Anti-Federalist


PLS201


When the new federal Constitution was introduced in 1787, it met with much dissent. The Constitution was the groundwork for a new government, which would dissolve the existing confederation of states and replace it with a more powerful national government. Naturally, many people feared that this new government would be too powerful and rob the states and individuals of their sovereignty and rights. Those who wished to retain the Articles of Confederation as the framework for the government were Antifederalists. Alternately, the group of people who wished to pass the Constitution was Federalists, and they were comprised of two groups: statists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and liberals, led by James Madison. A compromise was reached between Federalists and Antifederalists with the enumeration of a Bill of Rights, which the Federalists believed unnecessary and perhaps even dangerous to liberty.


Alexander Hamilton wanted the United States to be the strongest nation in the world and supported full federal government sovereignty. Hamilton believed that the government should consist only of landholders, merchants, and educated men, who would rule over the people. The thirteen states comprised a nation, which would only be able to survive in the world if it were a centralized nation-state with the power to tax, regulate trade, coin money, and organize a standing army (Kramnick). The issue of a standing army at the time was relevant, and to Antifederalists an army represented great potential for tyranny. However, a standing army was essential for Hamilton\'s plans for the country. In Federalist number 8, Hamilton elaborates on the topic. "Standing armies, it is said, are not provided in the new Constitution; and it is thence inferred that they may exist under it. This inference, from the very form of the proposition, is, at best, problematical and uncertain. But standing armies, it may be replied, must inevitably result from a dissolution of the Confederacy." In effect, Hamilton wanted to recreate the British Empire, and he saw the new federal government as the first step towards this.


Whereas Alexander Hamilton viewed the government as sovereign ruler of the people, James Madison saw it as a filter of the people and of interests. Madison\'s plan for a large republic is best summed up in Federalist number 10, in which he explains that the federal government would draw the best men and a compromise of interests would be reached. Madison encouraged factions, which he argued would balance each other off. Perhaps of largest concern to Madison were property rights, which he saw as the nation-state\'s only goal (559). Madison\'s government would be operated by the people and would be a tool for preserving liberty. However, Madison was against democratic means, which would not level out the interests of all factions and would not allow for the most qualified men to rise as officeholders. In Federalist number 10, Madison states "Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths." The preservation of property rights was key to Madison\'s plans and would not be viable in a democracy, in which the minorities are at the whim of the majority, and no real rights exist.


Antifederalists supported a more democratic form of government than Federalists in that they wished sovereignty to lie in the states. By definition, Antifederalists supported the confederation of separate republic states and not the proposed Constitution. Key to the Antifederalist philosophy was that a republic should be homogenous in the beliefs and interests of its people. As a result, direct representation was necessary, and the interests of an area would not be handled appropriately in Madison\'s large republic and certainly not in Hamilton\'s nation-state. Antifederalist Richard Henry Lee argued that in an extensive country it was impossible to represent the interests of all parts of the country. "The representation cannot be equal, or the situation of the people proper for one government only- if the extreme parts of the society cannot be represented as fully as the central" (Why a National Government will be Unrepresentative and Despotic).


In his essay "The Main Themes of Constitutional Discussion," Isaac Kramnick states that "a just