Federalist Papers – The Opposition

As to the issue of whether or not to ratify the Constitution that was drafted during the summer of 1787, there were different opinions whether the document, as written, should be ratified by the thirteen states. Those in favor of ratification were called “Federalists;” those against were called “Anti-Federalists.”

We have been featuring the Federalist Papers – those essays written by those in favor of ratification – the Federalists – and, specifically Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

The essays written by those in opposition to ratification – the Anti-Federalists – were not so well-coordinated. The authors are believed to be Robert Yates, Menancton Smith, or John Williams from New York. While Hamiliton, Madison and Jay signed the name “Publius” as the author of their essays, the Anti-Federalists, in some cases, chose the name “Brutus.” The reason was that the real Brutus – the Roman senator who was involved in assassinating Julius Caesar thus keeping him from overthrowing the Republic – in some ways reminded them of their own cause – protecting the existing government from tyranny.

The most famous of the “Brutus papers” seems to be Brutus #1 – published in October 1787. The following are the key points of that essay – taken directly from DocsofFreedom.org –  the annotations from “Excerpts from Brutus 1.”  You can read the entire Brutus #1 and annotations by clicking HERE.

Here are the annotations that explain Brutus #1.

  • The government under the Articles of Confederation was not strong enough to manage some of the problems that the nation has experienced
  • The Constitution written by the convention in Philadelphia is an attempt to solve those problems.
  • If the new form of government is a good one, many generations of people will be able to enjoy all the blessings of liberty, the nation will grow and prosper, and people will advance in knowledge and virtue.
  • If the new government leads to a loss of liberty, then America, the place where liberty has the best chance to succeed, will fail and future generations will blame and despise us
  • The people must be careful about parting with power (as in creating a strong central government) because they are unlikely to ever get it back.
  • In the confederated government (as in the Articles of Confederation), most of the power belongs to the states.  In a consolidated government (as in the 1787 Constitution) most of the power belongs to the central, or national government
  • The new constitution places so much power in a central government that the state governments may no longer be able to function as republics under the control of their citizens
  • The “necessary and proper” clause and the “supreme law of the land” clause make the central government an uncontrollable power over the topics that the Constitution covers.
  • It is true that the constitution lists certain enumerated powers that will belong to the central government, reserving some minor power to the states, but all the important powers are delegated to the central government
  • There is no practical limit to the national legislature’s power to tax because the legislature itself decides what is meant by “common defense” and “general welfare.”
  • The authority to tax is the most important power a government can be given because it is related to all other powers that governments can have.
  • The central legislature’s power to raise and maintain a standing army, especially in peacetime, can lead to destruction of liberty.
  • Federal courts will destroy the state courts.
  • The legislature has broad powers with few limits; the necessary and proper clause invalidates any limits and may result in destroying the state governments.
  • It is human nature that those who have power try to increase it, and the central government will keep growing until all state authority is eliminated
  • Everyone agrees that the government should be a free one, controlled by a fair and equal representation of the people.
  • In such a large country it will be too hard for the representatives to really know the minds of the people.  Writings from great thinkers and examples from history help prove this point.
  • The diverse interests in a large republic will continually argue against each other.
  • Standing armies in peacetime are a danger to liberty.
  • Because of all these problems, the people will have little confidence in their legislature and will not support the laws it passes.
  • The legislature cannot be large enough to be truly representative of the people’s interests.
  • Representatives elected in such a large republic would soon be beyond control by the people and abuse their power for selfish and corrupt purposes.
  • Powerful elective offices will attract ambitious and sneaky men who are likely to abuse their power.

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