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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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Page 986


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.

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


Page 987
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.

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. 24, 1825.)


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., x, 348) 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