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The Anti-Federalists Arguments
The Anti-Federalists found many problems in the Constitution. They argued that the document would
give the country an entirely new and untested form of government. They saw no sense in throwing out
the existing government. Instead, they believed that the Federalists had over-stated the current problems
of the country.
In making their arguments, the Anti-Federalists often relied on the rhetoric of the Revolutionary War
era, which stressed the virtues of local rule and associated centralized power with a tyrannical monarch.
Thus, the Anti-Federalists frequently claimed that the Constitution represented a step away from the
democratic goals of the American Revolution and toward the twin evils of monarchy and rich and
privileged class. The Anti-Federalists feared that the Constitution gave the president too much power
and that the proposed Congress would be too privileged in nature, with too few representatives for too
many people. They also criticized the Constitution for its lack of a BILL OF RIGHTS of the kind that
had been passed in England in 1689 to establish and guarantee certain rights of Parliament and of the
English people against the king. Moreover, the Anti-Federalists argued that the Constitution would spell
an end to all forms of self-rule in the states.
THOMAS JEFFERSON felt that the virtues of democratic freedom were best nurtured in a free
farming, society, and that with increasing urbanization, commercialization, and centralization of power
would come a decline in political society and eventual tyranny. The Anti-Federalists also shared the
feeling that so large a country as the United States could not possibly be controlled by one national
government. One Pennsylvania Anti-Federalist, who signed his articles "Centinel," declared,
“a very extensive country cannot be governed on democratic principles, on any other plan than a
confederation of a number of small republics, possessing all the powers of internal government, but
united in the management of their foreign and general concerns”.
Although the Anti-Federalists were united in their opposition to the Constitution, they did not agree on
what form of government made the best alternative to it. Some still believed that the Articles of
Confederation could be amended in such a way that they would provide a workable confederation. Some
wanted the Union to break up and re-form into three or four different confederacies. Others were even
ready to accept the Constitution if it were amended in such a way that the rights of citizens and states
would be more fully protected.
They believed that the greatest threat to the future of the United States lay in the government's potential
to become corrupt and seize more and more power until its tyrannical rule completely dominated the
people. Constitution threatened to lead the United States down an all-too-familiar road of political
CORRUPTION. All three branches of the new central government threatened Antifederalists'
traditional belief in the importance of restraining government power
Federalists and Anti-Federalists
The creation of the Constitution entailed hours of debate and compromise, and even when it was
completed, some delegates were unhappy with it. The task of fixing the ailing Confederate government
was not complete yet; each state had to ratify, or approve, the Constitution. Basically, people divided
into two groups, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Each of their viewpoints is worth examining,
as they both have sound reasoning.
The Anti-Federalists did not want to ratify the Constitution. Basically, they argue that:
It gave too much power to the national government at the expense of the state governments.
There was no bill of rights.
The national government could maintain an army in peacetime.
Congress, because of the `necessary and proper clause,' wielded too much power.
The executive branch held too much power.
Of these complaints, the lack of a bill of rights was the most effective. The American people had just
fought a war to defend their rights, and they did not want a intimidating national government taking
those rights away again. The lack of a bill of rights was the focus of the Anti-Federalist campaign
against ratification.
Patrick Henry, "Need for a Bill of Rights"
This proposal of altering our federal government is of a most alarming nature! You ought to be watchful,
jealous of your liberty; for, instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever... I beg gentlemen
to consider that a wrong step made now will plunge us into misery, and our republic will be lost, and
tyranny must and will arise...
The necessity of a Bill of Rights appears to me is most important in this government than ever it was in
any government before... All rights not expressly reserved to the people are relinquished to rulers, is
inseparable from the delegated powers...
This is the question. If you intend to reserve your unalienable rights, you you will lose those rights. If
the people do not think it necessary to reserve them, they will be supposed to be given up.
Without a Bill of Rights, you will exhibit the most absurd thing to mankind that ever the world saw a
government [i.e. state governments] that has abandoned all its powers the powers of taxation, the sword,
and the purse. You give them to Congress, without a Bill of Rights without check, limitation, or
control... You have Bill of Rights in a state government, which loses of all its power, and yet you have
none against Congress, thought in full and exclusive possession of all power!
What arguments did anti-Federalists use against the Constitution?
Why were they suspicious of the government it created?
How did the Federalists respond to anti-Federalist critiques?