In the time period after the American Revolution, the now United States were, in reality, fiercely divided. The absence of Great Britain’s authority left a vacuum of power in the new country. Americans were wary of a strong national government, so they created the Confederation, a nation of loosely connected states with no real central power. However, this left the country weak and ineffective when faced with issues like trade regulation and tax collection. Shays’s Rebellion, an uprising of farmers protesting taxes, was a turning point because it showed that the Confederation left the government powerless against conflict of any sort. The government knew the Articles of Confederation needed to be changed and that a stronger central power needed to be created if their country had even the smallest chance of surviving. This led to the weeks of rewriting and arguing between representatives from every state, except Rhode Island. In the end, they created an entire new document, The Constitution, that finally strengthened their once fragile government. Nonetheless, there were still those that argued that the national government was now too strong. They were deemed the Antifederalists because of their opposition to the Federalists, supporters of the Constitution. The Antifederalists opposed ratification of the Constitution because of Congress’ right to tax, power being taken from the states, and the absence of a bill of rights.
The Antifederalists believed that giving Congress the power to tax went against the foundations that America was built on. They argued that giving Congress the right to tax would give them too much influence, reminding them of the reason for the American Revolution in the first place. Many argued that this was too similar to the British government they had just been at war with and warned that they were heading down a path of tyranny.
Many of the most influential Antifederalists, like Patrick Henry, were wealthy planters. Their vision for the young country was an agrarian society focused on the state government and its rights. The central government would then only take care of issues that were outside of the states’ realm, like foreign relations. This was exactly the kind of system that the Confederation gave them. The weak central government under the Articles of Confederation gave states the control to almost run entirely on their own. This independence pleased the Antifederalists, but the Constitution was trying to change that. The whole basis of this new document was to reinforce the national government by taking power from the states. This worried the Antifederalists because they were afraid of the states having no real voice and the federal government making the decisions concerning matters at home instead.
The biggest grievance of the Antifederalists was the lack of a bill of rights. Before the Revolutionary War, colonists were worried about the lack of written rights for the people in British government. Concerns like taxation without representation were important because there was no document present to protect the people from having their human rights jeopardized. There was a general sense of freedom, but without a clear set of guidelines, different rulers could misconstrue this in any way that would fit their agenda. In their new government system, this would give a considerable amount of power to the courts to interpret what rights the American people actually had. The Antifederalists wanted to make sure this gray area was not present in their new government. They believed that the rights of the people would never be guaranteed without the creation of a bill of rights to protect them.
In conclusion, Antifederalists opposed the ratification of the Constitution because they felt it made the national government too strong. They feared that it would create an oppressive and aristocratic government, much like that of Great Britain. This document, in their minds, would render the years of protest and war obsolete. America would once again be under the control of an all-powerful government unconcerned with the wellbeing of its citizens.
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