The Constitution in Action - State Challenges to Federal Authority: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

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History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. Students in this simulation, as Republican members of the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures in 1798 and 1799, consider how they will oppose the Alien and Sedition Acts. Constitutionally, can a state legislature “nullify” a federal act if it violates the Constitution? Who is to decide what violates the Constitution? Can a state, acting on the people’s behalf, “interpose” between the federal government and the people? Students will then act as members of other state legislatures and consider how to respond to Kentucky and Virginia. By engaging in this historical moment, students will wrestle with the ongoing tension between the Article VI, Clause 2, of the Constitution, which establishes the federal government as the “supreme Law of the Land,” and the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers “not delegated to the United States” to the states or the people. 

Lesson tags: 
Advanced Placement (AP)
Creative Commons License: 
Attribution Non-commercial ShareAlike CC (BY-NC-SA)