The creation of the Constitution entailed hours of debate and compromise, and even when it was completed, some delegates were unhappy with it. The task of fixing the ailing Confederate government was not complete yet; each state had to ratify the Constitution. Basically, people divided into two groups, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Each of their viewpoints is worth examining, as they both have sound reasoning.
Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists
The Anti-Federalists did not want to ratify the Constitution. Basically, they argue that:
It gave too much power to the national government at the expense of the state governments.
There was no bill of rights.
The national government could maintain an army in peacetime.
Of these complaints, the lack of a bill of rights was the most effective. The American people had just fought a war to defend their rights, and they did not want an intimidating national government taking those rights away again. The lack of a bill of rights was the focus of the Anti-Federalist campaign against ratification.
The Federalists, on the other hand, had answers to all of the Anti-Federalist complaints. Among them:
The separation of powers into three independent branches protected the rights of the people. Each branch represents a different aspect of the people, and because all three branches are equal, no one group can assume control over another.
A listing of rights can be a dangerous thing. If the national government were to protect specific listed rights, what would stop it from violating rights other than the listed ones? Since we can't list all the rights, the Federalists argued that it's better to list none at all.
Overall, the Federalists were more organized in their efforts. By June of 1788, the Constitution was close to ratification. Nine states had ratified it, and only one more (New Hampshire) was needed. To achieve this, the Federalists agreed that once Congress met, it would draft a bill of rights. Finally, New York and Virginia approved, and the Constitution was a reality. Interestingly, the Bill of Rights was not originally a part of the Constitution, and yet it has proved to be highly important to protecting the rights of the people.
Who wrote the Federalist Papers?
How did the writing of the Bill of Rights resolve the conflict between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists?
What Anti-Federalist concern is addressed in “The Federalist, Number 10”?
How does Madison rebuke the Anti-Federalist concern?
What do you think Madison means when he says “liberty…nourishes faction”?
By what democratic principle does Madison say unwanted factions will be defeated?
Who wrote “The Federalist, Number 71”?
What Anti-Federalist concern is addressed in “The Federalist, Number 71”?
What relationship is placed on one’s tenure (time) in office and their effectiveness on the job?
How does the four-year tenure impact the relationship between the president and legislature?
What do you think Hamilton thought might happen if a president’s term was more than four years?
The Federalist Papers
The most difficult battle was waged in New York. Although New York eventually became the eleventh state to ratify the new Constitution, it was heavily Anti-Federalist, and victory was by no means assured at the outset.
In support of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published a series of anonymous essays now known as the Federalist Papers. These propaganda essays extolled the benefits of a strong central government and allayed fears about civil liberties. Well written and persuasive, the essays are now regarded as some of the finest writings on American politics and republicanism.
Though many political philosophers in the 1700s had argued that republican government was impossible for large countries with diverse populations, the writers of the Federalist Papers argued the opposite.
The Bill of Rights
Despite the Federalist Papers, most New Yorkers, North Carolinians, Virginians, and Rhode Islanders agreed to ratify the Constitution only if the document was amended to include a list of undeniable rights and liberties of the people. The new Congress kept its promise to do so and in 1791 established a committee to draft a Bill of Rights. Much of this work was done by James Madison, who sponsored the Bill of Rights in Congress. Congress added these rights to the Constitution as the first ten amendments later that year.