Ornamental Separator

Special Event: The Crisis of 1798

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In a democracy, how should citizens disagree with government policy? What is a “loyal opposition”?


In 1798, with partisan battles raging, Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions declared that a state could pronounce federal laws unconstitutional and “nullify” them. As states threatened the federal system and secession loomed, newspapers warned of “Civil War!”


George Washington begged Patrick Henry to return from retirement, oppose these dangerous policies, and save the union. While Henry had been a leading antifederalist, opposing ratification of the Constitution, he insisted that since “we the people” adopted the Constitution, anyone contesting federal policy must seek reform “in a constitutional way.”


Tellingly, within eight days of the adoption of his Virginia Resolutions—which were much milder than Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions—James Madison wrote Jefferson that they had gone too far. Chastised, Jefferson recognized the danger of the era's hyper-partisanship and reconsidered.


Recounted in For the People, For the Country: Patrick Henry’s Final Political Battle, this is the story of how a democracy must work if it is to survive.

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Special Event: The Crisis of 1798

Hennage Auditorium

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