The Articles of Confederation

Start Free Trial

The Constitution was written purposely vague so that it could grow with the country. Therefore, some entity would need to interpret the Constitution, but who? The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and Marbury v. Madison each offered solutions to this question. Explain the purpose of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. Who authored the resolutions? What were the resolutions opposing? Why were the resolutions introduced in those two states? Who did the resolutions say should interpret the Constitution and why? Briefly explain the Marbury v. Madison case. What was the decision? Who wrote it? Who did it say should interpret the Constitution and why? In your opinion, which answer would be better for the future of the republic? Why?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several questions here, all relating to the different visions of the Constitution advanced, or at least implicit, in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the Supreme Court's decision in Marbury v. Madison. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, in response to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts by the Federalist-dominated Congress. Both resolutions asserted that the laws were unconstitutional, and the Kentucky Resolution went so far as to say that states had the power to nullify "all unauthorized [i.e., unconstitutional] acts." This argument was based on a so-called "compact" theory of government that emphasized the power of the states in establishing the federal government via the Constitution.

The Supreme Court's decision in Marbury v. Madison, on the other hand, also established a remedy for unconstitutional laws. Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for the majority, ruled that a portion of the federal Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. In so doing, he asserted the power of judicial review, claiming for the federal courts the power to render unconstitutional laws null and void. Marshall did not comment on the power of the states asserted in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, though a later decision in McCulloch v. Maryland asserted the supremacy of the federal government over state laws. Judicial review offered a different remedy to the problem of checking unconstitutional laws than nullification, the implications of which tended to place sovereignty in the states rather than the federal government.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial