William J. Watkins, Jr.
May 13, 2013
Excerpted from an article which appeared in the Winter 1999 issue of The Independent Review
Working in complete secrecy, Jefferson drafted the Kentucky resolution of 1798 between 21 July and 26 October 1798. His original plan was for W. C. Nicholas to introduce the Resolves in North Carolina, but because of political setbacks there, Nicholas instead gave the Resolves to John Breckinridge for introduction in Kentucky. As an independent-minded frontier state, Kentucky was the perfect forum for Jefferson’s resolution. Across the state, without much prompting, citizens gathered to protest the Alien and Sedition Acts. In Lexington, five thousand people — a crowd three times the town’s population — assembled. On 7 November 1798, Governor James Gerrard announced the need for “a protest against all unconstitutional laws of Congress” (Koch and Ammon 1948, 156.) A committee led by John Breckinridge was appointed, and the Kentucky resolution was quickly introduced. On 10 November 1798 the Resolves, with modifications, passed the house with only three dissenting votes; three days later the Senate concurred.
The Resolves began with the Tenth Amendment, which Jefferson described in 1791 as “the foundation of the Constitution” (1943, 342). The states were not “united on the principles of unlimited submission to their General Government”; they had delegated only certain definite powers (Virginia Commission 1964, 143). Thus, “whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force” (143).