What are the primary differences between the arguments made by the Federalists and the Antifederalists during the early day of the United States?
The federalists and antifederalist took opposite positions on how the new country should be formed at the end of the American Revolution.
The federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, felt that there should be a strong, centralized, federal government heading up the new nation; hence the name. They were often wealthy, merchant class citizens from urban areas. They favored the adoption of the Constitution for the framework in which this new nation would be created but they opposed the inclusion of the Bill of Rights as they felt it took powers away from the federal government to give them to individuals. They did however support a provision in the Constitution in article one, section 8, clause 18 known as the necessary and proper clause or “elastic clause” which gave the federal government the power to create all laws deemed necessary and proper to protecting and enacting the other powers outlined in the Constitution. They felt that the central government would be essentially powerless without a loose interpretation of this clause to allow for the creation of new laws when necessary to adapt to changing times and conditions.
The antifederalists, led primarily by Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, felt that supreme authority in the new country should rest with the individual states. They were often poor rural farmers and laborers and suggested that there should only be a loose alliance between the states with no substantial central government. This framework was outline in their preferred document, the Articles of Confederation which gave all powers to the states and left only a bare bones central government to handle international relations. They favored the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to preserve individual and state liberties from encroachment by the federal government and encouraged a strict interpretation of the Constitution and “elastic clause” to prevent the federal government from growing too large and oppressive.