The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions-Origin of the States’ Rights Argument

In 1789 the Federalists dominated Congress passed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, leading to a conflict between the states and the federal government during the early days of the republic. Aimed at silencing the opposition press and weakening the opposing Democratic-Republican Party, they represent the nation’s first constitutional crisis. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson responded with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. Written to challenge the constitutionality of the Acts, the resolutions set a precedent for the later state’s rights position.


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This writing assignment will require students to compare and contrast the two Primary Source documents which are linked below.

Read the following documents. Each of the documents is directly linked below and is also posted on the assignment page. They can also be found at The Avalon Project site (
Compare and contrast the two documents. Identify similarities and differences between Jefferson’s and Madison’s arguments.

The Virginia Resolution (

The Kentucky Resolution 1798 Draft (

The Kentucky Resolution (

As you read each Resolution you should consider the following questions and identify the relevant information that answers each one. These questions should be used to analyze and discuss the documents. Students should read both documents pertaining to the Kentucky Resolution but must base their discussion on the DRAFT version since it presents all of Jefferson’s arguments. All arguments must be supported by evidence from each of the documents.


Write a well-organized essay, a minimum of 700 words (but not limited to), including supporting details from the documents/textbook/other sources, in which you analyze and discuss the material that has been assigned by addressing the following question:

Discuss what Madison and Jefferson are addressing when they refer to the “compact” in the Resolutions, identifying how each one describes the relationship of the states to the federal government and constitutionally support their argument, and if, in your opinion, their arguments defend the Constitution or challenge it.

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