During the period from the drafting and proposal of the federal Constitution in September, 1787, to its ratification in 1789 there was an intense debate on ratification. The arguments against ratification appeared in various forms, by various authors, most of whom used a pseudonym. The positions of the Federalists, those who supported the Constitution, and the anti-Federalists, those who opposed it, were printed and reprinted by scores of newspapers across the country.
Due to its size, wealth, and influence and because it was the first state to call a ratifying convention, Pennsylvania was the focus of national attention. On October 5, anti-Federalist Samuel Bryan published the first of his "Centinel" essays in Philadelphia's Independent Gazetteer. Republished in newspapers in various states, the essays assailed the sweeping power of the central government, the usurpation of state sovereignty, and the absence of a bill of rights guaranteeing individual liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
In New York the Constitution was under siege in the press by a series of essays signed “Cato.” Mounting a counterattack, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay enlisted help from Madison and, in late 1787, they published the first of a series of essays now known as the Federalist Papers. The 85 essays, most of which were penned by Hamilton himself, probed the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and the need for an energetic national government.
Against the Federalist leadership and determination, the opposition in most states was disorganized and generally inert. The leading spokesmen were largely state-centered men with regional and local interests and loyalties. The anti-Federalists attacked on several fronts: the lack of a bill of rights, discrimination against southern states in navigation legislation, direct taxation, the loss of state sovereignty. Many charged that the Constitution represented the work of aristocratic politicians bent on protecting their own class interests.
The call for a bill of rights was the anti-Federalists' most powerful weapon. The anti-Federalists, demanded a more unequivocal Constitution, one that laid out for all to see the rights of the people and limitations of the power of government. Richard Henry Lee despaired at the lack of provisions to protect “those essential rights of mankind without which liberty cannot exist.” [(Source: A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution)]
Although the anti-Federalists lost the struggle over ratification, their defense of individual rights and suspicion of power remain core American political values, and the bill of rights is a lasting monument to their importance.
- I. Letters of Agrippa
- II. Letters of Brutus
- III. Letters of Cato
- IV. Letters of Centinel
- V. Letters of John DeWitt
- VI. Letters from the Federal Farmer
- Federal Farmer I
- Federal Farmer II
- Federal Farmer III
- Federal Farmer IV
- Federal Farmer V
- Federal Farmer VI
- Federal Farmer VII
- Federal Farmer VIII
- Federal Farmer IX
- Federal Farmer X
- Federal Farmer XI
- Federal Farmer XII
- Federal Farmer XIII
- Federal Farmer XIV
- Federal Farmer XV
- Federal Farmer XVI
- Federal Farmer XVII
- Federal Farmer XVIII
- VII. Letters of The Impartial Examiner
- VIII. Anti-Federalist Papers: A [Maryland] Farmer
- IX. The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania To Their Constituents
- X. Patrick Henry
- XI. An Old Whig
- XII. William Grayson
- XIII. Luther Martin — Letters and Other Works
- XIV. Various Authors
- A Dangerous Plan of Benefit only to the "Aristocratick Combination"
- Scotland and England—A Case in Point
- Adoption of the Constitution Will Lead to Civil War
- The Power Vested in Congress of Sending Troops for Suppressing Insurrections Will Always Enable Them to Stifle the First Struggles of Freedom
- A Consolidated Government is a Tyranny
- Articles of Confederation Simply Requires Amendments, Particularly for Commercial Power and Judicial Power; Constitution Goes Too Far
- The Use of Coercion by the New Government (Part I)
- The Use of Coercion by the New Government (Part II)
- The Use of Coercion by the New Government (Part III)
- Objections to National Control of the Militia
- A Virginia Antifederalist on the Issue of Taxation
- Federal Taxing Power Must be Restrained
- Some Reactions to Federalist Arguments
- Appearance and Reality—The Form is Federal; The Effect is National
- What Congress Can Do; What A State Can Not
- Powers of National Government Dangerous to States
- No Separation of Departments Results in No Responsibility
- On Constitutional Conventions—Part I
- Do Checks and Balances Really Secure the Rights of the People?
- On the Guarantee of Congressional Biennial Elections
- A Plea for the Right of Recall
- Apportionment and Slavery: Northern and Southern Views
- The Danger of Congressional Control of Elections
- Will the Constitution Promote the Interests of Favorite Classes?
- On the Organization and Powers of the Senate—Part IV
- From North Carolina
- The Presidential Term of Office
- On the Electoral College; On Reeligibility of the President
- Presidential Veto Power
- The President as Military King
- How Will the New Government Raise Money?
- Treaty-making Provisions of the Constitution
- The Expense of the New Government
- The Expense of the New Government
- Rhode Island is Right!
- Europeans Admire and Federalists Decry the Present System
- What Does History Teach? (Part 2)
- Evils Under Confederation Exaggerated; Constitution Must Be Drastically Revised Before Adoption
- XV. Writings of Elbridge Gerry