Who specifically were the antifederalists and why did they oppose a central government?Please be specific

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geosc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What the Anti-Federalists Were For

Protection of individual rights

Republican government

The best instrument for the protection of individual rights.

Status quo

Some change was needed, but it would be much easier to maintain the good things about the system they had than to introduce a new system.


The defense of the federal character of the American union was their most prominent position. The Articles of Confederation established a league of sovereign and independent states whose representatives met in congress to deal with a limited range of common concerns in a system that relied heavily on voluntary cooperation. Federalism means that the states are primary, equal, and possess the main weight of political power. The Constitution weakened the states.

A federation of small republics

They believed that free, republican governments could extend only over a relatively small territory with a homogeneous population. In large, diverse states many significant differences have to be ignored for the sake of uniform administration. A national gov't would be compelled to impose a crude uniform rule on American diversity, which would result in hardship and inequity for many parts of the country.


To defend against foreign enemies, to promote and protect American commerce, and to maintain order among the states.

Limited powers

An efficient federal gov't need not imply one so powerful as that proposed in the Constitution.

Prudence dictates granting too few powers, and it is easier to increase power than to lessen it. Nor is it sufficient to say that the exigencies facing the general gov't are in principle illimitable; reasonable estimates can in practice be made and acted upon. It is far more prudent to act upon such judgments than to rush to provide the gov't at once with all the power it may conceivably need. The maxim that unlimited means are necessary to meet unlimited ends is balanced by the maxim "that all governments find a use for as much money as they can raise." Extraordinary needs can be met as they arise. If a national credit and a national treasury are needed in time of war, let them be provided in time of war.

Responsibility to the people

Gov't offices should be occupied by the natural aristocracy of the nation, but they should be selected by democratic means.

Limited responsibilities

The Federalists and Anti-Federalists agreed that gov't is properly directed to the limited end of the security of individual rights.

Separation of powers and checks and balances

They criticized the Constitution as having too little separation and too few checks.

Simple government

"A constitution," one said, "ought to be, like a beacon, held up to the public eye, so as to be understood by every man." But "this government is of such an intricate and complicated nature, that no man on this earth can know its real operation." "[W]here is the man who can see through the constitution to its effects?" another asked.

Common law procedural rights

They insisted that the Constitution should explicitly recognize the traditional procedural rights: to be safe from general search and seizure, to be indicted by grand jury, to trial by jury, to confront witnesses, and to be protected against cruel and unusual punishments. One of the most widely uttered objections against the Constitution was that it did not provide for (and thereby abolished) trial by jury in civil cases.

Liberty of conscience

Many of them favored both governmental encouragement of religion and liberty of individual conscience.

Liberty of the press

The palladium of American liberties, they said.


brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Agree with the above post, and to round out the list of Antifederalists, we would need to include Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, and a rather fierce opponent of centralized government.  Samuel Adams, cousin of Federalist future President John Adams, who was an active membr of the Sons of Liberty, and fiery tempered, suspicious of federalists' motives.

Patrick Henry, also hot tempered, showed up at the Constitutional Convention to derail the document, claiming "I smell a rat".  He felt the Revolution was being stolen by a few who had aims of recreating the monarchy.

Then there's James Madison, intellectual, great writer who eventually crafted the Bill of Rights, which addressed some of his biggest concerns about the idea of central government: that the individual would not be protected from the state.

Last but not least, we can't forget Thomas Jefferson.  Author of the Declaration of Independence, very articulate, well-liked and respected by most (except John Adams who hated him).  Many count him as the leader of the Antifederalists, or at least, the most well-known and recognizable.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Anti Federalists were a group of framers at the Constitutional Convention that expressed dismay at a strong central government.  These individuals, such as George Mason and Patrick Henry, were convinced that the American Revolution started because of an unchecked central authority in England.  They did not want to replicate the same type of rule in the new nation and expressed the need to have a sphere of entitlement that would be free from government encroachment.  These thinkers saw the role of individual rights as essential to ensuring that government does not possess too great of control in its desire to facilitate law and order.  Antifederalists argued that it would serve no purpose to swap out "one monarchy for another."  Their concerns were appeased for the most part in the inclusion of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.