|Federalists and Anti-Federalists:
The Debate on the Constitution of 1787
September 17, 1787 (Philadelphia, PA): Forty-two delegates from twelve states (all except Rhode Island) gathered for the final meeting of the Federal Convention. The U.S. Congress had instructed them to meet “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation (in order to) render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.” But they went beyond their instructions and created a new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. Now, at the end of a long, hot summer, they were ready to sign the product of their work and go home. Thirty-nine delegates signed and three refused: Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and George Mason, and Edmund Randolph of Virginia.
September 28, 1787 (New York, NY): The Congress of the United States voted to send the proposed Constitution to the legislature of each of the thirteen states of the Union. Congress asked each state to convene a special convention to ratify or reject the Constitution of 1787. If nine states would ratify it, this Constitution would become the supreme law of the United States.
October 21, 1787 (Virginia): The Constitution of 1787 was the object of controversy soon after the people read about it, and read it, in the newspapers. Supporters of the Constitution, such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay called themselves Federalists. Their opponents, such as Elbridge Gerry and George Mason, were called Anti-federalists. Much was written to sway citizens to either support or oppose the new document. James Madison said, “We hear that opinions are various in Virginia and elsewhere on the plan of the Convention…The newspapers in the middle and Northern states begin to teem with controversial publications…I am far from considering the public mind as fully know or finally settled on the subject.”
The following documents are excerpts from Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
*Identify each document as a Federalist or Anti-Federalist sentiment.
*What does the document say and what does it mean?
*Match the statements with the appropriate documents.
In every free government, the people must give their assent to the laws by which they are governed. This is the true criterion between a free government and an arbitrary one. The former are ruled by the will of the (people); the latter by the will of one, or a few…Now, in a large extended country (like the U.S.), it is impossible to have a representation (of the people) to declare the minds of the people, without having it so numerous and unwieldy, as to be unable to function effectively…
In so extensive a republic, the great officers of the government would soon become above the control of the people, and abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves and oppressing them. The remedy is to emphasize representative governments in the states- the ones closest to the people- and to strictly limit the powers of the general government of the United States.
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachment of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counterattack ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of the government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government, which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
The territory of the United States is of vast extent; it now contains near three million souls…Is it practicable for a country, so large and so numerous as they will soon become, to elect a representation, that will speak their sentiments, without their becoming so numerous as to be incapable of transacting public business? It certainly is not.
In a republic, the manners, sentiment, and interests of the people should be similar. If this is not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of the other. This will retard the operations of government, and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good. If we apply this remark to the conditions of the United States, we shall be convinced that it forbids that we should be one government.
My principal objections to the plan, are, that there is no adequate provision for a representation of the people… that some of the powers of the legislature are ambiguous, and others are indefinite and dangerous (because they might be expanded and endanger liberty)- that the Executive is blended with and will have an undue influence over the Legislature (the people are represented most directly in the Legislature, so it should be the dominant branch)- that the judicial department will be the oppressive (because the judges are not accountable to the people)… and that the system id without the security of a bill of rights…
It is remarkable, that the resemblance of the plan of the convention to the act which organizes the government of this State holds, not less with regard to many of the supposed defects, then to the real excellences of the former. Among the pretended defects are the re-eligibility of the Executive, the want of a council, the omission of a former bill of rights, the omission of a provision respecting the liberty of the press. These and several others which have been noted in the course of our inquiries are as much chargeable on the existing constitution of this State, as on the one proposed for the Union; and a man must have slender pretensions to the consistency, who can rail at the latter for imperfections which he finds no difficulty in excusing the former. Nor indeed can there be a better proof of the insincerity and affectation of some of the zealous adversaries of the plan of the convention among us, who profess to be the devoted admirers of the government under which they live, than the fury with which they have attacked that plan, for matters in regard to which our own constitution is equally or perhaps more vulnerable.
The additional securities to republican government, to liberty and to property, to be derived from the adoption of the plan under consideration, consist chiefly in the restraints which the preservation of the Union will impose on local factions and insurrections, and on the ambition of powerful individuals in single states, who may acquire credit and influence enough, from leaders and favorites to become the despots of the people; in the diminution of the opportunities to foreign intrigue, which the dissolution of the Confederacy would invite and facilitate; in the prevention of extensive military establishments, which would not fail to grow out of wars between the States in a disunited situation: in the express guaranty of a republican form of government to each; in the absolute and universal exclusion of titles of nobility; and in the precautions against the repetition of those practices on the part of the state governments which have undermined the foundations of property and credit, have planted mutual distrust in the breasts of all classes of citizens, and have occasioned an almost universal prostration of morals.
The honorable gentleman said that great danger would ensue if the Convention rose without adopting this system. I ask, where is that danger? I see none. Other gentlemen have told us, within these walls, that the union is gone, or that the union will be gone…Till they tell us the grounds of their fears, I will consider them imaginary. Where is the danger? If, sir, there was any, I would recur to the American spirit which has enabled us to surmount the greatest difficulties.
Whatever may be our situation, whether firmly united under one national government, or split into a number of confederacies, certain it is, that foreign nations will know and view it exactly as is; and they will act towards us accordingly. If they see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit reestablished, our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment. If, on the other hand, they find us either destitute of an effectual government (each state doing right or wrong, as to its rulers may seem convenient), or split into three or four independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies, one inclining to Britain, another to France, and a third to Spain, and perhaps played off against each other by the three, what a poor, pitiful figure will American make in their eyes! How liable would she becomes not only to their contempt, but to their outrage; and how soon would dear-bought experience proclaims that when a people or family so divide, it never fails to be against themselves.
The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics care most favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter for tow obvious considerations…if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of fit choice.
In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to center on men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.
The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of the other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.
Not sanguine in my expectations of a good federal administration, and satisfied, as I m, of the impracticability of consolidation the states, and at the same time of preserving the rights of the people at large, I believe we ought still to leave some of these powers in the state governments, in which the people, in fact, will still be represented to define some other powers proposed to be vested in the general government, more carefully, and to establish a few principles to secure a proper exercise of the powers given it. It is not my object to multiply objections, or to contend about inconsiderable powers or amendments. I wish the system adopted with a few alterations; but those, in my mind, are essential ones; if adopted without, every good citizen will acquiesce thought I shall consider the duration of our governments, and the liberties of this people, very much dependant on the administration of the general government.
If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at lest may bestow that name on, a government which derives all it powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is essential to such a government that it be derived from the great body of society, not from an inconsiderable proportion or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans and claim for their government the honorable title of republic. It is sufficient for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people; and that they hold their appointments by either of the tenures just specified; otherwise every government in the United Sates, as well as every other popular government that has been or can be called well organized or well executed, would be degraded from the republican character…
Federalist and Anti-Federalist Statements
Match the following statements with the appropriate quotes from the Federalist and Anti-Federalist arguments. Several statements will fit each quote.
The public good cannot be promoted effectively with the state governments sovereign, for example, look at the tax/credit problems.
The Constitution equally divides power between the general government and the state governments.
The powers of government are too heavily weighted in favor of the general government and against the state governments.
A free government is based on majority rule of the people, which cannot be managed in a large republic of the type proposed by the Constitution of 1787.
In a large, consolidated republic, such as the one established by the Constitution, there are insufficient limits on the powers of government officials.
The Constitution overcomes the many faults of the Articles of Confederation.
The objects of the Union could not be secured by any system founded on the principle of a confederation of sovereign states.
There is no Declaration of Rights; and the laws of the general governments being paramount to the laws and constitutions of the several states, the Declaration of Rights in the separate states are no security.
A large republic as established under the constitution could more successfully elect proper guardians of natural rights and thus control the negative effects of factions.
The Constitution grants too much power to the executive branch.
The Constitution grants to much power to the legislative branch.
The Constitution had provided a system by which no one department can control or dominate the others thus preventing the possibility of arbitrary rule.
The Constitution is necessary for a strong foreign policy.
A strong central government is necessary given human nature.
Under the Constitution we will lose what we fought for in the Revolution.