The Anti-Federalists



William A. Hamm,  The American People  (New York: 1942)  pp. 143-44.


Almost immediately upon the adjournment of the Convention and the publication of the Constitution, people divided themselves into two groups: those favoring ratification were called Federalists and those opposed to ratification were known as Anti-federalists.  In general, the same classes which had struggled to amend the Articles and which had controlled the Philadelphia Convention supported ratification. This group, as we have learned, was composed of men of property and substance who represented the commercial, money-lending, and planting aristocracy.  The debtor, non-propertied, and small-farmer classes were, as might be expected, opposed to ratification.  The campaign for ratification became, in a sense, a contest between the East and the West - the older established centers opposed to the newer frontier settlements. And yet there were frontier sections -like the valley of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire -which voted for ratification. Without the votes of some of the frontier regions, the Constitution would not have been adopted.

 The Anti-federalists were led by a number of prominent men such as Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, who published his views as "Letter from the Federal Farmer," Samuel Adams, Luther Martin of Maryland, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. The Anti-federalists advanced many arguments which carried great weight with the people.  First of all, they insisted that the government to be created by the Constitution was undemocratic: the Convention had ignored the masses of the people, served the interests of a propertied minority, and transferred power from the many to the few.  To this argument the Federalists replied that the abuses of the day were against property, and that the protection of property rights was in the interests of all.  The Anti-federalists declared that the proposed government meant the ultimate destruction of the states.  Patrick Henry raised the question: "What right had the members of the Convention to say, 'We, the people,' instead of 'We, the states?'" "States," said Henry, "are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation."  It was also argued that a President with such great powers, being eligible for re-election, might become in effect a king, and senators might become a new aristocracy.  What was to hinder a government from oppressing the people, as long as it operated through its own officers instead of state officers and had power even to callout the militia?  One of the strongest and most popular arguments of the Anti-federalists was that the Constitution contained no guarantee of personal liberty.  The Federalists argued that personal liberties were adequately safeguarded in the various state constitutions.  To this the Anti-federalists replied that a Bill of Rights could do no harm and might, at some time, save the liberties of America.  In the end, the Federalist leaders, realizing the strength of the demand for a Bill of Rights, promised to support amendments to the Constitution which would guarantee personal liberties.