Protest Prepared by Thomas Jefferson for the Legislature of Virginia; December, 1825
The solemn Declaration and Protest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, on the principles of the Constitution of the United Stales of America, and on the violations of them. We, the General Assembly of Virginia, on behalf, and in the name of the people thereof, do declare as follows:
The States in North America which confederated to establish their independence on the Government of Great Britain, of which Virginia was one, became, on that acquisition, free and independent States, and, as such, authorized to constitute Governments, each for itself, in such forms as it thought best.
They entered into a compact, (which is called the Constitution of the United States of America,) by which they agreed to unite in a single Government, as to their relations with each other, and with foreign nations, and as to certain other articles particularly specified. They retained at the same time, each to itself, the other rights of independent government, comprehending, mainly, their domestic interests.
For the administration of their Federal branch, they agreed to appoint, in conjunction, a distinct set of functionaries. Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary, in the manner settled in that compact: while to each, severally and of course, remained its original right of appointing, each for itself, a separate set of functionaries, Legislative, Executive, aud Judiciary, also, for administering the domestic branch of their respective Governments.
These two sets of officers, each independent of the other, constitute thus a whole of government, for each State separately; the powers ascribed to the one, as specifically made Federal, exercised over the whole; the residuary powers, retained to the other, exercisable exclusively over its particular States, foreign herein, each to the other, as they were before the original compact.
To this construction of government and distribution of its power, the Commonwealth of Virginia does religiously and affectionately adhere, opposing with equal fidelity and firmness, the usurpation of either set of functionaries on the rightful powers of the other.
But the Federal branch has assumed, in some cases, and claimed in others, a right of enlarging its own powers by constructions, inferences, and indefinite -deductions from those directly given, which this Assembly does declare to be usurpations of the powers retained to the independent branches; mere interpolations into the compact, and direct infractions of it.
They claim, for example, and have commenced the exercise of, a right to construct roads, open canals, and effect other internal improvements within the territories and jurisdictions exclusively belonging to the several States, which this Assembly does declare has not been given to that branch by the constitutional compact, but remains to each State, among its domestic and unalienated powers, exercisable within itself, and by its domestic authorities alone.
This Assembly does further disavow and declare to be most false and unfounded, the doctrine that the compact, in authorizing its Federal branch to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; to pay all debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States, has given them thereby a power to do whatever they may think, or pretend, would promote the general welfare; which construction would make that, of itself, a complete government, without limitation of powers; but that the plain sense and obvious meaning was, that they might levy the taxes necessary to provide for the general welfare, by the various acts of power therein specified and delegated to them, and by no others.
Nor is it admitted, as has been said, that the people of these States, by not investing their Federal branch with all the means of bettering their condition, have denied to themselves any which may effect that purpose, since, in the distribution of these means, they have given to that branch those which belong to its departments, and to the States have reserved, separately, the residue which belong to them separately. And thus, by the organization of the two branches taken together, have completely secured the first object of human association, the full improvement of their condition, and reserved to themselves all the faculties of multiplying their own blessings.
Whilst the General Assembly thus declares the rights retained by the State, rights which they never have yielded, and which tho Stale never will voluntarily yield, they do not mean to raise the banner of disaffection, or of separation from their sister States, co-parties with themselves to this compact. They know and value too highly the blessings of their Union, as to foreign nations and questions arising among themselves, to consider every infraction to be met by actual resistance. They respect too affectionately the opinions of those possessing the same rights, under the same instrument, to make every difference of construction a ground of immediate rupture. They would, indeed,consider such a rupture as among the greatest calamities which could befall them; but not the greatest. There is yet One Greater—submission to a Government of Unlimited Powers.