Anti-Federalist


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     Most Americans were very suspicious of government, but the Anti-

Federalist was really mistrustful of the government in general and strong

national government. This mistrust was the basis of their opposition to the

constitution. They feared it had created a government the people could not

control. Many distinguished Americans were Anti-Federalists. Leaders

included George Mason and Elbridge Gerry. Both attended the Philadelphia

Convention but had refused to sign the constitution.


     The Anti-Federalist argued that the Constitution had many flaws.

The thought that it should have been developed in meetings whose

proceedings was open to the public. And it would undermine a republican

form of government. It gave too much power to the national government at

the expense of the powers of state governments. It gave too much power to

the executive branch of the national government at the expense of the other

branches. It gave too much power because of the “necessary and proper

clause.” It did not adequately separate the powers of the executive and

legislative branches. In addition, it allowed the national government to keep

an army during peacetime. And also it did not include a bill of rights.


     They feared that because of these flaws in the Constitution, the new

national government would be a threat to their national rights. They also

thought that the constitution had been developed by an elite and privileged


group to create a national government for the purpose of serving its own

selfish interest. They thought the only safe government that if it had a local

and closely linked with the will of the people. And controlled by the people,

by such means as we have yearly elections and replacing peopled in key

positions often.


     The Federalist knew that many members of Congress and the state

governments were against the new Constitution, largely because it reduced

their powers. So the federalist decided not to ask the Congress or state

governments to approve the Constitution, even though they were expected to

do so.


     Today, now that the Constitution has worked successfully for 200

years, it would be easy to ignore the anti-federalist of 1787 and 1788 as an

unimportant historical force, a collection of no constructive reactionaries

and cranks. Actually, the anti-federalist may well have represented the

views of the majority of the Americans, whose reasons for preferring the old

Articles of Confederation were firmly within the democratic tradition.


     Among the anti-federalist were fiery old patriot leaders who feared

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that centralized power was an invitation to tyranny. Among those who

preferred the Articles was Samuel Adams--still padding like an old cat

around the streets of Boston on the lookout for threats to liberty, still

dressing in the fashions of 1776? Adams opposed the new government until

Massachusetts Federalist, needing his support, agreed to press for a national

bill of rights.

     In Virginia, none other than Patrick Henry battled James Madison

around the state. Some of Henry’s arguments against the Constitution were

foolish. At one point he concluded that the Constitution was an invitation to

the pope to set up his court in the U.S.

     But Henry and other Anti-federalist also argued that free republican

institutions could survive only in small countries such as Switzerland and

ancient Greece, and they had the weight of historical evidence on their side.

When Rome, the greatest republic of them all, grew large, it became

despotic. Would the same thing happen to Rhode Island and Virginia and

Georgia and other small independent states when they were subsumed into a

centralized U.S.?

     Answering this objection to the Constitution was the Federalists’

most difficult task. Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay of New York took it

upon themselves to do so in 85 essays under the name The Federalist Papers

still a basic textbook of political philosophy. they argued that a powerful

U.S. would also guarantee liberty. these ingenious essays, however, were

less important to the triumph of the Federalist than their agreement to add a

bill of rights to their Constitution.


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