Constitution of the United States

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What did Robert Yates's "Letters of Brutus" say?

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The person who wrote the historic sixteen letters under the pseudonym of "Brutus"—a series of articles intended to dissuade the citizens of New York State from voting to ratify the central government outlined in the new constitution—may have been Robert Yates, but the identity of this author remains a mystery....

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The person who wrote the historic sixteen letters under the pseudonym of "Brutus"—a series of articles intended to dissuade the citizens of New York State from voting to ratify the central government outlined in the new constitution—may have been Robert Yates, but the identity of this author remains a mystery. Clearly, the choice of this name suggests a desire to avert the dangers of a new monarchy, just as Marcus Junius Brutus had thwarted the imperial ambitions of Julius Caesar.

His anti-Federalist polemic is based on the notion that the territory of the American colonies is too vast, and the needs of its populace too varied, to be successfully governed by a central government. He fears that the standing army such a government would require, along with its unlimited power of taxation, and strengthening of legislative and judicial authority, would inevitably pose a serious threat to the vigor and independence of the states.

As an alternative, in Letter #5, Brutus proposed a loose confederation of states that would require them to act together only on issues of common interest, while allowing them to maintain control of local matters. However, if adopted, the constitution must include a bill of citizens' inherent rights, in order to protect them from suffering any tyrannical excesses of government.

The author of the "Letters of Brutus" argues against approval of the constitution, on the grounds that it usurps too much power from the states. He recommends as an alternative a loose confederation of states, which would allow each state greater power. Given the adoption of the constitution, however, he requires the inclusion of a bill listing the inherent rights of citizens to protect them from government tyranny.

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There were sixteen letters of Brutus written by Robert Yates.  He used Brutus as a pseudonym because of the historical association of that name.  Brutus was the Roman who had led the plot against Julius Caesar.  Brutus and the plotters had killed Caesar because they felt he was destroying the Roman Republic and creating a monarchy dangerous to the rights of the Romans.  Yates and other antifederalists felt that the Constitution was dangerous to the rights of Americans. 

Yates believed that strong central governments were dangerous to the rights of the people.  He felt that the British government had been strongly centralized and had therefore not really been attentive to the needs of the people in far-flung areas like the American colonies.  He feared that the strong central government set up by the Constitution would do the same.  It was for this reason that Yates demanded a bill of rights.  He argued that it was necessary for the Constitution, at the very least, to have a listing of rights that the federal government could not infringe upon.

The “Letters of Brutus” then, said two main things.  First, they said the new Constitution was dangerous.  Second, they said that if it could not be defeated, it at least needed a bill of rights to protect the people from abuses by the government.

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