The Forgotten “Good Guys” – The Anti-Federalists!

During the epic debates in late 1787 and early 1788, a political faction known as the Federalists was led by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalists were individuals who advocated for a strong central government and ratification of the Constitution as approved during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787.

While we revere their legacy in creating the Constitution under which we live and prosper, the Federalists weren’t necessarily the only “good guys.”

In contrast, there was a competing faction whose support for ratification of the Constitution of the United States was essential for success.  

We refer to them these days as the “Anti-Federalists.” And the lesson we learn from their experience during these days is that OPPOSING FACTIONS CAN WORK TOGETHER TO YIELD AN EXCELLENT RESULT.

As the first in a long line of states’ rights advocates, the Anti-Federalists feared the authority of a single national government, upper-class dominance, inadequate separation of powers, and loss of immediate control over local affairs.

They were strong advocates of personal liberties and felt that the proposed Constitution threatened to lead the United States down the all-too-familiar road of political corruption – perhaps even tyranny.

You will recognize some of these names – an impressive group of leaders who were especially prominent in state politics – one of them became the third President of the United States and another the fifth President of the United States.

These people include:

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Patrick Henry
  • Samuel Adams
  • Richard Henry Lee
  • Robert Yates
  • James Monroe
  • Amos Singletary
  • James Winthrop
  • George Clinton
  • Mercy Otis Warren
  • George Pinckney
  • Melancton Smith

The Anti-Federalists complained that the new system threatened liberties and failed to protect individual rights.

  • One faction opposed the Constitution because they thought a stronger central government threatened the sovereignty of the states;
  • Others argued that a new centralized government would have all the characteristics of the despotism of Great Britain from whom they had fought so hard to;
  • And still others feared that the new government threatened their personal liberties.

During the push for ratification, many of the articles in opposition were written under pseudonyms, such as “Brutus,” “Centinel,” and “Federal Farmer,” but some famous revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry came out publicly against the Constitution.

  • They were NOT “Losers.”
  • While the Constitution was ultimately ratified, the Anti-Federalists were “Winners,” too.
  • And they made winners out of every individual who has lived in America since the ratification of the Constitution.

The Anti-Federalists eventually agreed to ratify the Constitution as adopted by the Constitutional Convention; but this agreement came at a price.

James Madison addressed these deficiencies and crafted a series of twelve corrective proposals with the understanding that these articles of amendment be the first order of business of the new federal government following constitutional ratification. Congress did approve these twelve articles of amendment on September 25, 1789 and submitted them to the states for ratification. By December 15, 1791, articles three through twelve were ratified and became Amendments One through Ten of the Constitution of the United States. Obviously, two of the twelve were left out.

Which two?

  • The original Article Two – prohibiting any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office – was finally ratified in 1992 – becoming the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. Curiously, this amendment was forgotten until 1982 when a University of Texas student, Gregory Watson, wrote a paper pointing out that there was no time limit imposed on this amendment and, accordingly, it was still alive and able to be ratified. Watson led the charge for consideration and ratification – and ratification was achieved.
  • The original Article One – establishing how members of the House of Representatives would be apportioned – was not ratified; instead, the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 set the number of representatives to 435, which is where it stands today.

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As any student who has studied government knows (or SHOULD KNOW), the efforts of the Anti-Federalists resulted in the creation and adoption of the Bill of Rights.

We should learn from this experience that opposing political factions CAN WORK TOGETHER to produce an outstanding result!

Thank you, Anti-Federalists; and thank you, Federalists! The Constitutional Republic you collectively created complete with its “Bill of Rights” was exceptional – and still is!

Let’s work hard to keep it!

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