What were the main arguments in the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the 1780s?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main arguments in the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists were the size and power of the federal government. The Federalists, such as Alexander Hamilton, wanted a strong federal government with the ability to raise money through taxes and the power to assume the national debt and issue bonds. The Anti-Federalists, who were supported by Patrick Henry and others and who later coalesced around Thomas Jefferson and became the Democratic-Republicans (or Republicans for short), wanted the states to have more power and the federal government to be less powerful. Because of these ideological differences, the Federalists supported the Constitution, while the Anti-Federalists did not and pressed for the addition of a Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) to safeguard people's rights. 

In addition, the Federalists, mainly from the north and from southern trading centers, wanted the country to embark on a plan of industrialization and to protect their industries through high tariffs (which are taxes on imported goods). The Federalists were seen as the party of the elite. The Anti-Federalists embraced a vision of agrarianism and of the power of the yeoman, or self-supporting farmer, and of low tariffs so they could acquire manufactured goods for less money. The Federalists supported a large and powerful army and supported Great Britain in foreign affairs, while the Anti-Federalists did not favor the development of an army and supported France in foreign affairs. 


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main arguments in this debate centered on how much power the national government should have. 

The Antifederalists were generally happy with the Articles of Confederation.  They wanted a lot of democracy and a lot of power for the states.  They felt that democracy and states’ rights would protect the rights of the people.   Their main concern was that the federal government would take away the rights of the people in the same way the British government had.

By contrast, the Federalists wanted a strong national government.  They felt that the state governments had too much power and were too democratic.  They felt that such a system led to a situation in which the rights of the economic elites were trampled by the desires of the poorer masses of people.  They felt that this created a situation that was both unfair to the elites and bad for the economy of the country as a whole.  Therefore, they wanted a strong central government so that the country could be more stable and could have an economic climate that was more suited to the creation of businesses and economic growth.