Anti-Federalist (p. )
RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION
During the late 1780’s, the country was divided between the supporters of the new, more highly centralized government proposed in the Constitution – Federalists – and the friends of the existing loose Confederation – Anti-Federalists. Some of these Anti-Federalists were opposed to change because they did not want to lose the authority and prestige they enjoyed in the existing state governments. Such people preferred local and individual liberties to centralization. On the other hand, the supporters of the new central government valued national union and efficiency more than individual or local authority.
1. Anti-Federalists are opposed to change in the national government. The new Constitution would destroy the rights of the states and the individual liberties of the people. The liberties and rights of the states are safer under the Articles of Confederation government. Under the Articles, the states are equal, and the people give their “consent (approval) to be governed” by a nearby government. State governments will be destroyed by a new national government – state governments will lose their power completely.
2. The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that wrote the Constitution had gone way beyond its authority. It was to have improved the Articles of Confederation, not to have rewritten the plan of government. “Hidden motives” were at work in Philadelphia. Federalists, in general, come from the well-to-do classes, and probably will benefit from the proposed changes. At the Convention, meetings were secretive and unauthorized.
3. Anti-Federalists do not want to have the burden of another strong national government (such as was experienced with the British), or executive. The proposed two-house Congress, with a Senate is just another “House of Lords”. And this new Constitution needs only 9 states to ratify (approve) it before it replaces the Articles. The rules have been changed in an unauthorized way – it requires all 13 states to ratify under the present system. The most serious problem of the new Constitution is that it gives Congress the unlimited power to tax, to arm, and to spend. The regulation of inter-state trade (commerce) would only benefit the Eastern merchants and wealthy. We, the Anti-Federalists, are trying to represent the poorer classes, including those in debt and small farmers. Who will be found in this new government? --- wealthy men concerned with their own purses rather than the rights of all men.
4. The new government proposed in the Constitution will now have the power to use its national army to enforce the collection of taxes. Who is going to have the power to stop this army? We do not really need a strong commander-in-chief. There are no immediate threats. If there were, as states, we could pull together. The power of the state governors shouldn’t be taken away. Every power the new Constitution gives the national Congress was a right taken away from the states. The end result will be no states. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Before the Philadelphia Convention, Americans were basically happy. Now, it is proposed that one central federal government will control our lives and take away our liberty.
5. There is no Bill of Rights in the Constitution, to guarantee traditional freedoms (religion, speech, assembly, press, etc.). And as Anti-Federalists, we have to either accept or reject this Constitution rather than amend or change some of the weaknesses of the Articles. We are an “infant” new government and of course revisions are necessary.
6. The federal Supreme Court system under the new Constitution would destroy the existing state courts, the true location of justice. The federal court system is a dangerous step for our nation to take.
7. Anti-Federalists were especially mistrustful of government in general and strong national government in particular. They feared the Constitution had created a government the people could not control. It had always been thought among Anti-Federalists that the greatest power should be placed in a legislature composed of representatives elected by the people of a community. This kind of representative government would work best in a small community of citizens with similar interests and beliefs. The Federalists were proposing a government that was the opposite of this type, large and powerful, including many different communities, with a capital city or district far away from most of the people it represented. Such a system, to Anti-Federalists, would pose a threat to the rights of the people.
8. Many distinguished Americans are Anti-Federalists. George Mason was one, the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, and one of the original delegates to Philadelphia. His most important objections to the Constitution:
A. The way members of the Senate are selected means that
they are not representatives of the people. They have great powers such as the right to approve the appointment of ambassadors and treaties recommended by the President, as well as the power to “try” the President and other members of government in cases of impeachment. These powers place Senators in such close connection with the President that they destroy the balance in government.
B. The national judicial branch has been given so much power that it can destroy the judicial branches of the state governments by overruling them. If this were to happen and the only courts available were the federal courts, most people could not afford to have their cases heard in these courts, and rich people would have an advantage that would enable them to oppress and ruin the poor.
C. The Constitution does not provide for a group of legislators to serve as advisors to the President. Such advisors have always been included in any safe and regular government. As a result, the President will not get proper advice, and will usually be advised by his “favorites”, or he will become a “pawn/puppet” of the Senate.
D. The President of the US has unlimited power to grant pardons for treason. He can use this power to protect people from punishment whom he has secretly encouraged to commit a crime, or he can prevent the discovery of his own guilt.
E. The Constitution says that all treaties are the “supreme law of the land”. Since they can be made by the President with the approval of the Senate, they have exclusive power in this area. This means they can act without the approval of the House.
F. Since the Constitution gives Congress the power to make any laws it thinks are “necessary and proper” to carry out its responsibilities, there is no adequate limitation upon its powers. Congress could grant monopolies in trade and commerce, create new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend its powers as far as it wants. As a result, the powers of the state legislatures could be taken from them and Congress could dominate the entire nation.
G. The Constitution did not contain a bill of rights.
Other prominent Anti-Federalists included Patrick Henry and George Clinton.
9. Other quick criticisms: it allowed the nat’l gov’t to keep an army during peacetime; it should have been developed in meetings that were open to the public; it gave too much power to the executive branch; it did not adequately separate the powers of the executive and legislative branches.