Mandeville, LA – [Editor’s note: This was originally published on Oct 3, 2018. The following is taken from the famous Virginia Report of 1800-1801 that provided a summery of Virginia’s 1798 attempt at a “nullification” of the Alien & Sedition Acts. For further history of this VITAL federal principle and the controversy surrounding it’s now, much needed use, see: Reassessing Responses to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. New Evidence from the Tennessee and Georgia Resolutions and from Other States -by WENDELL BIRD. – Ed. MC]
The distinction between alien enemies and alien friends, is a clear and conclusive answer to this argument. Alien enemies are under the law of nations, and liable to be punished for offences against it. Alien friends, except in the single case of public ministers, are under the municipal law, and must be tried and punished according to that law only.
This argument also, by referring the alien-act to the power of Congress to define and punish offences against the law of nations, yields the point that the act is of a penal, not merely of a preventive operation. It must, in truth, be so considered. And if it be a penal act, the punishment it inflicts, must be justified by some offence that deserves it.
Offences for which aliens, within the jurisdiction of a country, are punishable, are first, offences committed by the nation of which they make a part, and in whose offences they are involved: Secondly, offences committed by themselves alone, without any charge against the nation to which they belong. The first is the case of alien enemies; the second, the case of alien friends. In the first case, the offending nation can no otherwise be punished than by war, one of the laws of which authorizes the expulsion of such of its members, as may be found within the country, against which the offence has been committed. In the second case, the offence being committed by the individual, not by his nation, and against the municipal law, not against the law of nations, the individual only, and not the nation, is punishable; and the punishment must be conducted according to the municipal law, not according to the law of nations. Under this view of the subject, the act of Congress, for the removal of alien enemies, being conformable to the law of nations, is justified by the Constitution: and the “act,” for the removal of alien friends, being repugnant to the constitutional principles of municipal law, is unjustifiable.
Nor is the act of Congress, for the removal of alien friends, more agreeable to the general practice of nations, than it is within the purview of the law of nations. The general practice of nations, distinguishes between alien friends and alien enemies. The latter it has proceeded against, according to the law of nations, by expelling them as enemies. The former it has considered as under a local and temporary allegiance, and entitled to a correspondent protection. If contrary instances are to be found in barbarous countries, under undefined prerogatives, or amid revolutionary dangers, they will not be deemed fit precedents for the government of the United States, even if not beyond its constitutional authority. – James Madison, the Virginia Report of 1799-1800