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Federalist Vs. Anti-Federalist Essay, Research Paper
Federalists vs. Anti-Federalist: The Constitutional Debate
The road to accepting the Constitution of the United
States was neither easy nor predetermined. In fact during
and after its drafting a wide-ranging debate was held
between those who supported the Constitution, the
Federalists, and those who were against it, the
Anti-Federalists. The basis of this debate regarded the
kind of government the Constitution was proposing, a
centralized republic. Included in the debate over a
centralized government were issues concerning the affect the
Constitution would have on state power, the power of the
different branches of government that the Constitution would
create, and the issue of a standing army.
One of the most important concerns of the
Anti-Federalists was that the new form of government would
strip the states of their own power. The Anti-Federalists
feared that by combining the previously independent states
under one government that, “…the states, once sovereign,
would retain but a shadow of their former power…”(Main
120). The Anti-Federalist claimed that if the sovereignty
of the states was to be maintained then the states must be
granted the vital powers of government and the power of
Congress limited. However, they claimed that this was not
so under the Constitution. The Constitution gave Congress
unlimited power and did not explicitly detail any control
that the states would be able to exercise over the Federal
government. The Anti-Federalists stated that since both the
state and Federal government would frequently legislate on
the same matters, if a conflict among their decisions arose
the Federal government would win out because of its
connection to the Supreme Court (Main 124). They feared
that “the result of (this connection) might be eventual
abolition of the state governments”(Main 124).
In Federalist Paper No. 46, James Madison addresses
these concerns about the well being of the state governments
under the Constitution. Madison argues that the interests
of the states will not be lost in Congress, because the
loyalty of the legislator will be first to the people of his
district and then secondly to the benefit of the whole
country. Madison says that the “members of the Federal
Legislature will be likely to attach themselves too much to
local objects”(Madison 239). Madison tried to alleviate the
concerns of the Anti-Federalist concerning what type of
recourse the states would have against Federal legislation
by saying that the states would have powerful means of
opposition to any unfavorable or unwarranted legislation.
The powerful means of opposition Madison talks about is the
displeasure of the people, whom Madison believes to be the
fountain from which the Federal government draws its power.
The second major concern of the Anti-Federalists was the
power of Congress. It worried the Anti-Federalists a great
deal that the Constitution would grant Congress the power to
tax in “necessary and proper” circumstances (Main 122). Not
only could Congress pass new taxes without the consent of
the people or state governments, the Anti-Federalist also
felt that the Congress would have control over the judiciary
branch. If Congress had influence over the judicial system,
what recourse would the state have against unfair
legislation? The executive’s ability to veto also
displeased the Anti-Federalist, for they feared that such
power was too reminiscent of a monarchy. The
Anti-Federalists debated with the Federalists about the
duration of the terms that Congressmen would have. They
believed that the elections should be held annually, as to
keep the legislators in touch with their constituents. The
Constitution, instead, called for House representatives to
be elected every two years and for Senators to have a term
of six years.
The Federalist answer to these concerns was a system of
checks and balances. Whereas the Anti-Federalists saw all
branches of government working in accordance with each
other, the Federalists believed that the different branches
of government would be able to check the power of each
other. In Federalist Paper No. 51, Madison details why he
thinks the separation of power among three branches will
create checks and balances among those branches. Madison
states that “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition”
(Madison 262). Madison believed that by dividing the power
of the people between two distinct governments and then
subdividing this power among distinct and separate
departments, that a high level of security would be able to
be maintained for the rights of the people (Madison 264).
The Anti-Federalists addressed the issue of a standing army
under the control of the Federal government, they feared
that Congress’ control over both taxes and a standing army
could result in an oppression of the people. This also
factored into the debate over state power, because it was
obvious that the state militias would be no match for the
federal army, if it decided to encroach into the state.
Anti-Federalist John Smilie declared that, “…In a free
Government there never will be Need of standing Armies, for
it depends on the Confidence of the People. If it does not
so depend, it is not free…” (Main 147).
Madison contradicts the arguments of the Anti-Federalist
concerning this issue in Federalist Paper No. 46. He points
out two reasons that the states need not worry about a
standing army. His first argument is that it would be
incredibly unlikely that the people would consistently elect
traitors that would, “…pursue some fixed plan for the
extension of the military establishment…”(Madison 241).
Secondly, Madison points out that Americans are armed and
that the states control of militias will, “…form a barrier
against the enterprizes of ambition…”(Madison 242). Again
in this argument Madison goes back to his belief that the
Federal government is unlikely to become oppressive because
the people grant its power.
Both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists believed
strongly in their convictions about the Constitution.
However, in the end, it was the Federalists who won, and the
Constitution was ratified. Looking back in hindsight, it is
easy to see that both groups were right. The Constitution
created a government that has, for the most part, protected
the rights and freedom of its people, but there have also
been moments in American history where the fears of the
Anti-Federalists were realized and corruption was found in
the government. Admiration is felt for both of these
groups, because their debates over that fledgling government
gave rise to a strong Constitution and a strong
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