Amendment I (Speech and Press)

Document 17

John Marshall to a Freeholder

20 Sept. 1798Life 2:577

5th. I am not an advocate for the alien and sedition bills; had I been in Congress when they passed, I should, unless my judgment could have been changed, certainly have opposed them. Yet, I do not think them fraught with all those mischiefs which many gentlemen ascribe to them. I should have opposed them because I think them useless; and because they are calculated to create unnecessary discontents and jealousies at a time when our very existence, as a nation, may depend on our union--

I believe that these laws, had they been opposed on these principles by a man, not suspected of intending to destroy the government, or being hostile to it, would never have been enacted. With respect to their repeal, the effort will be made before I can become a member of Congress.

If it succeeds there will be an end of the busines--if it fails, I shall on the question of renewing the effort, should I be chosen to represent the district, obey the voice of my constituents. My own private opinion is, that it will be unwise to renew it for this reason: the laws will expire of themselves, if I recollect rightly the time for which they are enacted, during the term of the ensuing Congress. I shall indisputably oppose their revival; and I believe that opposition will be more successful, if men's minds are not too much irritated by the struggle about a repeal of laws which will, at the time, be expiring of themselves.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment I (Speech and Press), Document 17
The University of Chicago Press

Beveridge, Albert J. The Life of John Marshall. 4 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916--19.

Easy to print version.