in the deeds of their ancestors. Pride of ancestry has sometimes been made an occasion for cheap witticism at the expense of Virginians by those who have never felt the force of the ennobling influence of the past, but perish the day when the son forgets his father, when the Virginia boy fails to feel an inspiration for his own life from a reflection upon the conduct of his grandsires, who were making history in the days that tried men's souls!

The object of the present paper is to notice briefly-of necessity briefly in the limited time assigned to it-some points of Virginia history in the days just preceding the Declaration of Independence--events occurring on the threshold of the Revolution, which prepared the way for that Declaration. It is a diflicult matter to assign a beginning to the Revolution. Mr. Mellen Chamberlain, in his chapter on "The Revolution Impending" (chap. I, Vol. VI, of Justin Winsor's '' Narrative and Critical History of America"), says "The year 1763 is usually regarded as the beginning of the American Revolution, because in that year the English ministry determined to raise a revenue from the colonies." Others take as a starting-point the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, and the consequent action of the colonies. But while there is much of interest to the student of Virginia history from the passage of Patrick Henry's celebrated resolutions to the actual outbreak of war, all tending to show the jealousy felt by the House of Burgesses of the rights and liberties of the colonies, the events to be considered in this paper concern chiefly the formation and work of the Committees of Correspondence, the first step looking toward united action on the part of the colonies, and in this step Virginia unquestion ably took the lead. It used to be said, even by Virginia writers, that Massachusetts was entitled to equal honor with Virginia in originating the Committees of Correspondence. [3]

But this statement was due to confounding two different things, the origination of local Committees of Correspondence within a colony, and the ongination of Committees of Correspondence between the colonies themselves. It is not denied that Massachusetts first suggested and first put into practice the formation of Committees of Correspondence between her own towns, and this suggestion was due to the active brain of Samuel Adams. At a meeting of the inhabitants of Boston, held on November 2, 1772, Samuel Adams moved "that a Committee of Correspondence be appointed, to consist of twenty-one persons, to state the rights of the colonists, and of this province in particular, as men, as Christians, and as subjects, to communicate and publish the same to the several towns in this province and to the world as the sense of this town, with the infringement and violations thereof that have been, or from time to time may be, made also requesting of each town a free communication of their sentiments on this subject." [4] Mr. Bancroft adds : "The end in view was a general confederacy against the authority of Parliament the towns of the province were to begin, the Assembly to confirm their doings, and invite the other colonies to join." But this last sentence is Bancroft's, not Adams's. Adams says nothing about "the other colonies," but expressly says "each town," showing that the resolution was limited in its application to that colony alone. "The motion was readily adopted," and by January, 1773, eighty towns or more had chosen their committees. Mr. Bancroft says (History of United States, VI, 445): "Samuel Adams was planning how to effect a union of all the colonies in Congress. When the Assembly met [January 6, 1773] the speaker transmitted the proceedings of the town of Boston for organizing the provincial Committees of Correspondence [i. e. on November 2, 1772] to Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia." Here was the point of contact between Massachusetts and Virginia. The suggestion of this instrumentality was made, and it was to bear fruit in the action of the Virginia House of Burgesses, as we shall see. The importance of the action of Virginia is fully realized by Mr. Bancroft, for he says further in his chapter entitled "Virginia Consolidates Union "(VI, 454): "The people on their part drew from their institution of Committees of Correspondence throughout the province the hope of a union of all the colonies." * * * "Whether that great idea should become a reality depended on Virginia," and after giving an account of the passage by the House of Burgesses of the resolutions of March 12, 1773, he adds (VI, 455) : "Their resolves were sent to every colony, with a request that each would appoint its committee to manner Virginia laid the foundation of our Union. Massachusetts organized a province Virginia promoted a confederacy." Here then are the respective shares in this matter allotted to each by the Massachusetts historian himself and Virginia has no cause to complain.

The action of Virginia is also fully recognized by Mr. Mellen Chamberlain, who says (Winsor's" History of the United States," VI, 56): "Massachusetts, which had led in most of the revolutionary movements, did not take the lead in establishing committees of correspondence between the colonies. That honor belongs to Virginia and its chief cause was the action of the If commissioners in the Gaspee case. It paved the way for the union of the colonies after the general Congress which was convened at Philadelphia the next year" and in an editorial note on this chapter, Mr. Winsor adds (VI, 90): "The vote passed by Virginia, March 12, 1773, was the immediate cause of intercolonial activity." The position of Virginia, then, in the matter of the formation of the Committees of Correspondence seems sufficiently established, but the above account has been given as preliminary to a more careful consideration of these celebrated resolutions and their effect upon the other colonies. We are greatly aided in this investigation by the recent publication (in Vol. VIII, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 1890) of the Letters and Proceedings of the Committees of Correspondence and Inquiry of Virginia and the other Colonies from March 12, 1773, to May 5, 1775." The letters received by the Virginia committee are here published for the first time, as far as I am aware, but Mr. Winsor, in an editorial note as above (VI, 90) tells us that Frothingham, in his "Rise of the Republic of the United States," Boston, 1872, a work that I have not seen, "determines the time of appointing such a committee by each colony." This time is readily ascertained from the record itself.

An account of the introduction and passage of the resolutions for the formation of Committees of Correspondence is given by Mr. Wirt in his " Life of Patrick Henry" (third edition, p.87), and by Professor George Tucker in his " Life of Jefferson" (I, p. 51), followed by Charles Campbell in his " History of Virginia," who designates Richard Henry Lee as the author of the plan, [5] and by Randall in his " Life of Jefferson" (I, p. 78). Doubtless Lee was stimulated by the reception a few weeks before of the Massachusetts resolution, and with far-seeing eye realized what a powerful influence for united action might be exerted by the extension of these committees to the several colonies. We are told by Professor Tucker, following Jefferson's "Memoir," that Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Dabney Carr, Thomas Jefferson, and two or three others, whose names have not unfortunately come down to posterity, used to meet at the Raleigh tavern to consult on the measures proper to be pursued that they drew up the resolutions and Mr. Jefferson mentions in his "Memoir" that the consuIting members proposed to him to move these resolutions in the House the next day, but that he declined the honor in favor of his brother-in law, Dabney Carr, a new member, to whom he wished to afford so good an Opportunity to make his talents known. The resolutions were accordingly moved by Dabney Carr, a member from Louisa (not Charlotte, as Mr. Bancroft has it) on March 12, 1773, in an eloquerit speech, on which Mr. Wirt comments. They were supported by Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, and were unanimously adopted.

I regret very much that I have been unable to procure access to the Journal of the House of Burgesses of 1773 (which sat but eleven days--March 4-15), but these resolutions are printed in Burk's "History of Virginia" (III, 372-3), Wirt's "Life of Patrick Henry" (third edition, pp.87, 88), and very recently in the "Calendar of Virginia State Papers" (Vl II, p. I). They will also be found in Mr. W. W. Henry's "Life of Patrick Henry" (I, 159). Although presumably well known to the members of this Society, they are of such importance in the early revolutionary history of Virginia that they deserve to be quoted in full. They read as follows:

"Whereas the minds of his Majesty's faithful subjects in this colony have been much disturbed by various rumors and reports of proceedings tending to deprive them of their ancient, legal, and constitutional Rights and whereas the affairs of this Colony are frequently connected with those of Great Britain, as well as of [Wirt and the Cal. omit 'of'] the neighboring colonies, which renders a communication of Sentiments necessary in order, therefore, to remove the uneasiness [Burk says ' uneasinesses'] and to quiet the minds of the people, as well as for the [Cal. omits 'the'] other good purposes above mentioned "Be it Resolved, That a standing committee ot correspondence and inquiry be appointed, to consist of eleven persons, to-wit: the honorable Peyton Randolph, Esquire, Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edtpund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, Dudley Digges, Dabney Carr, Archibald Cary, and Thomas Jefferson, Esquires, any six of whom to be a committee, whose business it shall be to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all [Burk omits 'all'] such Acts and Resolutions of the British Parliament or proceedings of administration as may relate to or affect the British Coloni'es in America and to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister Colonies respecting those [Burr says 'these'] important considerations and the result of such their proceedings from time to time to lay before this [Burk says 'the'] House.

"Resolved, That it be an instruction to the said committee that they do without delay inform themselves particularly of the principles and uthority on which was constituted a court of enquiry, said to have been lately held in Rhode Island, with powers to transport persons accused of offepces committed in America to places beyond the seas to be tried.

"Resolved, That the Speaker [Burk and Wirt add 'of this House'] do transmit to the Speakers of the different Assemblies of the British Colonies on this [Wirt says 'the'] Continent copies of the said Resolutions, and desire that they will lay them before their respective Assemblies and request them to appoint some person or persons of their respective bodies to communicate from time to time with the said committee."

Mr. Wirt says (p.89) that the mover of these resolutions, Dabney Carr. "although he had not yet reached the meridian of life, was considered by far the most formidable rival in forensic eloquence that Mr. Henry had ever yet had to encounter." Unfortunately for the colony, he died on the ifith of May following, not two months later, in the thirtieth year of his age, cut off-in the beginning of his public career. Mr. Bancroft well says (VI, 455) his name "must not perish from the memory of his countrymen."

The Committee met on the next day, March 13th, all present except Edmund Pendleton and Patrick Henry appointed John Tazewell clerk, and Peyton Randolph, Robert Carter Nicholas, and Dudley Digges a select committee, who, as is shown by the record, conducted all the correspondence of the committee. They directed the select committee to take steps to carry out the second resolution, to procure copies of certain acts of Parliament and Journals of the House of Commons (which were procured later through a certain Mr. John Norton, of London), and to transmit to the Speakers of the other Assemblies on the Continent copies of an act of the Virginia-Assembly making it a felony to forge the paper currency of the other colonies, like action being desired from the other assemblies, for it seems from a subsequent letter that this Colony had "sustained the greatest injury by having their paper currency forged-the supposed principal auth9r of this mischief being an inhabitant of North Carolina."

The second resolution requires, perhaps, a few words of explanation. Some months before, on June Jo, 1772, a revenue vessel, the "Gaspee," which had been making illegal seizures of goods and much harassing the people of Providence, R. I., having run aground in a chase, was boarded and burnt by the incensed citizens. A royal commission sat at Newport from January 4th to 22d, 1773, to consider the affair, and at the end of its deliberations required the Governor of Rhode Island to arrest the offenders and send them to England for trial. He laid the matter before the Assembly, who referred it to the discretion of the Chief Justice, Stephen Hopkins. He boldly re- fused, "for the purpose of transportation for trial, either to apprehend any person by his own order or to suffer any executive officers of the colony to do it" and thus the matter ended, as no armed force was used. [6]

This transportation of accused persons beyond seas for trial was, then, what excited the Virginia House of Burgesses, and this was not the first occasion on which like action had been taken, for on May 11, 1769, they had passed unanimously certain noted resolutions (given in Burk, III, 343-4, and in Henry, I, 138-9), one of which declared "that the seizing any person or persons residing in this colony, suspected of any crime whatsoever committed therein, and sending such person or persons to places beyond the seas to be tried, is highly derogatory of the rights of British subjects, as thereby the inestimable privilege of being tried by a jury from their vicinage, as well as the liberty of summoning and producing witnesses in such trial, will be taken away from the party accused."

The result of the passage of those resolutions was the dissolution of that Assembly by Lord Botetourt. Let us now notice the effect of the resoutions just read, which had been duly trans- mitted to the other colonies by the Select Committee on March 19, 1773. The first letter received was from the Speaker of the General Assembly of New York, dated April 14, who states that he will lay the resolutions before the Assembly when it convenes, but he does not imagine that this wilt be before the latter end of this or the beginning of next year. On March 1, 1774, nearly a year later, the Speaker transmits the New York resolutions of January 20, appointing a Committee of Correspondence of thirteen, in the very words of the Virginia resolution, as is the case with the other Assemblies. He adds: "I am also directed to return their thanks to the Burgesses of the ancient colony and Dominion of Virginia for their early attention to the Rights and Liberties of America." [7] The first Assembly to respond to the initiative of Virginia was that of Rhode Island, which appointed its committee of seven on May 7th, and the resolutions were transmitted by the Speaker on May 15th, who says "The House, thoroughly convinced that a firm union of the colonies is absolutely necessary for the preservation of their ancient, legal and constitutional rights [the very words of the Virginia preamble], and that the measures proposed by your House of Burgesses will greatly promote so desirable an end, came nemine contradicente into the resolutions of which I have the honor to enclose you a copy."

The House of Representatives of Connecticut appointed its committee of nine on May 21st, but the resolutions were not transmitted by the Speaker until June 24th, who refers to the "Resolutions of the patriotic House of Burgesses of the Colony of Virginia," which are quoted in full in the copy of the clerk extracted from the Journals.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts appointed their committees on the same day, May 27th, the former consisting of seven, and the latter of fifteen persons. The Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, under date of May 27th, has their "unanimous direction to present their thanks to and assure your Hon'able House that in every constitutional plan for securing the Rights of British America and removing the present infringements thereon, our sister colonies may rely we sincerely join, having no wish for ourselves of an exclusive nature in those matters, ever looking on the whole as embarked in the same common Bottom, and so represented it in our address to Lord Dartmouth at our first meeting after his appointment for American Affairs."

The Massachusetts House, after a suitable preamble, places as its very first resolution:

"Resolved, That this House have a very grateful sense of the obligations they are under to the House of Burgesses in Virginia for the vigilance, firmness and wisdom which they have discovered at all times in support of the Rights and Liberties of the American Colonies, and do heartily concur with them in their said judicious and spirited Resolves."

This does not look as if those Massachusetts men had any idea that they had been forestalled in the inception of any plan of intercolonial correspondence that they had already conceived, and if historians had had these resolutions before them, there would never have been any doubt as to which colony moved first in this matter. The Speaker of the Massachusetts House, under date of June 3d, says "The wisdom of the measures proposed in those Resolves and the great and good effects that may reasonably be expected to flow from them, not only to the Colonies, but to the parent State, were so obvious that the House immediately adopted them and appointed a Committee to keep up and maintain a free communication with Virginia and the rest of the Sister Colonies."

That the colonies did not, however, look upon this measure as leading to independence of Great Britain is here shown, and it is shown also by the words of.the Speaker of the New Hampshire House, who says: "The House have appointed a committee for the proposed purpose of communication, and flatter ourselves that some means may yet be hit on for restoring the mutual confidence once subsisting between Great Britain and the American provinces.

It will be observed that the four New England colonies, whose Assemblies were already in session, were the first to respond to the Virginia resolutions.

The Speaker of the Georgia House, on June 5th, acknowledges the receipt of the Resolutions, and states that he will "take care to lay [them] before our House of Representatives.'' But Georgia did not appoint her committee of six until September 1oth, accompanying this resolution with one of thanks to the Speaker and House of Burgesses of Virginia "for communicating their Intentions firm1y to support the rights and privileges of his Majesty's faithful and loyal subjects in America."

On July 8th South Carolina appointed a committee of nine, and also thanked the House of Burgesses of Virginia "for communicating the said Resolutions to this House, as well as for their steady attention to the general interests of America." The Speaker, in transmitting these resolutions the next day, adds, "by which your province have so nobly and uniformly distinguished itself in the great cause of liberty."

On August 10th the Select Committee of Correspondence of Connecticut refers to the previous letter of the Speaker, of June 24th, transmitting a copy of the Resolutions of the Connecticut House, "by which you will see the House of Representatives of this Colony have fully adopted the measures proposed by your patriotic House of Burgesses, and with pleasure follow the lead given, an example set by the fathers of the people in the ancient, free and loyal Colony of Virginia." Here is another New England testimony to the source from which "the lead" proceeded, and to the estimation in which Virginia was held by the other colonies.

The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House acknowledges, on September 25th, the receipt of the resolutions sent On March 19th, and states that the Assembly considers it "highly expedient and necessary a correspondence should be maintained between the Assemblies of their several Colonies but as the present Assembly must in a few days be dissolved by virtue of the charter of the province, and any measures they might adopt at this time rendered by dissolution ineffectual, they have earnestly recommended the subject matter of the letter and resolves of the House of Burgessess of Virginia to the consideration of the succeeding Assembly." This looks like "dodging the question," and it does not appear that "the succeeding Assembly" ever appointed a Committee of Correspondence, for the next record we have from Pennsylvania is dated May 20, 1774, and recounts the appointment, "at a Meeting of a Number of respectable Inhabi tants of the city of Philadelphia," of a Committee of Correspondence of eighteen members, which committee is "instructed to apply to the Governor to call the Assembly of the Province."

This action, however, was in consequence of the receipt of intelligence of the Boston Port Bill, and not in response to the Virginia resolutions of the preceding year.

On October 15th the Maryland House appoints its Committee of Correspondence of eleven persons, but this action is not communicated by the Speaker until December 6th. He states, however, that he had laid the Virginia resolutions before the House in June last, and that "they then had them under consideration, but before any Resolutions were entered into an unexpected. prorogation took place," and they did not meet again until October.

Under date of October 21st there is an important letter from the Massachusetts Committee, discussing the general situation and advocating a strenuous effort for the restoration of the rights and liberties of the colonies. '[hey say expressly : "We are far from desiring the connection between Great Britain and America should be broken. Esto perpetua is our most ardent wish, but upon the terms only of equal liberty. If we cannot establish an agreement upon these terms, let us leave it to another and wiser generation." They refer, in conclusion, to the British ministry's "allowing the East India Company, with a view to pacifying them, to ship their Teas to America," and urge that "each Colony should take effectual methods to prevent this measure from having its desired effect."

Delaware appoints its committee of five on October 25th, and includes in the resolutions one reading as follows:

"Resolved, That this House have a very grateful sense of the obligations they are under to the House of Burgesses in Virginia for the vigilance, firmness and wisdom which they have discovered at all times in support of the Rights and Liberties of the American Colonies, and do heartily concur with them in their said judicious and spirited Resolves."

It will be noticed that this is an exact copy of the Massachusetts resolution of thanks to Virginia, Delaware having already received the resolutions of Rhode Island and of Massachusetts.

There is a letter of November 4th from the Connedicut Committee also referring to the action of the ministry in permitting teas to be sent by the East India Company, and expressing "the most uneasy apprehensions for the consequences."

They conclude: "It is with the greatest satisfaction we see the seasonable and beneficial example set by vour honorable and patriotic House of Burgesses already followed by almost all the Houses of Assembly on the Continent, and doubt not that it will be universal soon. The union of the Colonies is of the last importance, and we conceive a regular correspondence the most certain means to effect so salutary a design."

The Speaker of the House and the Committee of Correspondence of Georgia both write on November 20th, transmitting the resolutions of September ioth, already mentioned above. It is surprising to see how long a time often elapses between the passage of resolutions and their transmission by the Speaker or the Committee of Correspondence.

North Carolina appoints a committee of nine on December 8th, and the Speaker transmits the resolutions on December 26th, the first one of which deserves partial quotation.--

"That the vigilance which the honorable House of Burgesses of Virginia have displayed in attending to every encroachment upon the Rights and Liberties of America, and the wisdom and vigour with which they have always opposed such encroachments are worthy the imitation and merit the gratitude of all their sister colonies, and in no instance more particularly than in the measure proposed for appointing corresponding committees in every colony by which such harmony and communication will be established amung them."

Thus colony after colony extols and follows the action of Virginia.

The letter of March 1, 1774, from the Speaker of the New York House of Representatives, transmitting their resolutions of January 20th, which is the next one in chronological order, has been already noticed.

The Conneclicul Committee writes on March 8th in reply to the letter of the Virginia Committee of January 6th concerning wrifs of assistance, which contained an elaborate argument against granting such general writs as were demanded by his Majesty's commissioners. This argument the Connecticut Committee pronounces "at once ingenious and conclusive." They cannot refrain from again referring to the appointment of committees of correspondence, as follows:

We consider with pleasure the step taken by your worthy House of Burgesses in appointing a committee to keep up a regular correspondence with your sister Colonies, now adopted by nearly all on the Continent, as a basis on which the most lasting and beneficial Union may be formed and supported." They are "anxiously expecting the account how the returned Tea is received, and what measures the present session of parliament will adopt respecting that and other American concerns." A P.S. significantly adds : "A quantity of Tea arrived at Boston and met the fate of the former, the particulars of which will be with you before this."

In respect to the appointment of these committees of correspondence, the last action is that of New Jersey, which colony appoints itscommittee of nine on February 8,1774, and "returns the thanks of the House to the Burgesses of Virginia for their early attention to the Liberties of America." These resolutions are transmitted by the committee on March 14th, so that within a year from the passage of the Virginia resolutions all the other colonies, except Pennsylvania, had appointed committees of correspondence.

These several quotations from the records of the Committee of Correspondence have been given with a view to showing the effect produced on the different colonies by the action of Virginia, which resulted in the establishment of an official means of communication between the colonies, and led to the meeting of the first Congress, concerning which Mr. Jefferson says in his "Memoir" (Randall's Life, p.78), in giving an account of the appointment of the Virginia Committee: "We were all sensible * * * that their first measure would probably be to propose a meeting of deputies from every colony at some central place, who should be charged with the initiation of the measures which should be taken by all." This was to come, though not quite so soon as Mr. Jefferson conceived.

We have a glimpse of the effect produced in England by the action of the Virginia House of Burgesses in a MS. letter of William Lee to his brother, Richard Henry Lee, dated London, January I, 1774, which is briefly referred to by Charles Campbell (History of Virginia, p.570). This letter is among the Lee papers in the Library of the University of Virginia, and while chiefly on private business, it alludes to "politics" near the close, and contains the following sentence from which Mr. Campbell's extract is taken: "Every real patriot in this country admires the spirit that has already appeared among you, and the last resolves of the Virginia Assembly have struck a greater panic into the ministers than anything that has passed since the Stamp Act." Here is testimony from England to the importance of this Virginia move, for it was felt that the colonies would now unite in defence of their rights and liberties.

I regret that lack of time will not permit me to consider in detail the measures leading to the first Congress of all the colonies, but they must be briefly noticed. The throwing overboard of the tea in Boston harbor on December 16, 1773, led to the Boston Port Bill of March 3!, 1774, which was to take effect on June 1st. Information of this was received early in May, and caused a meeting of the inhabitants of Boston on May i3th, which recommended to the other colonies a non-importation and non-exportation agreement "till the Act for blocking up the harbour be repealed." This resolution was transmitted the same day by Samuel Adams to Peyton Randolph for Virginia, and a copy was sent also to each of the other colonies. In the letter of Samuel Adams there is no allusion to a Congress. Resolutions of sympathy with Boston were passed by the inhabitants of Philadelphia on May 20th, and a Committee of Correspondence was appointed for that city. The next day (21st) this Philadelphia committee sent a letter to Boston, and a copy of it to each of the other colonies, in which the following sentence occurs:

By what means this truly desirable circumstance of a reconciliation and future harmony with our mother country on Constitutional principles may be obtained is indeed a weighty question, whether by the method you have suggested of a non-importation and a non-exportation agreement, or by a General Congress of Deputies from the different Colonies to state what we conceive to be our Rights, and make a claim or petition of them to his Majesty in firm but decent and dutiful terms, so as that we may know by what line to conduct ourselves in future, are now the great points to be determined," and they favor the latter method, i. e., a Congress, first. [8]

Whence came this suggestion of a Congress? Mr. Bancroft says that the committee of the "Sons of Liberty" of New York "proposed-and they were the first to propose-'a general Congress,'" but he does not give their letter. His statement is (History of the United States, Vol. VII, pp. 40, 41): "Their summons to the country had already gone forth when, on the evening ol the i6th of May, they convoked the inhabitants of their city." The Philadelphia letter of the 21st of May, states that they had read at their meeting of the 20th "a letter from the committee of correspondence of New York." Doubtless this contained the proposition mentioned by Mr. Bancroft, for he states further (VI I, 43) that from the letter from the New York Sons of Liberty had been received in Philadelphia" before this meeting. There is among the Lee papers in the Library of the University of Virginia a copy of a letter from the New York committee of correspondence to the Boston committee, dated May 23, 1774, marked "For Virginia," and signed "By order of the Committee of Correspondence. The foregoing is a true copy. Isaac Sears "-in which letter occurs the following sentence: "Upon these reasons we conclude that a Congress of Deputies from the Colonies in general is of the utmost moment that it ought to be assembled without Delay and some unanimous Resolutions formed in this fatal Emergency, not only respecting your deplorable circumstances, but for the security of our common Rights." This shows that the idea of a Congress had already occurred to the New York Committee. There is no copy of this letter in the " Calendar of Virginia State Papers,'' and it is reasonable to suppose that this very letter among the Lee papers should have been on the files of the Virginia committee. Meantime, what was going on in Virginia? The Assembly met on May 5, 1774. On the 6th the Committee of Correspondence ordered the letters which had been received from the different colonies "to be laid before the House of Burgesses now sitting,'' and on the 25th it took similar action with respect to the letter from the New Jersey committee, the last one received. But news had now been received of the Boston Port Bill, and on the 24th the Assembly passed its noted preamble and resolution (given in full in Wirt's " Life of Patrick Henry," p.95, and also in Henry's " Life of Patrick Henry," I, 177) appointing June 1st as "a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer," in con- sequence of which action the Assembly was dissolved by Lord Dunmore, "on the following day," say Wirt and Campbell, but Burk gives on the margin the date as May 27th, [9] although this must apply to the association formed next day. Burk says (III, 378): "On the following day the members met by agreement at the long room in the Raleigh tavern" (Wirt, followed by Campbell, says "immediately"), entered into their agreement against the use of tea, and recommended to the Committee ofCorrespondence (380) "that they communicate with their several corresponding committees on the expediency of appointing deputies from the several colonies of British America, to meet in general congress at such place annually as shall be thought most convenient there to deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may from time to time require." Mr. Wirt quotes in full this "Association, signed by eighty-nine members of the late House of Burgesses" (as also does Mr. Henry, 1,179-181), and appends the date, May 27, 1774. The record of the Committee of Correspondence shows that it met on the following day, Saturday, May 28th, all present except Patrick Henry and Archibald Cary, and "Ordered that letters be prepared to the several Committees of Correspondence on the Continent, requesting their sentiments on the appointment of Deputies from the several Colonies to meet annually in general Congress." Such a letter was immediately prepared for Maryland, and a copy for each of the other colonies, and it was ordered "that said letters be sent by this day's post." This shows that the committee was not slow to fulfill the recommendation of the late House of Burgesses, but it also appears that Virginia was not theftrst, as is stated by Campbell (p.573), to propose a general Congress, for the suggestion occurs in the letters of both the New York and Philadelphia Committees, although the Virginia House of Burgesses was ignorant of this suggestion when it made the proposition. While this suggestion was made by the New York and Philadelphia Committees of Correspondence, in Virginia it was made by an organized legislative body, presided over by the Speaker, though it had just been dissolved by the Governor.

But Virginia went a step further. On the next day, Sunday, May 29th, a letter was received from Maryland, of the 25th, enclosing the Philadelphia letter of the 21st and the Boston letter of the I3th, whereupon, in the words of the Virginia committee's letter of the 31st to North Carolina, the Moderator "immediately convened as many members of our late House of Burgesses as could be got together upon so short a notice, and we yesterday took this important business under our most serious consideration the result of our deliberations will best appear from the inclosed, which is submitted to your Judgment." (Cal. VIII, ii).

What was "the inclosed" here referred to? The original paper and signatures may be seen framed occupying a conspicuous position in the Virginia State Library, and a copy of it will be found on p.52, Vol. VIII of the "Calendar of Virginia State Papers.'' It is the action taken on Monday, May 30, 1774, " At a meeting of twenty-five of the late Representatives legally assembled by the moderator," at which "it was agreed that letters be wrote to all our sister Colonies," acknowledging the receipt of the letters above-mentioned, informing them of the unexpected dissolution of the Virginia Assembly, and stating that it was their opinion "that the colony of Virginia will concur with the other Colonies in such measures as shall be judged most effectual for the preservation of the common Rights and Liberty of British America" "that an association against Importations will probably be entered into as soon as the late Representatives can be collected, and perhaps against Exportations also after a certain time" and "that we are sending Dispatches to call together the late Representatives to meet at Williamsburg on the 1st day [of] August next, to conclude finally on these important Questions." This last sentence was the most important part of this paper. Governor Dunmore, on June 17th, summoned the Assembly to meet on August uth (Cooke's "Virginia," p. 420), but these twenty-five members of the late House of Burgesses - anticipated him, and here was the summons for that first Virginia Convention, which met on August I, 1774, appointed delegates to the General Congress, with full instructions for their action (see Wirt, pp. 101-105, and Henry, I, pp. 198-202), adopted a non importation agreement after November 1st next, and a non-exportation one also after August 10, 1775, "unless American grievances are redressed" before that time, and empowered the moderator to convene the delegates "on any future occasion that might, in his opinion, require it." It was thus the prelude to the Virginia Conventions of March, July and December, 1775, and May, 1776, which last severed all connection with Great Britain and adopted an independent government for Virginia-the first permanent written constitution ever adopted on this Continent. [10] Among these twenty-five names we find those of Peyton Randolph, Robert Carter Nicholas, Edmund Pendleton, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Paul Carrington and James Mercer all of whom later occupied high official positions. Three of these men-Edmund Pendleton, Paul Carrington and James Mercer-were appointed by the Convention of July, 1775, on the Committee of Safety of eleven members, that governed Virginia during the recess of the conventions from that time- until July, 1776, when Patrick Henry was inaugurated as the first Governor, and all three of them were afterwards judges of the Court of Appeals of the State. [11]

The Committee of Correspondence on the next day, May 31st, enclosed this action of the twenty-five members of the late House of Burgesses to North Carolina, with a request for transmission to South Carolina and Georgia, and also to Maryland, with a similar request for transmission to Philadelphia and Boston-for in this way the torch was borne from hand to hand in the several colonies.

The letter of Maryland contains the following sentence "We could wish to have known the sentiments of New York. We found a letter from the Committee of Correspondence in that province mentioned in the Philadelphia letter, but no copy of it inclosed nor the purport of it mentioned." This, too, shows that the Virginia Committee was still ignorant that the New York Committee had proposed a general Congress, the letter containing that proposition not having been received.

This notice of the records of the Virginia Committee of Correspondence must now close, just on the eve of that day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, appointed by the House of Burgesses, Wednesday, June 1, 1774, on which day George Mason directed that his elder children should attend church in mourning a strong evidence of the deep feeling throughout the colony. [12]

I cannot refrain, however, from quoting, in conclusion, a few brief sentences from a letter of the Philadelphia committee (without date, but dated by the editor of volume VIII of the Calendar of Virginia State Papers "June 13, 1774"), as it shows plainly the esteem in which Virginia w'as held "All America," says the secretary of the Committee, "look up to Virginia to take the lead on the present occasion. Our united efforts are now necessary to ward off the impending blow levelled at our lives, liberty and property." * * * "Some colony must step forth and appoint the time and place [i. e., for the Congress]. None is so fit as Virginia. You are ancient. You are respected. You are animated in the cause."

It is a source of pride to the sons of Virginia to know that she did not fail to respond to this call, and to know further that she has never failed to respond in a becoming manner when her rights and liberties were threatened.

JAMES MERCER GARNETT.
University of Virginia.

Notes:

  1. W. W. Henry, R. A. Brock, and L. G. Tyler.
  2. Alexander Brown.
  3. See Wirt's "Life of Patrick Henry," third edition, 1818, note to p. 87, with which compare Tucker's "Life of Jefferson," Vol.1, pp. 52-55, and reference there given to "Marshall's Life of Washington" also compare Randall's "Life of Jefferson," Vol I, pp. 78-80.
  4. Bancroft's History of the United States, original edition, 1854, Vol. VI, p.429.
  5. John Esten Cooke says (Magazine of American History for May, 1884) that "as far back as 1768 Lee had advocated the scheme of a Committee of Correspondence." This suggestion of R. H Lee's was made in a letter of July 25, 1768, to John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, which letter is given in Lee's "Life of R. H. Lee," and this was, I presume, Cooke's authority for his statement. See R. H. Lee's "Life of Richard Henry Lee," V"l. I, pp.64, 65, and Campbell, p.579.
  6. See Bancroft, VI, 417-419 and 450, 451, and Winsor, VI, 53.
  7. See Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Vol. VIII, pp.15, ff., for all these letters.
  8. See Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Vol. VIII, P.48.
  9. Professor M. C. Tyler and Mr. Henry give the date more exactly as May 26th (Tyler's "Life of Patrick Henry," p.86 Henry's "Life of Patrick Henry" I, 178.
  10. Of this Convention of 1774 Mr. Randall says (Life of Jefferson, I, 58): "This Convention was the first assembly of popular representatives of Virginia-twenty-four-which convened without the express authority of law, and by virtue of the inherent rights of the people."
  11. As showing the relations existing between these three men, it maybe mentioned that Edmund Pendleton was nominated for President of the Convention of December, 1775, by Paul Carrington, and the motion was seconded by James Mercer (Journal of the Conventions of -1775 and 1776, p.59). Edmund Pendleton was also nominated by Paul Carrington for President of the Convention of 1788. The late Hugh Blair Grigsbv, in his "Virginia Convention of 1788," says of judge Pen-dleton (I, 66): "Not a few of the members could recall him as with a buoyant and graceful step he walked from the floor of the Convention of December, 1775, and of May, 1776, to the chair, escorted in the former body by Paul Carrington and James Mercer, and in the latter by the venerable Richard Bland and the inflexible Archibald Cary."

Sketches of Judge Pendleton and Judge Carrington will be found in Grigsby's work above-mentioned, and in his "Virginia Convention of 1776." A brief sketch of Judge Mercer may be appended here, as no notice of his life has ever appeared in print except a few lines prefixed to Vol. IV (p. xx) of Call's Reports, which contains brief sketches of the judges of the Court of Appeals.

JAMES MERCER was the son of John Mercer, of Marlboro', Stafford County. Va., a lawyer and author of Mercer's "Abridgment of the Laws of Virginia," and Catherine Mason, daughter of Colonel George Mason, of Stafford county, Va., and aunt of George Mason, noted as the author of the Virginia Constitution of 1776, and otherwise. James Mercer was born February i6, 1736, and was educated at William and Mary College.


Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

Summary and Definition of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
Definition and Summary: 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
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.

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.

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.

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids
The info about the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions provides interesting facts and important information about this important event that occured during the presidency of the 2nd President of the United States of America.

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions for kids - President John Adams Video
The article on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions provides an overview of one of the Important issues of his presidential term in office. The following video will give you additional important facts, history and dates about the political events experienced by the 2nd American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1801.

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

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Contents

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry made one of his famous speeches before the Virginia House of Burgesses to encourage the passage of the resolutions. Henry said "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III. (Henry was interrupted by cries from the opposition)… may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it." When Patrick Henry paused after the vibrant portion of the speech, Speaker John Robinson stood and shouted, "Treason! Treason!". Patrick Henry at this point issued a semi-apology.

Peyton Randolph later told his young cousin Thomas Jefferson who was standing in the doorways of the House quite frequently. "By God, I would have given 500 guineas for a single vote".

The Burgesses generally voted along geographic lines with eastern Virginians opposing the resolves and central Virginians supporting them. Patrick Henry left Williamsburg, Virginia that night fearing the powerful members of the House would harass him with a warrant.

The next day, with Patrick Henry gone and most conservative assembly members back in session, the assembly again set a vote with conservatives trying to have the Resolves struck from the record. However Henry's supporters managed to preserve the first four resolutions with only the more radical 5th Resolution being struck. [1]

In late June the Newport Mercury was the first newspaper to publish the Virginia Resolves to the general public with several other newspapers following soon after. Notably none of the newspapers drew on the official House records and as a result the published resolutions included not only the 4 ratified resolutions but also the, already removed, 5th resolution. In fact the newspapers even went so far to include a 6th and 7th resolution the origin of which is still disputed. Some sources quote those two articles as being part of Henry's original manuscript [2] while others argue that their origin is completely unknown.

A direct result of the publishing of the Virginia Resolves was a growing public anger over the Stamp Act and according to several contemporary sources the Resolves were responsible for inciting the Stamp Act Riots. Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts stated that "Nothing extravagant appeared in the papers till an account was received of the Virginia Resolves." Later Edmund Burke linked the resolves with the beginning of the opposition to the Stamp Act that would contribute to the American Revolution.

The original text of the Virginia Resolves as adopted by the House of Burgesses on May 29, 1765 was as follows: [3]

Resolved, that the first adventurers and settlers of His Majesty's colony and dominion of Virginia brought with them and transmitted to their posterity, and all other His Majesty's subjects since inhabiting in this His Majesty's said colony, all the liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.

Resolved, that by two royal charters, granted by King James I, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all liberties, privileges, and immunities of denizens and natural subjects to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within the Realm of England.

Resolved, that the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burdensome taxation, and the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist.

Resolved, that His Majesty's liege people of this his most ancient and loyal colony have without interruption enjoyed the inestimable right of being governed by such laws, respecting their internal policy and taxation, as are derived from their own consent, with the approbation of their sovereign, or his substitute and that the same has never been forfeited or yielded up, but has been constantly recognized by the kings and people of Great Britain.

Resolved, therefor that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony and that every Attempt to vest such Power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.
Note: This last resolve, adopted with the others on May 29, 1765, was struck the next day in a separate vote by the assembly.

When the Virginia Resolves were first published in colonial newspapers the articles cited not only the four officially adopted resolutions but also included the revoked fifth resolve plus two additional resolutions:

  • Resolved, That his majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatsoever designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws and ordinances of the general assembly aforesaid.
  • Resolved, That any person who shall by speaking or writing maintain that any person or persons other than the general assembly of this colony have any right or power to impose or lay any taxation whatsoever on the people here shall be deemed an enemy to this his majesty's colony.

These two resolutions were never passed by the House of Burgesses, and it is not known for certain who authored them, although some sources claim that they were part of the original draft by Patrick Henry.


The Declaration of Independence

Patrick Henry, who was a new member to the House of Burgesses undertook a radical move against the authority of Parliament. In coalition with George Johnston, a representative from Fairfax county, Henry took the floor in May of 1765. The Burgesses, a very aristocratic company of wealthy plantation owners and gentlemen, had long operated under a relaxed rule that allowed 24 percent of the body to constitute a quorum. That day, only 39 members in attendance, Johnson moved that the House resolve itself into a committee of the whole, Henry seconded the motion, and proceeded to offer a shocking series of resolutions. In the absence of the normal, conservative, leadership, all five of the offered resolutions were adopted. The first four were merely strident. The fifth required several hours of heated debate and even then passed by only one vote. Ultimately, it would be retracted (see text following the resolves, below.)

The following five resolves were passed by the House of Burgesses on May 30, 1765:

Resolved , that the first adventurers and settlers of His Majesty's colony and dominion of Virginia brought with them and transmitted to their posterity, and all other His Majesty's subjects since inhabiting in this His Majesty's said colony, all the liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.

Resolved , that by two royal charters, granted by King James I, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all liberties, privileges, and immunities of denizens and natural subjects to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within the Realm of England.

Resolved , that the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burdensome taxation, and the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist.

Resolved , that His Majesty's liege people of this his most ancient and loyal colony have without interruption enjoyed the inestimable right of being governed by such laws, respecting their internal policy and taxation, as are derived from their own consent, with the approbation of their sovereign, or his substitute and that the same has never been forfeited or yielded up, but has been constantly recognized by the kings and people of Great Britain.

The fifth item, following, was rescinded the next day. Henry, perhaps believing that the matter would stand, had departed. The conservative members re-formed on May 31st for the purpose of removing all five resolutions, but succeeded only in removing this one. The text of it was found with Patrick Henry's will:

Resolved , therefor that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony and that every Attempt to vest such Power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.

Two more resolutions were widely reprinted throughout the colonies. Henry did not actually offer them, probably on account of the difficulty of passing the fifth. Lieutenant Governor Fauquir later reported that "they had two more in their pockets." Somehow these two appeared in the Rhode Island Newport Mercury on June 24 of 1765*. The Burgesses considered the language exclusive Right and Power in the fifth item to be treacherous. The resolutions that follow were outright treason.

Resolved , That His Majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this Colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatever, designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws or ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.

Resolved , That any person who shall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any person or persons other than the General Assembly of this Colony, have any right or power to impose or lay any taxation on the people here, shall be deemed an enemy to His Majesty's Colony.

How these items made their way north is not known. There is no record anywhere of them, except in the newspapers where they were printed. It is plausible that Henry, George Johnson, or another colleague sent them on before the battle on the floor. Perhaps it was wise that Henry departed when he did, despite the loss of the fifth resolution. He would have expected the House to be dissolved as a result of his resolutions. Had news reached the governor about the seven resolutions, he might have been arrested for treason as well. The seven resolutions, reprinted everywhere, were a wildly effective propaganda tool. The idea that the stuffy old House of Burgesses had produced such a challenge to Great Britain's authority did much to incite similar resolutions in other legislatures. Establishing a Committee of Intercolonial Correspondence.

Extracts from the Journal of the Proceeding of the House of Burgesses, of Virginia

Friday, the 12th March,
13th George III., 1773

The House resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, upon the state of the colony.

Mr. Speaker left the chair.

Mr. Bland took the chair of the committee.

Mr. Speaker resumed the chair.

Mr. Bland reported from the committee that they had directed him to make the following report to the House, viz.:

Whereas, the minds of His Majesty's faithful subjects, in this colony, have been much disturbed by various rumors and reports of proceedings, tending to deprive them of their ancient, legal and constitutional rights

AND whereas, the affairs of this colony are frequently connected with those of Great Britain, as well as of the neighboring colonies, which renders a communication of sentiments necessary in order, therefore, to remove the uneasiness, and to quiet the minds of the people, as well as for the other good purposes above mentioned, &mdash

Be it resolved, that a standing committee of correspondence and inquiry, be appointed, to consist of eleven persons, to wit: the Hon. Peyton Randolph, Esq., Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, Dudley Digges, Dabney Carr, Archibald Carey [Cary], and Thomas Jefferson, Esqs., any six of whom, to be a committee, whose business it shall be, to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of administration, as may relate to, or affect the British colonies in America and to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies respecting these important considerations and the result of such proceedings, from time to time to lay before this House.

Resolved, that it be an instruction to said committee, that they do, without delay, inform themselves particularly of the principles and authority, on which was constituted a court of inquiry, said to have been lately held in Rhode Island, with powers to transport persons accused of offences committed in America, to places beyond the seas, to be tried.

The said resolutions being severally read a second time, were, upon the questions severally put thereupon, agreed to, by the House, nemine contradicente.

Resolved, that the speaker of this House do transmit to the speakers of the different Assemblies of the British colonies on this continent, copies of the said resolutions, and desire that they will lay them before their respective Assemblies and request them to appoint some person or persons of their respective bodies, to communicate from time to time, with the said committee.

By the House of Burgesses of the Colony of Virginia.Extracted from the journal.G. WYTHEC[lerk]. H. B.

Tuesday, the 24th of May,
14 Geo. III. 1774

Resolutions of the House of Burgesses
Designating a Day of Fasting and Prayer.
Extracts from the Journal of the Proceeding of the House of Burgesses, of Virginia

This House being deeply impressed with Apprehension of the great Dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose Commerce and Harbour are on the 1st Day of June next, to be stopped by an armed Force, deem it highly necessary that the said first Day of June be set apart by the Members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine Interposition for averting the heavy Calamity, which threatens Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War to give us one Heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper Means, every Injury to American Rights, and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all Cause of Danger from a continued Pursuit of Measures pregnant with their Ruin.

Ordered, therefore, that the Members of this House do attend their Places at the Hour of ten in the Forenoon, on the said 1st Day of June next, in Order to proceed with the Speaker and the Mace to the Church in this City for the Purposes aforesaid and that the Reverend Mr. Price be appointed to read Prayers, and the Reverend Mr. Gwatkin to preach a Sermon suitable to the Occasion.

Ordered, that this Order be forthwith printed and published.

By the HOUSE of BURGESSES.
GEORGE WYTHE, C. H. B.

AN ASSOCIATION, SIGNED BY 89 MEMBERSOF THE LATE HOUSE OF BURGESSES.

WE his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the late representatives of the good people of this country, having been deprived by the sudden interposition of the executive part of this government from giving our countrymen the advice we wished to convey to them in a legislative capacity, find ourselves under the hard necessity of adopting this, the only method we have left, of pointing out to our countrymen such measures as in our opinion are best fitted to secure our dearest rights and liberty from destruction, by the heavy hand of power now lifted against North America: With much grief we find that our dutiful applications to Great Britain for security of our just, ancient, and constitutional rights, have been not only disregarded, but that a determined system is formed and pressed for reducing the inhabitants of British America to slavery, by subjecting them to the payment of taxes, imposed without the consent of the people or their representatives and that in pursuit of this system, we find an act of the British parliament, lately passed, for stopping the harbour and commerce of the town of Boston, in our sister colony of Massachusetts Bay, until the people there submit to the payment of such unconstitutional taxes, and which act most violently and arbitrarily deprives them of their property, in wharfs erected by private persons, at their own great and proper expence, which act is, in our opinion, a most dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all North America. It is further our opinion, that as TEA, on its importation into America, is charged with a duty, imposed by parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue, without the consent of the people, it ought not to be used by any person who wishes well to the constitutional rights and liberty of British America. And whereas the India company have ungenerously attempted the ruin of America, by sending many ships loaded with tea into the colonies, thereby intending to fix a precedent in favour of arbitrary taxation, we deem it highly proper and do accordingly recommend it strongly to our countrymen, not to purchase or use any kind of East India commodity whatsoever, except saltpetre and spices, until the grievances of America are redressed. We are further clearly of opinion, that an attack, made on one of our sister colonies, to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, is an attack made on all British America, and threatens ruin to the rights of all, unless the united wisdom of the whole be applied. And for this purpose it is recommended to the committee of correspondence, that they communicate, with their several corresponding committees, on the expediency of appointing deputies from the several colonies of British America, to meet in general congress, at such place annually as shall be thought most convenient there to deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may from time to time require. A tender regard for the interest of our fellow subjects, the merchants, and manufacturers of Great Britain, prevents us from going further at this time most earnestly hoping, that the unconstitutional principle of taxing the colonies without their consent will not be persisted in, thereby to compel us against our will, to avoid all commercial intercourse with Britain. Wishing them and our people free and happy, we are their affectionate friends, the late representatives of Virginia.

Peyton Randolph, Ro. C. Nicholas, Richard Bland, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, Archibald Cary, Benjamin Harrison, George Washington, William Harwood, Robert Wormeley Carter, Robert Munford, Thomas Jefferson, John West, Mann Page, junior, John Syme, Peter Le Grand, Joseph Hutchings, Francis Peyton, Richard Adams, B. Dandridge, Henry Pendleton, Patrick Henry, junior, Richard Mitchell, James Holt, Charles Carter, James Scott, Burwell Bassett, Henry Lee, John Burton, Thomas Whiting, Peter Poythress, John Winn, James Wood, William Cabell, David Mason, Joseph Cabell, John Bowyer, Charles Linch, William Aylett, Isaac Zane, Francis Slaughter, William Langhorne, Henry Taylor, James Montague, William Fleming, Rodham Kenner, William Acril, Charles Carter, of Stafford, John Woodson, Nathaniel Terry, Richard Lee, Henry Field, Matthew Marable, Thomas Pettus, Robert Rutherford, Samuel M'Dowell, John Bowdoin, James Edmondson, Southy Simpson, John Walker, Hugh Innes, Henry Bell, Nicholas Faulcon, junior, James Taylor, junior, Lewis Burwell, of Gloucester, W. Roane, Joseph Nevil, Richard Hardy, Edwin Gray. H. King, Samuel Du Val, John Hite, junior, John Banister, Worlich Westwood, John Donelson, Thomas Newton, junior, P. Carrington, James Speed, James Henry, Champion Travis, Isaac Coles, Edmund Berkeley, Charles May, Thomas Johnson, Benjamin Watkins, Francis Lightfoot Lee, John Talbot, Thomas Nelson, junior, Lewis Burwell.

We the subscribers, clergymen and other inhabitants of the colony and dominion of Virginia, having maturely considered the contents of the above association, do most cordially approve and accede thereto.

William Harrison, William Hubard, Benjamin Blagrove, William Bland, H. J. Burges, Samuel Smith M'Croskey, Joseph Davenport, Thomas Price, David Griffith, William Leigh, Robert Andrews, Samuel Klug, Ichabod Camp, William Clayton, Richard Cary, Thomas Adams, Hinde Russell, William Holt, Arthur Dickenson, Thomas Stuart, James Innes.

To the Counties of Virginia,Concerning non-Importation and a General Convention.

At a Meeting of 25 of the late Representatives legally assembled by the Moderator, it was agreed

That Letters be wrote to all our Sister Colonies, acknowledging the Receipt of the Letters and Resolves from Boston &c. informing them, that before the same came to hand, the Virginia Assembly had been unexpectedly dissolved, and most of the Members returned to their respective Counties.

That it is the Opinion of all the late House of Burgesses who could be convened on the present Occasion, that the Colony of Virginia will concur with the other Colonies in such Measures as shall be judged most effectual for the Preservation of the Common Rights and Liberty of British America that they are of Opinion particularly that an Association against Importation will probably be entered into, as soon as the late Representatives can be collected, and perhaps against Exportations also after a certain Time. But that this must not be considered as an Engagement on the part of this Colony, which it would be presumption in us to enter into, and that we are sending Dispatches to call together the late Representatives to meet at Williamsburg on the first Day of August next to conclude finally on these important Questions.


Resolutions failed to influence other states to pass similar resolutions

The intent of the resolutions was to induce other state legislatures to pick up the critique and pass similar resolutions, thus acting as decentralized opposition to the Federalists. Judged by this standard, they were a failure. No state responded with similar official denunciations, and the legislatures of ten states went as far as to officially repudiate the resolutions, most arguing that the federal courts, not state legislatures, were the legitimate interpreters of the federal Constitution. Nevertheless, the resolutions did help the Democratic-Republicans develop as an organized oppositional party, and two years later Jefferson would eke out a victory in the 1800 presidential elections. Madison&rsquos Report of 1800, defending the resolutions is, moreover, an important milestone in defense of First Amendment freedoms of speech and press.

The complex legacy of the resolutions stems from lingering questions as to whether they are best understood as a defense of civil liberties or of states&rsquo rights. Rather than asserting the principles of free speech and civil protections for aliens not charged with crimes, Jefferson and Madison argued that the power to pass such acts was not properly delegated to the national government by the states. The tone and language of the resolutions are not that of a newspaper editorial meant to shape public opinion, but rather are constitutional treatises designed to elaborate on essential structures of government. From the context of the late 1790s, they are best understood as an early episode of party politics in the United States and an attempt to gain electoral advantage. However, their dominant legacy is as an exemplification of the constitutional doctrine of nullification.

James Madison fought back against the appropriation of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions to the cause of nullification in the 1830s. He argued that context was all-important and that the dangers of the Alien and Sedition Acts should not be compared to the inconveniences of a tariff. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, circa 1821, painted by Gilbert Stuart, public domain)


VIRGINIA RESOLVES

VIRGINIA RESOLVES is a name applied to several sets of resolutions. The most important were the Virginia Resolves on the Stamp Act. Patrick Henry introduced six resolutions, which were adopted by the Virginia House of Burgesses on 30 May 1765 except for the last two, which were considered too radical. Seven, slightly reworded, were published widely in newspapers, and similar sets were adopted by the legislatures of eight colonies by the end of 1765.

Earlier in 1765 the British Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, which placed a tax on newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, and broadsides, all kinds of legal documents, insurance policies, ship's papers, licenses, dice, and playing cards. This led to widespread protest in the American colonies and to the slogan, "No taxation without representation!"

The key resolution of the official version of the Virginia Resolves was

That the general assembly of the colony, together with his majesty or his substitute have in their representative capacity the only exclusive right and power to levy taxes and impositions on the inhabitants of this colony and that every attempt to vest such a power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the general assembly aforesaid is illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust, and has a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American freedom.

The Virginia Resolves concerning the Townshend Acts were prepared by George Mason and introduced 16 May 1769 by George Washington in the House of Burgesses. They were adopted unanimously that day as a protest against the 1767 Townshend Acts, which had been adopted by the British Parliament after the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. The Townshend Acts created a tax on imported goods, such as paper, glass, paints, and tea shipped from England.

In February 1768, Samuel Adams drew up and issued the Circular Letter, which reported that the Massachusetts General Court had denounced the Townshend Acts in violation of the principle of no taxation without representation, reasserted that the colonies were not represented adequately in the British Parliament, and attacked the Crown's attempt to make colonial governors and judges independent of people by providing them a source of revenue independent of taxation and appropriations by colonial legislatures.

Resolutions passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 asserted that only the Virginia governor and legislature had the power to tax Virginians. They also condemned the British government for censuring Adams's Circular Letters, multiple copies of which had been sent by various colonies, and attacked proposals in Parliament that dissidents be taken to England for trial. Within a few months, similar sets of resolutions were adopted by other colonial assemblies.

Written by James Madison and introduced by John Taylor of Caroline County, the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 was adopted by the Virginia Senate on 24 December 1798. Together with the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 authored by Thomas Jefferson, it protested the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, calling for state actions to obstruct their enforcement. That approach came to be called state nullification of U.S. laws. These protests established the Doctrine of '98 for interpretation of the Constitution, which drove the Democratic-Republican Party that elected Jefferson to the presidency and took control of Congress in 1800. That event came to be called the Revolution of 1800, which ushered in the Jeffersonian era that lasted through 1824.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Morgan, Edmund S., ed. Prologue to Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764–1766. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.

Morgan, Edmund S., and Helen M. Morgan. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.

Van Schreeven, William J., comp. Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. Edited by Robert L. Scribner. Vol. 1: Forming Thunderclouds and the First Convention, 1763–1774, A Documentary Record. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973.


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