States' Rights Apogee, 1760-1840

Ryan M. Setliff, Liberty University

Document Type Article


America's states' rights tradition has held much influence since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. In late 1798, in response to the Federalist administration's adoption of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were formally adopted by the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky respectively. These resolutions set a lasting precedent for state interposition and nullification. As well concurrence with these doctrines can be found in the Virginia Resolves of 1790, the constitutional debates of 1787-1790, and all throughout the colonial-revolutionary period of the 1760s to 1780s. In time, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions would gain stature and would define the American political culture of the nineteenth century. They became known as the Principles of 1798. The Tariff Crisis of 1828-1832 in South Carolina may be contextualized in light of the Principles of 1798. This inquiry endeavors to answer why those principles are integral to the American constitutional tradition. The continuity of the 1798 resolves with colonial-revolutionary practice reveals them as neither rash nor innovative, but in accord with the localism innate to American political tradition.