Anti-Federalism was a late-18th century movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government and opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution. The previous constitution, called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, gave state governments more authority. Led by Patrick Henry of Virginia, Anti-Federalists worried, among other things, that the position of president, then a novelty, might evolve into a monarchy. They believed the Constitution needed a Bill of Rights (meaning, to the federalists, they were an after though).
· They believed the Constitution created a presidency so powerful that it would become a monarchy (look how much the executive branch has grown beyond its intent).
· They believed the Constitution provided insufficient rights in the courts (e.g., no guarantee of juries in civil cases, nor that criminal case juries be local) and would create an out-of-control judiciary. (No ultimate check against SCOTUS, making them the most powerful branch)
· They believed that the national government would be too far away from the people and thus unresponsive to the needs of localities (how often the people are ignored).
· They believed the Constitution would abrogate, at least in part, the power of the states (more and more the fed removes power from the states which in some cases causes them to overcompensate either out of necessity or politics).
"These lawyers and men of learning, and moneyed men that talk so finely, and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us, poor illiterate people, swallow down the pill, expect to get into Congress themselves; they expect to be the managers of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands, and then they will swallow up all us little folks, like the great Leviathan"yes, just as the whale swallowed up Jonah." Amos Singletary, delegate from Worcester County at the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, January 25, 1788
Anti-Federalists, we are taught, are a footnote in American history. Given our national reverence for the Constitution, they are remembered as opponents to progress, as enemies to a government ordained and established by the people. At worst they are considered knuckle-dragging philistines who allowed their parochial concerns about states' powers to trump the good of the nation. They are the Pharisees of our American political religion.
In October 1787, only a month after the Constitutional Convention ended its deliberations and sent the finished Constitution to the states for ratification, Robert Yates, a judge from upstate New York, penned a prescient essay arguing against ratifying the Constitution. Yates worried the proposed constitution would create a government unaccountable to the people and that those in power would use it for the "purposes of gratifying their own interest and ambition." "It is scarcely possible," Yates wrote, "in a very large republic, to call them to account for their misconduct, or to prevent their abuse of power." Does any of that sound familiar?
The original Anti-Federalists were wrong about many things (the federal government overriding states' powers to tax their citizens, as one example) but they got three ideas right and have become increasingly relevant in American politics.
Anti-Federalists said that the federal government under the Constitution created would grow its power until states were secondary considerations. Thanks to lawyers, partisan judges, and self-serving members of government (by exploiting loopholes or playing semantics from both sides of the aisle), the federal government has grown well beyond what it was intended to be. Proving the Anti-federalists' fears correct.
Second, this powerful federal government would be too big and distant to effectively be controlled, and people of ambition and avarice would simply use it to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. (Sound familiar?)
Third, that it was dangerous to govern a diverse and large population from a distant government that would hold such power over the daily lives of people, and because of this, politics would become something more primitive than civilized, bringing constant discord, and fighting as different factions tried to control their fellow citizens. (any of this sound familiar?)
Under the proposed Constitution, Yates wrote, the government "has authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and property of every man in the United States." In Yates's view, that power was so great that it would eventually swallow the state governments, "for it will be found that the power retained by individual states, small as it is, will be a clog upon the wheels of the government of the United States; the latter therefore will be naturally inclined to remove it."
Yates understood temptations of power. "It is a truth confirmed by the unerring experience 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."
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