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The Origin of the US Constitution - Federalists vs Antifederalists

Updated on February 28, 2010

Independence Hall

Federalists vs Antifederalist part 1

Anti-Federalists and Federalists: Two Different Points of View (part 1) by Mr. Michael M. Nakade

Overview:  Historians tended to be overly influenced by the Federalists when they studied the ratification debate over the proposed constitution.  After all, the Federalists won the debate and succeeded in having their constitution adopted by the required number of states.  However, in recent years, historians have come to appreciate the strength of the Anti-Federalist argument.  Here, I will put words into key figures’ mouths so as to make two different points of view come alive.  The Anti-Federalist camp is represented by George Clinton, the governor of New York, while The Federalist view is promoted by James Madison, the father of the US Constitution and the fourth president of the U.S.  Interestingly, Clinton later became the vice president under Madison.

Question#1: Do we really need a new central government?

Madison: The ratification debate in the State of New York was intense.  My fellow Federalist Alexander Hamilton wrote about two thirds of the famous Federalist Paper in New York.  John Jay and I contributed the other one third. We were all united to establish a new nation under one national constitution so that this new republic could survive.  New York was one of the key states.  We couldn’t afford to lose the ratification debate here.

Clinton: I was at the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  I did not like the idea of creating a strong central government under the proposed new constitution.  I was afraid that the new federal government, or the central government, would diminish the significance and the uniqueness of  state governments.  Therefore, I refused to sign my name on the proposed constitution.  I was not alone.  John Mercer, Robert Yates, George Mason, among others didn’t either.  I came back to New York and insisted that we’d have another constitution convention so that we could start over.

Madison: After winning the independence from Great Britain, thirteen colonies became thirteen states and each declared its own sovereignty and independence.  The friendship among these states was agreed upon, and its document was the Articles of Confederation.  But, we all know it didn’t work.  It was too weak to get the job done.  America’s future looked very bleak.  Between 1781 and 1787, there was too much chaos in the land.  The strong central government was needed to address the post war issues of national defense, international trade and domestic trade regulations.  That’s why I authored the Virginia Plan which would provide the main framework for America’s first central government under the new constitution.

Clinton: Not so fast, Mr. Madison.  I do understand that the Articles of Confederation was inadequate, but the creation of a new central government is a scary proposition.  None of us know what kind of a government that would be.  It might become a monster that could swallow up all 13 states.  Some of us aren’t ready for this idea.  In fact, we were taken aback when you came to Philadelphia with the Virginia Plan of yours. Present chaos in the land would subside when people regain their civic and moral spirit.  After several years of fighting the Revolutionary War, people’s moral sense declined.  We’re going to raise it and we are going to put an end to a chaotic condition.

Madison: Mr. Clinton, America is a new nation.  We owe it to ourselves to try a new model.  This is a country without a royal family to run it.  This is a republic.  But, for this new republic to succeed, the new government needs to receive power to act decisively with regard to issues of national defense, international relations, interstate commerce, among other things. 

Clinton: We, Americans, just fought a war with Britain because we felt our liberty was severely restricted by the government of King George III.  Quite frankly, we are very suspicious of strong governmental power and authority.  You and your friends in the Federalist camp wish to have a strong central government.  Like I said before, we are afraid that this new government might turn out to be a monster that would restrict our hard earned freedom.

Madison: Mr. Clinton.  Look around.  Liberty is everywhere.   Then, what?  We had to deal with riots, farmer’s rebellions, and chaos.  I am proposing this new constitution which would create a new central government.  With this new government, we would bring a sense of law and order.  Too much liberty only leads to “too much chaos.”  With the current condition, America’s future looks very bleak.  As for your concern over the new central government becoming a monster, please be assured that there is a built-in safeguard against the government becoming too powerful.  I borrowed heavily from Baron de Montesquei’s idea of checks and balance on each branch of the government.  Three branches are: legislative, executive, and judiciary. Each will watch over the other two.  The system is good!

(Information indicated in this work came from The Knowledge Products’ lecture series on the United States Constitution and The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, both authored by George H. Smith.)

Per, The Knowledge Products is a leading publisher of educational books-on-tapes, in business since 1985.


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