Declaration and Protest on Violations of the Principles of the Constitution

Jefferson Concerning the 1st Amendment (Click to enlarge(

Jefferson Concerning the 1st Amendment Wall of Separation (Click to enlarge)


This paper was entitled by Jefferson, “The Solemn Declaration and Protest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, on the Principles of the Constitution of the United States of America, and on the violations of them “. Jefferson sent it to Madison in December. 1825, with an explanatory letter (vii, 422. FORD ED., in which he said: “It may intimidate the wavering. It may break the western coalition, by offering the same thing in a different form. It will be viewed with favor in contrast with the Georgia opposition, and fear of strengthening that. It will be an example of a temperate mode of opposition in future and similar cases.”—Editor.

We, the General Assembly of Virginia, on behalf, and in the name of the people thereof, do declare as follows:

The States of North America which confederated to establish their independence of 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 form 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 and 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 State, foreign herein, each to the others, as they were before the original compact.

Thomas Jefferson Concerning (Click to enlarge)

Thomas Jefferson Concerning the 1st Amendment and General [Federal] Government (Click to enlarge)

To this construction of government and distribution of its powers, the Commonwealth of Virginia does religiously and affectionately adhere, opposing, with equal fidelity and firmness, the usurpation of either set of functionaries of 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 the 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 were, 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 department, 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 States, rights which they have never yielded, and which this State will never voluntarily yield, they do not mean to raise the banner of dissatisfaction, 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 as 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. It is only when the hope of avoiding this shall have become absolutely desperate, that further forbearance could not be indulged. Should a majority of the co-parties, therefore, contrary to the expectation and hope of this Assembly, prefer, at this time, acquiescence in these assumptions of power by the Federal member of the government, we will be patient and suffer much, under the confidence that time, ere it be too late, will prove to them also the bitter consequences in which that usurpation will involve us all. In the meanwhile, we will breast with them, rather than separate from them, every misfortune, save that only of living under a government of unlimited powers. We owe every other sacrifice to ourselves, to our federal brethren, and to the world at large, to pursue with temper and with perseverance the great experiment which shall prove that man is capable of living in society, governing itself by laws self-imposed, and securing to its members the enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and peace; and further to show, that even when the government of its choice shall manifest a tendency to degeneracy, we are not at once to despair but that the will and the watchfulness of its sounder parts will reform its aberrations, recall it to original and legitimate principles, and restrain it within the rightful limits of self-government. And these are the objects of this Declaration and Protest.

Supposing, then, that it might be for the good of the whole, as some of its co-States seem to think, that the power of making roads and canals should be added to those directly given to the Federal branch, as more likely to be systematically and beneficially directed, than by the independent action of the several States, this Commonwealth, from respect to these opinions, and a desire of conciliation with its co-States, will consent, in concurrence with them, to make this addition, provided it be done regularly by an amendment of the compact, in the way established by that instrument, and provided also, it be sufficiently guarded against abuses, compromises, and corrupt practices, not only of possible, but of probable occurrence.

And as a further pledge of the sincere and cordial attachment of this Commonwealth to the Union of the whole, so far as has been consented to by the compact called “The Constitution of the United States of America” (constructed according to the plain and ordinary meaning of its language, to the common intendment of the time, and of those who framed it); to give also to all parties and authorities, time for reflection and consideration, whether, under a temperate view of the possible consequences, and especially of the constant obstructions which an equivocal majority must ever expect to meet, they will still prefer the assumption of this power rather than its acceptance from the free will of their constituents; and to preserve peace in the meanwhile, we proceed to make it the duty of our citizens, until the Legislature shall otherwise and ultimately decide, to acquiesce under those acts of the Federal branch of our government which we have declared to be usurpations, and against which, in point of right, we do protest as null and void, and never to be quoted as precedents of right.

Thomas Jefferson on Foreseeing Abuses by Government (Click to enlarge)

Thomas Jefferson on Foreseeing Abuses by Government (Click to enlarge)

We, therefore, do enact, and Be It Enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia, That all citizens of this Commonwealth, and persons and authorities within the same, shall pay full obedience at all times to the acts which may be passed by the Congress of the United States, the object of which shall be the construction of post roads, making canals of navigation, and maintaining the same in any part of the United States, in like manner as if said acts were totidem verbis, passed by the Legislature of this Commonwealth.—ix, 496. Ford ed., X, 349. (Dec. 34, 1825)

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One thought on “Declaration and Protest on Violations of the Principles of the Constitution

  1. Pingback: James Madison Amendments to the Constitution 1789 | The Patriot Brotherhood From Sea to Shining Sea

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