The Constitutional Convention

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How does the Constitution reflect a compromise between Federalists and Anti-Federalists?

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The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, supported a strong national government. The Anti-Federalists, led by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, desired a weak central government with the states retaining most of the power; in other words, a revision of the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution represents a compromise between these two groups in that the states had to ratify the Constitution. Also, a Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to guarantee basic freedoms. Most of these first ten amendments are there to preserve individual rights against a tyrannical central authority. Finally, the Tenth Amendment gives any powers not expressly written in the Constitution to the states. While some were not happy with the Constitution in that it still gave the federal government extensive power, the document was a compromise between the two groups which allowed for the United States to be governed both at the national and state level.

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The Constitution lays out the framework for the United States Government and was supported by the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton. The Federalists wanted a strong centralized government that would not suffer from the same issues that the weaker government had under the Articles of Confederation.

The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, were wary of a strong centralized government. They felt that such a system could infringe upon the individual rights of citizens and the sovereignty of states. Some even saw centralized governments as just another form of despotism. Consequently, they opposed the Constitution as it was written at the Constitutional Convention.

In order to settle the debate, it was required that every state individually ratify the Constitution. Some states quickly ratified the document, but others were more hesitant or outright opposed to it. Opposition in Rhode Island was so fierce that a mob of 1,000 Anti-Federalists marched on Providence in protest. Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Virginia were also very uncertain as to whether or not to accept it. Major factions in these states were worried that the Constitution did not go far enough to protect an individual's rights.

The debate was eventually settled with the Massachusetts Compromise in February of 1788. As part of this compromise, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two prominent Anti-Federalists, negotiated a deal that would lead to the adoption of the Bill of Rights. With the promise of these ten amendments to protect a citizen's rights, the remaining states eventually ratified the Constitution.

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Following the signing of the Constitution and the Constitutional Convention, each of the states had to ratify the Constitution for it to become operative therein. The Federalists--a group who desired a stronger central government than the United States had under the Articles of Confederation--supported ratification; they dubbed their opponents "Anti-Federalists." The Anti-Federalists--a group which included such founders as Patrick Henry, George Mason, George Clinton, Samuel Adams, and James Monroe--feared the Constitution gave the central government too much power, and valued the rights of the wealthy elite over those of the individual.

Technically, the Federalists won, for every state eventually ratified the Constitution. However, the Anti-Federalists forced them into a compromise which would protect the rights of individual citizens: the Bill of Rights. Whereas the Constitution delineated the role of each branch of government, the Bill of Rights listed specific rights, preserved for individuals, upon which the government could not infringe.

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