During the administration of George Washington world events began to unfold which would dominate the political landscape in America during the administration of his successor; John Adams. After the French Revolution a series of military conflicts ensued as France attempted to fortify and expand its control across the globe. At the same time, with the overthrow of Louis XVI the U.S. declared that its debt to France was null and void, enraging the new French Monarchy. At the same time, the U.S. and Great Britain had come to a trade agreement outlined by the Jay Treaty; further enraging our former allies, the French due to the fact that Great Britain and France were at war with each other.
These events led the French to begin attacking U.S. shipping vessels. Using privateers, (privately owned ships hired under, or working under authority of the government) U.S. merchant ships began being targeted. In 1797 the Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering, told the members of Congress that over the past year 316 U.S. ships had been targeted by these French Privateers.
A Quasi War between France and the U.S. began when France demanded a bribe of £ 50,000 to French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand before the U.S. and France could even begin negotiations to calm the rising hostilities. This event, known as the XYZ Affair, led to an undeclared state of war, (conducted primarily at sea) between France and the U.S.
During this time frame the U.S. had established the Department of the Navy and the United States Marine Corps to be used to defend both the U.S. and her shipping interests. It was during this time that Congress authorized the President to acquire and outfit not more than 12 ships, with up to 20 guns each, to serve those purposes. Then, on July 7, 1798, Congress rescinded all treaties with France and two days later gave its authorization for the newly established Navy to attack French warships in U.S. waters.
As is the case every time a nation goes to war, there were those among the people who supported their country, and those who opposed it. Of course there were also those within government who urged that the U.S. up the ante, so to speak, and declare all out war with France. Most of these War Hawks were among those belonging to the same party as the President, John Adams; and they included the head of the Federalist Party, Alexander Hamilton – who had always shown a strong affinity with the British – especially their banking houses.
As arrogant and pig-headed as John Adams could be, he did an admirable job of keeping the U.S. out of an all out war with France; especially when many in Congress and the public were calling for such a war. Yet Adams did do one thing which will forever condemn him in my view as a president who sought to exercise unlawful, and possibly even, tyrannical powers – he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were 4 acts passed by Congress in response to the hostilities between the U.S. and France. These 4 acts were: the Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act, the Naturalization Act, and the Sedition Act.
The Alien Friends Act gave the President the authority to imprison or deport aliens who may pose a threat to the U.S.; the Alien Enemies Act was similar but it confined itself to any male citizen above the age of 14 who was a citizen of the country America was at war with. The Naturalization Act was passed because they claimed it would provide for national security by raising the time requirement to become naturalized from 5 to 14 years; but in reality it was designed to decrease the number of immigrants into America who might oppose the policies of the Federalist Party.
But it was the Sedition Act that sticks in my craw, and apparently it also was of concern to Thomas Jefferson as well. The Sedition Act allowed for people to be charged with a crime for speaking out against the government; including both private citizens and the press.
You have to look at these events from the perspective of one who was alive at the time they occurred if you are to truly understand the implications of them. If you look at them from a 21st Century perspective, you will not be able to see how significant they were.
At that time of our country’s history there was still a strong sentiment towards State sovereignty; or what we might call State’s Rights today. Therefore, any attempt by the federal government to exceed its lawful powers, or infringe upon the authority and rights of a State, were opposed by many who still clung to and defended the principles our Republic was founded upon.
Thomas Jefferson was among those who still adhered to these beliefs, and as Vice President of the United States he found himself in opposition to the things being done by the President. This led Jefferson to secretly write the Kentucky Resolutions in opposition to the signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts by President Adams.
To understand the significance of this, imagine if Vice President Mike Pence were to anonymously write a series of articles or essays in opposition to the policies of President Trump. Imagine the scandal that would ensue should it be discovered that the Vice President was openly opposing the policies of the President. As young as our country was at the time, this was unheard of; unprecedented – yet not only did Jefferson do it, he also urged James Madison to do the same for the State of Virginia. The ensuing documents are today known as the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
In his initial draft of the Kentucky Resolutions Jefferson wrote, “Resolved, That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government . . . . and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force. . . . that the government created by this compact [the Constitution for the United States] was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; . . . . that this would be to surrender the form of government we have chosen, and live under one deriving its powers from its own will, and not from our authority.”
There is a lot of information to be gleaned from that if you would just read it, re-read it, and then read it again; each time asking, “What exactly was Jefferson saying here.”
One of the key points comes when Jefferson uses the word ‘their’ to describe the general government; meaning the government was a government that represented the States, not the general public. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why the Senate is called the Upper House of Congress while the House of Representatives is called the Lower House? That is due to the fact that as representatives of the States, the Senate was the body that spoke for those whose authority the Constitution was both written and ratified under.
Although the Preamble may say we the people, that is misleading and inaccurate. The document may have been ratified by the decisions made by the people, but they were acting under the authority given them by their State Legislatures; meaning they were State representatives charged with deciding whether or not the system of government outlined in the Constitution would pose a threat to the States themselves.
That is why it is so vitally important that one understand the primary difference between a federal and a national form of government. A federal government can only affect the States as political entities, while a national government affects the people directly.
The people of America already had national governments in the form of their State Legislatures. The State governments, it was promised, would be the ones who had the authority to enact laws that affected the lives and liberties of the people, and the internal order (policing power), improvement and prosperity of the State. At least that’s what James Madison promised in Federalist 45.
In the same document Madison states that the federal authority would touch upon external objects; meaning they would not apply internally to the affairs of the States. Among those external powers were, war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce. Not to mention that after the Constitution was ratified and implemented a Bill of Rights was included that protected certain rights against violation or intrusion by the government established by said Constitution. Among those rights are freedom of speech and freedom of the press. (The 1st Amendment)
That is why the Sedition Acts were so egregious to men like Jefferson; for they violated the fundamental principle that a people should be free to openly criticize that actions of those who represented them in government. Now libel and slander are two different things which are not protected by the 1st Amendment, but for a people to criticize their government to be made a crime is to totally neuter the 1rst Amendment – and it wasn’t the first time this would be done – Abraham Lincoln would do it as well during the Civil War.
Getting back to my original point, if the people already had a national government of their own; one which was given the authority to enact laws that concerned their lives and liberty, then that must mean that the authority of the federal government was to act upon the States in their independent and individual capacity. Therefore, what Jefferson was basically saying was that the States, as authors of and those to whom the federal authority applied, could decide that the acts of their representatives were null and void when they exceeded the specific powers delegated to government, or posed a threat to the rights of a State.
That is also why the Senate was called the Upper House; for as the voice of the States it was the one to whom the power was given to ensure that the federal government did not encroach upon the rights of the individual States. On the other hand, as the people were to be the ones to whom the taxing power most directly affected, they were given control over the ‘purse strings’ via their representatives in the House.
This balance between the voice of the people and the voice of the States was crucial to maintaining our system in its truly federal form. But once the influence of party entered into the picture people began aligning themselves with one party or the other, and the concern for the limits imposed upon the government by the Constitution began to wane; and to eventually vanish altogether.
This influence of party is not limited to the federal government either; it affects State politics as well. So even if we were to restore the federal government to one that spoke for the people and the States, (not the special interests) we would still be plagued by the same division along left and right due to the fact that partisan corruption has permeated American politics down to the minutest levels.
And that’s why I have to laugh when people throw their support behind this candidate or that; not knowing the true extent of the cancer that has invaded the American political system; and the corruption of principles that has eaten away at our beliefs and values.
I look at our system like I would a house that has caught fire. There is a small window of opportunity when a fire breaks out to save the house and the things inside it. However, once the fire reaches a certain stage the only thing that can be done is to let the house burn to the ground and protect the neighboring houses.
Our system of government is the same; in theory anyway. We had a chance, at one time, to save it, but we blew it; let it slip through our fingers, and now our only option is to let the whole thing burn to the ground; where we can, (if the people have the sense and the courage) rebuild it upon principles that will better secure their rights and their liberty than the one our Founders established in 1789.
I fully realize that I am not going to reach the overwhelming majority of people in this country; they are too brainwashed, too indoctrinated for my writings to have any effect on their thinking. I am writing for those in whom the spirit of liberty still burns brightly, for a remnant who might one day be called upon to rise up and restore liberty to this so-called land of the free and home of the brave. For one thing is absolutely certain in my mind – America no longer is the land of the free and the home of the brave – not so long as people do not know, or care, about defending the very freedoms our government was established to safeguard and protect.