James Madison was a federalist during the ratification debates over the U.S. Consitution but later became a Democratic Republican when our First Party System emerged. Explain his  views on our...

James Madison was a federalist during the ratification debates over the U.S. Consitution but later became a Democratic Republican when our First Party System emerged. Explain his  views on our federalist system of government between 1787 and and the 1790s. Be sure to incorporate a discussion of the Kentucky & Virginia Resolutions and development of "nullification theory." Was "nullification theory" a constitutional approach to unconstitutional laws? 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While it is true that James Madison was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, that fact does not mean that he was opposed to the idea of a strong national government.  Instead, during the time period that you mention, he was opposed to what he saw as the overreaching of the federal government.  He did not think that the federal government should be weak, but he also did not think that it should be allowed to violate the Constitution.  We can see this in the fact that he opposed nullification even though he authored the Virginia Resolution in 1798.

When Madison wrote the Virginia Resolution, he was warning against a federal government that was, in his mind, violating the Constitution.  He believed that the Alien and Sedition Acts violated the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech.  However, he did not believe that the states should be able to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Thomas Jefferson did make that claim in the Kentucky Resolutions, but Madison did not agree.  Instead, Madison believed that the states, along with private citizens, needed to oppose the federal government when the federal government acted illegally.  The states could not ignore the unconstitutional laws, which is what nullification says they can do.  Instead, the states needed to protest against those laws and argue that they were unconstitutional.  The states needed to help persuade the federal government to change the laws, but they could not simply nullify the laws.

I agree with Madison on this point.  In my view, nullification is not constitutional.  The states do not get to decide which federal laws are and are not constitutional.  However, the states should be able to protest vigorously when they believe a law is unconstitutional.  This is what Madison was arguing that they should do when he wrote the Virginia Resolution.

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