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For the faction opposed to the policies of U.S.
President George Washington, see Anti-Administration Party.

Anti-Federalism is a political philosophy which opposes the concept of Federalism. In short, Anti-Federalists dictate that the central governing authority of a nation should be equal or inferior to, but not having more power than, its sub-national states (state government). A book titled "The Anti-Federalist Papers" is a detailed explanation of American Anti-Federalist thought.

Anti-Federalism also refers to a movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government and which later opposed the ratification of the Constitution of 1787. The previous constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, gave state governments more authority. Led by Patrick Henry of Virginia, Anti-Federalists worried, among other things, that the position of president, then a novelty, might evolve into a monarchy.


The Federalist movement of the 1780s was motivated by the proposition that the national government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak, and needed to be amended or replaced. Eventually, they managed to get the national government to sanction a convention to revise the Articles. Opposition to its ratification immediately appeared when the convention concluded and published the proposed Constitution.

The opposition was composed of diverse elements, including those opposed to the Constitution because they thought that a stronger government threatened the sovereignty and prestige of the states, localities, or individuals; those that fancied a new centralized, disguised "monarchic" power that would only replace the cast-off despotism of Great Britain with the proposed government; and those who simply feared that the new government threatened their personal liberties. Some of the opposition believed that the central government under the Articles of Confederation was sufficient. Still others believed that while the national government under the Articles was too weak, the national government under the Constitution would be too strong.

During the period of debate over the ratification of the Constitution, numerous independent local speeches and articles were published all across the country. Initially, many of the articles in opposition were written under pseudonyms, such as "Brutus," "Centinel," and "Federal Farmer." Eventually, famous revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry came out publicly against the Constitution. They argued that the strong national government proposed by the Federalists was a threat to the rights of individuals and that the President would become a king. They objected to the federal court system created by the proposed constitution. This produced a phenomenal body of political writing; the best and most influential of these articles and speeches were gathered by historians into a collection known as the Anti-Federalist Papers in allusion to the Federalist Papers.

In every state the opposition to the Constitution was strong, and in two states — North Carolinamarker and Rhode Islandmarker — it prevented ratification until the definite establishment of the new government practically forced their adherence. Individualism was the strongest element of opposition; the necessity, or at least the desirability, of a bill of rights was almost universally felt. In Rhode Islandmarker resistance against the Constitution was so strong that civil war almost broke out on July 4, 1788, when anti-federalist members of the Country Party led by Judge William West marched into Providence with over 1,000 armed protesters.

The Anti-Federalists played upon these feelings in the ratification convention in Massachusettsmarker. By this point, five of the states had ratified the Constitution with relative ease, but the Massachusetts convention was far more bitter and contentious. Finally, after long debate, a compromise (known as the "Massachusetts compromise") was reached. Massachusetts would ratify the Constitution with recommended provisions in the ratifying instrument that the Constitution be amended with a bill of rights. (The Federalists contended that a conditional ratification would be void, so the recommendation was the strongest support that the ratifying convention could give to a bill of rights short of rejecting the Constitution.)

Four of the next five states to ratify, including New Hampshiremarker, Virginiamarker, and New Yorkmarker, included similar language in their ratification instruments. As a result, once the Constitution became operative in 1789, Congress sent a set of twelve amendments to the states. Ten of these amendments were immediately ratified and became known as the Bill of Rights. Thus, while the Anti-Federalists were unsuccessful in their quest to prevent the adoption of the Constitution, their efforts were not totally in vain. Anti-Federalists thus became recognized as an influential group among the founding fathers of the United States.

With the passage of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Anti-Federalist movement was exhausted. It was succeeded by the more broadly based Anti-Administration Party, which opposed the fiscal and foreign policies of U.S. President George Washington.

Noted Anti-Federalists

One can also argue that Thomas Jefferson expressed several anti-federalist thoughts throughout his life, but that his involvement in the discussion was limited, since he was stationed as Ambassador to Francemarker while the debate over federalism was going on in America in the Federalist papers and Anti-Federalist Papers.

Further reading

External links


  1. Columbian Centinel, July 5, 12, 16, 23, 1788; Pennsylvania Packet, July 30, 1788. (reference to West's anti-Constitution 4th of July rally)

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