American history is filled with the Federalists and Anti-Federalists debate. Federalism is an important concept in the discipline of political science. We often ask ourselves what is an Anti-Federalist. Before we know ‘what is an Anti Federalist?’, We must know about the history of federalism and how it came into existence.
The federal government is a form of government where separate state governments and central governments have individual powers.
There is a strong national government with more powers. There is a coordination between the center and the state about the powers held by each of them.
1. History of Federalism
After independence, the Declaration of Independence was signed by Thomas Jefferson. The Articles of Confederation were the first; however a short-lived constitution.
After 1787, a new constitution was created, and the ratification of the Constitution was to be done. The new Constitution provided a strong national government in the form of a federal structure.
After the American Revolution, the country was in huge debt. To overcome that, the Federalists believed that a federal government would be more beneficial than the existing government. Those in favor of this new Constitution created were called the Federalists. Those who opposed this constitutional convention were known as the Anti-Federalists.
This new federal government had too much national power than it was there under the Articles of Confederation. The Anti-Federalists believed this strong central or federal government would violate individual liberties.
The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists were divided in their opinion on which form of government was better. The rationale behind that opinion was the basis for classifying the two forms of government.
2. What is a Federalist?
Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were the proponents of a strong national government. They believed a federal government would be better for the country’s administration. Alexander Hamilton later went on to found the famous Federalist party.
There was a fear among the country’s citizens that this newly proposed Constitution would take away their liberties.
2.1. What is Federalist Papers?
To assure people, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison started writing in the newspaper to defend the new United States constitution. They wrote extensively about how the government would not infringe on individual rights and liberties. These 85 essays written in support were called the Federalist papers.
They argued that the Articles of Confederation had a weak central government and, therefore, a weaker constitution. Stability was required to make the United States a bigger and more powerful country, which a strong federal government could achieve.
2.2. Features of New Strong National Government
The new form of the national government had three branches: the legislature, executive, and judiciary. The president was to be made the head of the executive and state heads.
This government was based on the principle of checks and balances, where each organ of the government would keep a check on the arbitrary use of power or its abuse by other organs.
3. What is an Anti Federalist?
On the other hand, the Antifederalists were completely opposed to the idea of a federal government. Most of them were small farmers, vendors, and laborers, but later they became one of the most influential groups in the history of the Constitution.
They believed in weak central and powerful state governments, which would mean greater accountability for them. The Anti Federalists opposed the newly proposed republican government at the center level.
3.1. What are Anti-Federalists’ Papers?
In response to the Federalist papers, they wrote their own defense called the Anti Federalists’ papers. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, Richard henry lee, George Mason, and Robert Yates formed an influential group.
The pen name used to write such papers was the ‘Federal Farmer.’ They later formed the Democratic-Republican Party in the United States.
They believed a centralized new government was like another form of monarchial government of Britain with too much power from which they worked hard to attain freedom.
The Anti-Federalists feared that the new federal court system would overpower the local courts in the states. They believed that there should be a restraint on excessive power of the government and that this new Constitution would add to the corruption by the governments.
The Anti-Federalists failed, and after the ratification of the Constitution, twelve amendments were presented before the First Congress in 1789. Out of which it passed only 10, later becoming the cornerstone of American liberties.
Here is an excerpt from the Anti-Fededelist papers highlighting the opposition to the new federal government.
“I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself.
Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all. Therefore, I am not of the party of Federalists.” —Thomas Jefferson, Anti-Federalist.
3.2. Consequences of Failure of Anti Federalists Agenda
The opposition from the Anti-Federalists was not something the Federalists could ignore at that time. It leads to some limitations on the abuse of power by the strong federal government. It mandated checks and balances in the government.
The opposition and the effort of the Anti-Federalists led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights in the United States federal Constitution by way of the First Amendment.
4. What is the Bill of Rights?
The Bill of Rights constitutes 1o amendments added to the new Constitution to protect rights and individual liberties. The Constitution’s ratification was done after the defeat of the Anti-Federalists.
However, one cannot disregard the role the Anti-Federalists had played in the addition of these bills of rights. Today, these bills of rights have become the shield of citizens’ fundamental rights. They act as a safeguard against the unjust acts of the government.
4.1. Features of the Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights includes the right to religious freedom, the right to expression, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, and the right against unreasonable search and seizure.
It provides rights against double jeopardy, the rights of accused persons, the right to be informed of accusations, the right to a jury, and the right against excessive bail fines.
It also allows the states to reserve all the powers not delegated to the central government.
5. Is the Federal Government a Good Form of Government?
People engaged in the political discourse often debate about government types and efficiency. In the United States of America, the federal form of government has a weaker central government, and the states enjoy more autonomy and power.
Federalism divides the power between the center and the state. Each state has its own state legislatures and executive. A federal court system has the power to adjudicate disputes between the center and the state.
Conversely, in the Indian context, there is a strong central government. In case of dispute between the applicability of central and state laws, the central laws prevail.
Anti-Federalists had their own reservations because they were concerned about violating individual liberties by the state. They feared that the president would abuse massive power, destroying the nation.
They preferred the Articles of Confederation to be more appropriate for the powers of individual states and a truly federal form of government.
When we talk about today’s scenario, federalism plays both a good and a bad role. It is an efficient form of government, ensures accountability of all organs of the government, and it prevents concentration of power.
On the other hand, it leads to non-application of a national policy, lack of accountability, and economic differences between states. But we can see that the positives do overpower the negatives.
6. What is an Anti Federalist?: Conclusion
Many countries have adopted the federal government, followed by the United States, such as India. The federal government structure is working efficiently in such countries. It is often ensured by diving into certain topics of legislation and administration between the center and state.
The topics of state importance, such as foreign affairs, defense, railways, citizenship, etc., are provided to the state in the union or central list.
The topics such as marriage, education, public health, transport, agriculture, etc., which are of state importance, are mentioned in the state list to be exclusively dealt with by the state legislature.
The system designed under the federal government is made to simplify the governance in the countries, but the system is not so simple. Federalism as a system of governance is not free from defects. It can be improved by increasing transparency and accountability in the government.
So, now you know what is an Anti Federalist and what role they played in shaping American history.