Saturday, August 7, 2010

pp. 33-34 A New Birth of Freedom, Jaffa

What are the outcomes of the Alien and Sedition Acts? What must we not "read back into" these outcomes?

Relevant Passage: These acts were followed by the resolutions of the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures in November and December of the same year, and a further resolution adopted in Kentucky in February 1799. These protests presented the already familiar argument about strict construction as a constitutional requirement of the Tenth Amendment. They also introduced, as a necessary inference from the doctrine of strict construction, a theory of civil liberty as the ground of the legitimacy of the political process. If we understand the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions as Jefferson and Madison understood them at the time, the defense of state rights and the defense of civil liberty formed part of a single argument. Looked at in the light of nearly two centuries, however, they stand at the headwaters of two divergent trends in American political and constitutional history. The defense of state rights against "numerical majoritarianism" and the "tyranny of the majority" became in time a defense of slavery and, after that, of Jim Crow. Paradoxical as it may be, in its association with "state rights," the argument against "tyranny" became the argument for "despotism," notwithstanding the fact that these two words at bottom mean the same thing. For Jefferson and Madison, however, the rights of the states, as of all legitimate civil societies, were grounded in the natural rights of individuals, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and the bills of rights of the states. The rights of the states and the condemnation of slavery were part of the same doctrine. To understand the election of 1800, we must not read back into it the opposition between state rights and civil liberties that may be said to have begun (as Lincoln saw it) in the nullification crisis of 1828 to 1833.

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