Most Americans were very suspicious of government, but the Anti-
Federalist was really mistrustful of the government in general and strong
national government. This mistrust was the basis of their opposition to the
constitution. They feared it had created a government the people could not
control. Many distinguished Americans were Anti-Federalists. Leaders
included George Mason and Elbridge Gerry. Both attended the Philadelphia
Convention but had refused to sign the constitution.
The Anti-Federalist argued that the Constitution had many flaws.
The thought that it should have been developed in meetings whose
proceedings was open to the public. And it would undermine a republican
form of government. It gave too much power to the national government at
the expense of the powers of state governments. It gave too much power to
the executive branch of the national government at the expense of the other
branches. It gave too much power because of the “necessary and proper
clause.” It did not adequately separate the powers of the executive and
legislative branches. In addition, it allowed the national government to keep
an army during peacetime. And also it did not include a bill of rights.
They feared that because of these flaws in the Constitution, the new
national government would be a threat to their national rights. They also
thought that the constitution had been developed by an elite and privileged
group to create a national government for the purpose of serving its own
selfish interest. They thought the only safe government that if it had a local
and closely linked with the will of the people. And controlled by the people,
by such means as we have yearly elections and replacing peopled in key
The Federalist knew that many members of Congress and the state
governments were against the new Constitution, largely because it reduced
their powers. So the federalist decided not to ask the Congress or state
governments to approve the Constitution, even though they were expected to
Today, now that the Constitution has worked successfully for 200
years, it would be easy to ignore the anti-federalist of 1787 and 1788 as an
unimportant historical force, a collection of no constructive reactionaries
and cranks. Actually, the anti-federalist may well have represented the
views of the majority of the Americans, whose reasons for preferring the old
Articles of Confederation were firmly within the democratic tradition.
Among the anti-federalist were fiery old patriot leaders who feared
that centralized power was an invitation to tyranny. Among those who
preferred the Articles was Samuel Adams–still padding like an old cat
around the streets of Boston on the lookout for threats to liberty, still
dressing in the fashions of 1776? Adams opposed the new government until
Massachusetts Federalist, needing his support, agreed to press for a national
bill of rights.
In Virginia, none other than Patrick Henry battled James Madison
around the state. Some of Henry’s arguments against the Constitution were
foolish. At one point he concluded that the Constitution was an invitation to
the pope to set up his court in the U.S.
But Henry and other Anti-federalist also argued that free republican
institutions could survive only in small countries such as Switzerland and
ancient Greece, and they had the weight of historical evidence on their side.
When Rome, the greatest republic of them all, grew large, it became
despotic. Would the same thing happen to Rhode Island and Virginia and
Georgia and other small independent states when they were subsumed into a
Answering this objection to the Constitution was the Federalists’
most difficult task. Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay of New York took it
upon themselves to do so in 85 essays under the name The Federalist Papers
still a basic textbook of political philosophy. they argued that a powerful
U.S. would also guarantee liberty. these ingenious essays, however, were
less important to the triumph of the Federalist than their agreement to add a
bill of rights to their Constitution.