What were the positions of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in regards to the Constitution?
The ratification of the U.S. Constitution was anything but a slam dunk. Both during and after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, two camps emerged that maintained distinct ideas as to how the new nation should govern itself. These differences would set the tone for a lively process of debate leading up to ratification itself.
Under the rule of King George III, the American colonies found themselves as little more than a "cash cow" for the English monarchy. As England attempted to regain the money lost during the defense of her colonies during the French and Indian War with taxes, colonial leaders rallied around the cry of "no taxation without representation."
While many of the taxes were not overly oppressive, they demonstrated the total control the monarchy maintained over her colonies. This strict governmental control would be a significant factor when the first written plan of government—the Articles of Confederation—was drafted for the newly formed United States of America.
The Articles were intentionally made to be very relaxed, and the central government maintained no legitimate control over the individual states. This period in our history was known as "The Critical Period" because we meandered through the 1780s with no real central government.
By 1787 it was obvious the government would have to be revamped, and from the Constitutional Convention came a document that created a much stronger central authority that could manage and maintain a higher level of control over the states of the Union.
Without question, not everyone was happy with this development. For the Constitution to be ratified and become the law of the land, 9 of the 13 states would have to approve it. This set in motion a series of debates between those in favor of a much stronger central authority (Federalists) and those who favored more control to the states (Anti-Federalists).
One of the major problems the Anti-Federalist camp had with the Constitution was the fact it did not include any protections of individual freedoms. Eventually, the Anti-Federalists were successful in securing a Bill of Rights to express, in writing, the personal liberties that would become the foundation of the country.
The Federalists campaigned for ratification through persuasive pamphlets called "The Federalist Papers." These papers attempted to address the concerns of the Anti-Federalists and are today considered classic historical writings.
In the end, the Federalists were successful—no doubt helped along by support from such highly esteemed people as George Washington and Ben Franklin. Among the more well known Anti-Federalists were Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine. The debate concerning strong government versus a more relaxed government continues to this day.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists were two opposing political groups who emerged in the late-eighteenth century, when the Constitution was under debate.
On one side, the Federalists were strongly in favour of adopting a Constitution. They believed that a strong central government was the only way to protect the liberties earned in the American Revolution. In the words of James Madison, a Federalist leader: the Constitution was a "Republican remedy for the diseases most incident to Republican government."
On the other side were the Anti-Federalists. These men were strongly opposed to the Constitution because they believed that it gave too much power to the central government that, in their opinion, was incapable of representing the ordinary citizen. They were also concerned that the proposed Constitution didn't affirm certain liberties, like freedom of speech. As a compromise, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791 in the form of the first ten amendments.
The differences between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists are vast and at times complex. Federalists’ beliefs could be better described as nationalist. The Federalists were instrumental in 1787 in shaping the new US Constitution, which strengthened the national government at the expense, according to the Anti-Federalists, of the states and the people. The Anti-Federalists opposed the ratification of the US Constitution, but they never organized efficiently across all thirteen states, and so had to fight the ratification at every state convention. Their great success was in forcing the first Congress under the new Constitution to establish a bill of rights to ensure the liberties the Anti-Federalists felt the Constitution violated. Below are some key differences in the groups.