Report of 1800
The Report of 1800 was a resolution drafted by
James Madisonarguing for the sovereigntyof the individual states under the United States Constitutionand against the Alien and Sedition Acts. [ The Report is also known as the "Virginia Report of 1800", the "Report of 1799", "Madison's Report" or the "Report on the Alien and Sedition Acts".] Adopted by the Virginia General Assemblyin January 1800, the Report amends arguments from the 1798 Virginia Resolutionsand attempts to resolve contemporary criticisms against the Resolutions. The Report was the last important explication of the Constitution produced before the 1817 Bonus BillVeto Message by Madison, whose later repositioning as an extreme nationalist won him nationalist praise (despite his substantial defeat in the Philadelphia Convention of 1787) as the "Father of the Constitution." [See, e.g., Brant's subtitle "Father of the Constitution."]
The arguments made in the Resolutions and the Report were later used frequently during the
nullification crisisof 1832, when South Carolinadeclared federal tariffs to be unconstitutional and void within the state. Madison rejected the concept of nullification and the notion that his arguments supported such a practice. Whether Madison's theory of Republicanismreally supported the nullification movement, and more broadly whether the ideas he expressed between 1798 and 1800 are consistent with his work before and after this period, are the main questions surrounding the Report in the modern literature.
Madison, a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, was elected to the Democratic-Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly from Orange County in 1799. A major item on his agenda was the defense of the General Assembly's 1798
Virginia Resolutions, of which Madison had been the draftsman. [Madison initially decided to run for office mainly to counteract the strength of prominent Federalist Patrick Henry, who was set to be elected to the House. However, Henry died over the summer, leaving the Democratic-Republicans free to pursue their plans with no substantial opposition. Madison, 303.] The Resolutions, usually discussed together with Thomas Jefferson's contemporaneous Kentucky Resolutions, were a response to various perceived outrages perpetrated by the Federalist-dominated national government. The most significant of these were the Alien and Sedition Acts, four laws that allowed the President to deport aliens at will, required a longer period of residence before aliens could become citizens, and made it a crime to publish malicious or defamatory material against the government or its officials. Democratic-Republicans were outraged by the legislation, and Madison and Jefferson drafted the highly critical Resolutions adopted in response by the Virginiaand Kentuckystate legislatures.
The Virginia Resolutions had in the year since publication received highly critical replies from state legislatures, including those of
New York, Delaware, and the five New Englandstates. [ At the time of the Virginia Resolutions' publication in 1798, there were only five New England states. Mainewas part of Massachusetts until it achieved statehood in 1820.] The reason for the criticism was that the General Assembly, led in the effort by state-sovereignty advocate John Taylor of Caroline, had put a state-sovereignty spin on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 despite Madison's hopes. These replies contended that the Supreme Court of the United Stateshad the ultimate responsibility for deciding whether federal laws were constitutional, and that the Alien and Sedition Acts were constitutional and necessary. [Madison, 303.] The Federalists accused the Democratic-Republicans of seeking disunion, even contemplating violence. [Koch and Ammon, 163.] At the time, leading Virginia Democratic-Republican figures such as Rep. William Branch Giles (in public) and Taylor (in private) actually were contemplating disunion, and the Virginia General Assembly chose this juncture for finally constructing a new state armory in Richmond, so there was some truth to the charge.
Jefferson, the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party and then–Vice President, wrote to Madison in August 1799 outlining a campaign to strengthen public support for the principles expressed in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (commonly referred to as "the principles of '98"):In response to this letter, Madison visited Jefferson at
Monticelloduring the first week of September. [Madison, 304.] Their discussion was important in that it persuaded Jefferson to depart from his radical stance on dissociation from the Union, which is expressed at the end of the excerpt above. At the very least, Virginia or Kentucky taking such a stance publicly would have justified the Federalist attacks against the secessionist tendencies of the Democratic-Republicans. Madison won over Jefferson, who shortly thereafter wrote to Wilson Cary Nicholasthat: "From this position I retreat readily, not only in deference to Madison's judgment but because as we should never think of separation but for repeated and enormous violations, so these, when they occur, will be cause enough of themselves." [Letter from Jefferson to W.C. Nicholas of September 5, 1799, quoted in Brant, 467.] Adrienne Koch and Harry Ammon, examining Jefferson's later writing, conclude that Madison had a significant role "in softening Jefferson's more extreme views." [Koch and Ammon, 167.]
Jefferson hoped for further involvement with the production of the Report and planned to visit Madison at Montpelier on his way to
Philadelphia, the national capital, for the winter session of the United States Congress. However, James Monroe, who would become Governor of Virginia before the end of the year, visited Jefferson at Monticello and cautioned him against meeting with Madison, since another meeting between two of the most important Democratic-Republican leaders would provoke significant public comment. [Koch and Ammon, 169–170.] The task of writing the Virginia Report was left solely to Madison. Jefferson underlined the importance of this work in a November 26 letter to Madison in which he identified "protestations against violations of the true principles of our constitution" as one of the four primary elements of the Democratic-Republican Party plan. [Letter from Jefferson to Madison of November 26, 1799, quoted in Koch and Ammon, 170.]
Production and passage
The Assembly session began in early December. Once at Richmond, Madison began drafting the Report, [Madison, 303.] though he was delayed by a weeklong battle with dysentery. [Brant, 467.] On December 23, Madison moved for the creation of a special seven-member committee with himself as chairman to respond to "certain answers from several of the states, relative to the communications made by the Virginia legislature at their last session." The committee members were Madison, John Taylor,
William Branch Giles, George Keith Taylor, John Wise, John Mercer, and William Daniel. [Madison, 296, 304.] The next day, Christmas Eve, the committee produced a first version of the Report. [Neither this version nor any of Madison's drafts survive.] The measure came before the House of Delegates, the lower house of the General Assembly, on January 2.
Though certain to pass due to the Democratic-Republican majority, which had recently been solidified by the election of a Democratic-Republican clerk and speaker of the House, the Report was debated for five days. The main point of contention was the meaning of the third of the Virginia Resolutions:This resolution had been the principal target of the Federalist attack on the Resolutions. [Gutzman, 582.] Particularly at issue was the sense in which the states were parties to the federal compact. The Report was ultimately amended to provide greater clarity on this issue by emphasizing that it was the people themselves, acting through the states in their sovereign capacity, who were parties to the Constitution. The amended Report passed the House of Delegates on January 7 by a margin of 60 to 40. At some point in the next two weeks, it passed the Senate by a margin of 15 to 6. [Madison, 305.]
The Report was received warmly by Virginia Democratic-Republicans. The General Assembly arranged for five thousand copies to be printed and distributed in the state, but there was not much public response to the Report, and it appears to have had relatively little impact on the presidential election of 1800 (which was, nevertheless, a major victory for the Democratic-Republicans and a repudiation of Federalist policies). Parties outside Virginia seemed uninterested in the rehashing of the 1798 Resolutions, and in other states there was very little public comment. Jefferson eagerly sought copies for distribution to Democratic-Republican members of Congress departing for their home states, and when they failed to arrive he entreated Monroe for at least one copy that he could reproduce. Despite Jefferson's approval of and attempt to distribute Madison's work, the national reaction was tepid. [Koch and Ammon, 171; Madison, 306.] Though it had little impact on the immediate election, Madison's Report clarified the legal argument against the Acts and for
states' rightsin general, particularly in its advancement of the Tenth Amendment rather than the Ninth as the main bulwark against federal encroachment on state autonomy. [Lash, 183–184.]
The general purpose of the Report was the affirmation and expansion of the principles expressed in the
Virginia Resolutions. The first major goal of the Resolutions was to bring about the repeal of the Alien and Sedition Acts by generating public opposition that would be expressed through the state legislatures. Madison sought to accomplish this by demonstrating conclusively that the Acts violated the constitution. Laying into the Acts in his Report, Madison described many breaches of constitutional limits. The Alien Act granted the President the unenumerated power of deporting friendly aliens. [The Democratic-Republicans did not oppose the Alien Enemies Act, which permitted the deportation of enemy aliens, and is still in force.] Contrary to the Sedition Act, the federal government had no power to protect officials from dissent or libelous attack, beyond the protection it accorded to every citizen; indeed, such special intervention against the press was "expressly forbidden by a declaratory amendment to the constitution." [Madison, 341.] As well, Madison attacked Federalist carriage laws and bank laws as unconstitutional.
To remedy the defects revealed by the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Madison called for citizens to have an absolute right to free speech. Madison writes that the ability to prosecute speech amounts to "a protection of those who administer the government, if they should at any time deserve the contempt or hatred of the people, against being exposed to it." [Madison, 344.]
Freedom of the presswas necessary, because "chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted to the press for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression." [Madison, 338.] The Report supported a strict interpretation of the First Amendment. While the Federalists interpreted the amendment as limiting the power of Congress over the press, but implying that such power existed, Madison argued that the First Amendment wholly prohibited Congress from any interference with the press.
More generally, the Report made the argument in favor of the sovereignty of the individual states, for which it is best known. The basic message was that the states were the ultimate parties constituting the federal compact, and that therefore the individual states were ultimate arbiters of whether the compact had been broken by the usurpation of power. This doctrine is known as the
compact theory. It was the presence of this argument in the Resolutions that had allowed the Federalists to paint the Democratic-Republicans as leaning toward secession; in the amended Report the line is moderated, with an emphasis that it is the states as political societies of the people (and therefore, one reads in, not the state legislatures alone) which possess this power. Either formulation would help the Democratic-Republican cause by refuting the finality of any constitutional interpretation advanced by the Congress and federal judiciary, both of which were dominated by Federalists.
In defense of Virginia Democratic-Republicans and the Resolutions, Madison emphasized that even if one disagreed with the compact theory, the Virginia Resolutions and the Report of 1800 themselves were simply protests, which states were surely entitled to produce. They were "expressions of opinion, unaccompanied with any other effect than what they may produce on opinion by exciting reflection." [Madison, 348. It is worth noting that at this period Americans still followed a British understanding in which laws could be "unconstitutional" without being illegal. Virginia's declaration that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional did not necessarily signify a belief that the Acts were without effect.] By eschewing direct action in favor of influencing popular opinion, Madison tried to make clear that the Democratic-Republicans were not moving toward disunion.
The Report was regarded in the early 19th century as among the more important expressions of Democratic-Republican principles.
Spencer Roanedescribed it as "the " Magna Charta" on which the republicans settled down, after the great struggle in the year 1799." [Powell, 695.] Henry Claysaid on the floor of the House of Representatives that it was from the Report of 1800, above other documents, that he had developed his own theories on constitutional interpretation. [Powell, 696.] H. Jefferson Powell, a modern jurist, identifies three persistent themes of Democratic-Republican constitutionalism which emerged from the Resolutions and the Report: (1) a textual approach to the Constitution, (2) the compact theory, and (3) that caution, not trust, should characterize our approach to those who hold political power. [Powell, 705–706.]
In more recent years, the main practical interest in the Report has been its absolutist understanding of the First Amendment. Multiple Supreme Court decisions have cited the case as evidence of the Framers' ideas on free speech. In the 1957 "
Roth v. United States" opinion by William Brennan, Madison's Report is cited as evidence that "the fundamental freedoms of speech and press have contributed greatly to the development and well-being of our free society and are indispensable to its continued growth." ["Roth v. United States", 354 U.S. 476 (1957).] Other cases to cite the Report for a similar purpose include " Thornhill v. Alabama" (1940) ["Thornhill v. Alabama", 310 U.S. 88 (1940).] and " Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC" (2000). ["Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC", 528 U.S. 377 (2000).]
In modern scholarship outside the legal arena the Report is mostly studied for its discussion of states' rights with regard to
federalismand republicanism. According to Kevin Gutzman, the Report, together with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, forms a foundation for the "radical southern states' rights tradition." [Gutzman, 571.] However, Madison rebuffed charges that his writings supported the constitutional interpretation advanced by pro- nullificationSoutherners. The Report of 1800, Madison argued, did not say the government was a compact of the individual states, as the pro-nullification elements suggested. Rather the Report of 1800 described a compact of "the people in each of the States, acting in their highest sovereign capacity." [Gibson, 319. The quote is from Drew McCoy, "The Last of the Fathers: James Madison & the Republican Legacy" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 134.] The state governments themselves, no less than the federal judiciary, possess only delegated power and therefore cannot decide questions of fundamental importance. Madison thought the Resolutions and Report were consistent with this principle while the Ordinance of Nullificationwas not. [Yarbrough, 42–43.]
Gutzman rejects Madison's gloss of the Report as a "specious distinction," saying it is reasonable to read into the Resolutions and the Report an "ominous challenge to federal supremacy." [Gutzman, 589, 580.] He bases this argument on the reference in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 to the states' responsibility to prevent enforcement of unconstitutional and dangerous federal policies within their respective borders; clearly, the use of the word "respective" implies that each state is responsible for itself -- just as other Republicans of 1798 such as William Branch Giles, John Taylor of Caroline, and Jefferson himself thought. Drew McCoy, however, has argued that Madison indeed developed a moderate stance which stood between the nationalists and the pro-nullification camp. [McCoy, cf. Gibson 320.] McCoy bases this argument on Madison's hair-splitting in the Nullification epoch, however, and not on reference to 1798-1800 itself. Koch and Ammon agree, stating that "Nowhere in American political literature does there exist a more careful, precise and mature reiteration of the principles of republican self-government; and nowhere is it clearer that the intermediate existence of state governments between the people and the 'General Government' should function to prevent a totalitarian imbalance in any one center of authority." [Koch and Ammon, 173.] Note, however, that Koch and Ammon's article is immediately preceded in the William and Mary Quarterly by an editor's note explaining that the purpose of their article was to give President Harry Truman's anti-states'-rights argument respectable scholarly cover in the 1948 presidential campaign; this explains why, as Gutzman showed in Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840, Koch and Ammon almost completely ignore the record of the General Assembly debates on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798; those debates vividly demonstrate that Koch and Ammon are in error, as is their follower Drew McCoy, in distinguishing between the Virginia and the Kentucky Resolutions.
* Brant, Irving. "James Madison: Father of the Constitution, 1787–1800". Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1950. See especially pp. 466–471, which covers the period examined here; the book is the third volume of six in Brant's biography of Madison, which is the most detailed scholarly biography thus far published.
* Gibson, Alan. "The Madisonian Madison and the Question of Consistency: The Significance and Challenge of Recent Research." "Review of Politics" 64 (2002): 311–338.
* Gutzman, Kevin R. "A Troublesome Legacy: James Madison and 'The Principles of '98'." "Journal of the Early Republic" 15 (1995): 569–589.
* Gutzman, K [evin] R. Constantine. "The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions Reconsidered: 'An Appeal to the "Real Laws" of Our Country'." "Journal of Southern History" 66 (2000): 473-496. Doi|10.2307/2587865
* Gutzman, Kevin R. C., "Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840". Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2007.
* Koch, Adrienne and Harry Ammon. "The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions: An Episode in Jefferson's and Madison's Defense of Civil Liberties." "William and Mary Quarterly", 3rd series, 5 (1948): 145–176.
* Lash, Kurt T. "James Madison's Celebrated Report of 1800: The Transformation of the Tenth Amendment." "George Washington Law Review" 74 (2006): 165–200.
* Madison, James. "The Papers of James Madison". Vol. 17: March 1797 through March 1801. Edited by David B. Mattern. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991. The Report appears in pp. 303–351. The editorial note on pp. 303–306 is used heavily in this article.
* McCoy, Drew. "The Last of the Fathers: James Madison & the Republican Legacy". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
* "Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC", [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=528&invol=377 528 U.S. 377] (2000).
* Powell, H. Jefferson. "The Principles of '98: An Essay in Historical Retrieval." "Virginia Law Review" 80 (1994): 689–743.
* "Roth v. United States", [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=354&invol=476 354 U.S. 476] (1957).
* "Thornhill v. State of Alabama", [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=310&invol=88 310 U.S. 88] (1940).
* Yarbrough, Jean. "Rethinking 'The Federalist's View of Federalism'." "Publius" 15 (1985): 31–53.
* [http://www.constitution.org/rf/vr_1799.htm Complete Text]
* [http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s42.html Excerpts of the Report]
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