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Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, and Their Common Arguments
The Constitution, when first introduced, set the stage for much controversy in the United States. The two major parties in this battle were the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists, such as James Madison, were in favor of ratifying the Constitution. On the other hand, the Anti-Federalists, such as Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, were against ratification. Each party has there own beliefs on why or why not this document should or should not be passed. These beliefs are displayed in the following articles: Patrick Henry’s “Virginia Should Reject the Constitution,” Richard Henry Lee’s “The Constitution Will Encourage Aristocracy,” James Madison’s “Federalist Paper No. 10,” and “The Letters to Brutus.” In these documents, many aspects of the Constitution, good and bad, are discussed. Although the Federalists and Anti-Federalists had very conflicting views, many common principals are discussed throughout their essays. The preservation of liberty and the effects of human nature are two aspects of these similarities. Although the similarities exist, they represent and support either the views of the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists.
Patrick Henry makes his views very clear in his Letter. He is obviously against ratifying the Constitution. His main argument’s consists of the sovereignty of the states, the system of checks and balances and the senate, the leaning towards a monarchy, and absolute power. Henry thinks that the uniting of all the states under one government would take away the sovereignty of the states. He states that, “Here is a resolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished” (Henry in Unger, p. 115). Another argument that Henry makes is about the system of checks and balances. He thinks that this system would never really be followed. The senate, he says, is not structured well enough to protect the rights of the people. One of his main points is the leaning towards a monarchy. He describes that it would be very easy for the President to become a king. Henry seems to also contradict himself on this point when he says that he would rather have a king and lords than a chief who controls the army. Henry’s final point is about the creation of an absolute ruler. Like he says about the monarchy, it would be easy for this to happen. If the President has control of the army, it would be easy to declare himself an absolute leader.
Richard Henry Lee is another Anti-Federalist who displays his views throughout his article. Lee discusses some arguments, but the main point of his article is about how the Constitution came to be and the problems associated with it. He says “by making tender, suspension, and paper money laws, have given just cause of uneasiness to creditors. By these and other causes, several orders of men in the community have been prepared, by degrees, for a change in government” (Lee in Unger, p. 119). Lee believes that if these things had not occurred, the idea of a new government would have never been thought of. Another point that Lee makes is about the delegates that were chosen to go to the convention. He says that the intentional purpose of the convention was to amend the Confederation. There was no word about devising a new governmental plan, and because of this, states were very willing to attend the convention. Another problem with the convention was the appointment of the delegates and who actually attended the convention. Lee says that many men who could have made a difference at the convention did not attend and therefore the nation has suffered. He believes that many groups were not represented well at the convention, and that if more men had attended the outcome would have been very different.
The third document, “Letters to Brutus,” reflects many different views on why the Constitution should not be ratified. Like Henry this article discusses the fear of absolute power arising. Other arguments include the difficulty of one government controlling such a big and diverse nation, confidence in rulers, and standing armies. The main argument of the article is the difficulty of controlling a nation so big. Brutus uses the example of the Grecian republic and also the government of the Romans. He claims that they started out small and eventually expanded their empire, which led to their downfall. Also, in such a large country, people can not have the faith in their rulers as in a smaller government. The strength of a government depends on the support of its citizens. Another argument that goes hand in hand with the size of the Untied States, is the diversity of it. Each state had it’s own laws, and many of these laws are very conflicting with one another. Brutus quotes that, “In a republic of such vast extent as the United States, the legislature cannot attend to the various concerns and wants of its different parts” (Brutus, p. 99). Finally, Brutus discusses the effects of having a “standing army.” He says that if the United States has a “standing army” to enforce laws that it would create fear and eventually lead to an absolute power.
The article that display’s the Federalist’s point of view is James Madison’s, “Federalists Paper No. 10.” This article not only explains the benefits of the Constitution, but it also gives reasons to why the old government will not work in American society. Madison believes that having many factions will result in chaos and violence. It is natural for man to have conflicting views, and as a result of this, factions are formed. The paper also discusses the system of representatives. Madison says, “The Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State Legislatures” (p. 105). The system that the Constitution proposes provides a fair representation of all the citizens of the United States in a central government.
These articles all display different views of the Constitution, but they also have some similarities. One common interest in two of the articles, is absolute power. When power is given to a handful of men, it can be easily abused. A good example of this is in “Letters of Brutus,” when he states, “Besides, it is a truth confirmed by the unerring experiences of ages, that every man, and every body of men, invested with power, are ever disposed to increase it, and to acquire a superiority over every thing that stands in their way” (p. 96). Patrick Henry also displays his fears on this issue. He claims that it would be very easy for the President to declare himself an absolute leader. Henry also claims that because the President has control of the army, it makes this even easier to take place.
Although the Federalists and Anti-Federalists had very opposing views, some of the topics discussed are similar. For Example, Brutus and Madison both discuss the effects of human nature, and how this can effect the government. Sometimes things that men do can not prevented, and because of this, cause problems in governmental activities. Brutus states that it is human nature to want power. This is displayed by going back to the example that Brutus gives about the governments of the Grecian and of the Romans. Because of human nature they extended their empire to be as big and powerful as possible. When power is given to someone, they want to expand it and make it absolute. Brutus uses this to support his view on the Constitution. Having one central government would result in an absolute power. Madison gives some more points on human nature in his paper. He describes that factions are caused by human nature. Men naturally have different beliefs and opinions and as a result of this, different and sometimes opposing groups are formed, thus resulting in factions. These factions can become violent, because they can all have conflicting views. This is one of the problems Madison discusses as to why this is not a good form of government.
Another common interest of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists is the preservation of liberty and government. Although they both discuss these points, it is in support of their cause. Patrick Henry believes that if a central government is formed it will take away the liberty of its people. This will happen because he believes that with a central government, it will inevitably turn into an absolute power, therefore taking away the liberty of its citizens. Henry also discusses the “roots” our liberty. He says that:
We are descended from a people whose government was founded on liberty: our glorious forefathers of Great Britain made liberty the foundation of every thing. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their government is strong and energetic, but sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation. (Henry, p. 116)
Henry uses his views on the preservation of liberty to further support his argument. On the other hand, Madison discusses the topic of liberty in that it is what fuels factions. He says that removing liberty is one of the only ways to destroy a faction. He proceeds to state that this is not probable, and that factions can not be destroyed, but we must control their consequences in order to have a stable government. Madison believes that the Constitution preserves man’s liberty by fairly representing them in a central government.
All of the topics discussed in these essays are very relevant to their respective causes. They are all backed up with valid information and examples. These essay’s were written by very respectable men and show much insight on the subject of whether or not the Constitution should be ratified. The Federalists and Anti-Federalists had very opposing views, but used some of the same topics to support their point of views.
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