After the colonial victory in the American Revolution, the colonies were left in an economic depression. Many colonists longed for a more concentrated federal power in hopes for standardized fiscal and monetary power as well as more consistent conflict management. On the other hand, others felt that centralizing American power seemed too similar to the monarchical English power they had just recently fought to escape from. Throughout history from the 1700s to the 1800s, Federalists and Anti-federalists held conflicting ideologies on how the new country should run.
The Articles of Confederation
Before the Constitution was established, a document called the Articles of Confederation was established. This document contained thirteen articles as an agreement between the founding states. Topics discussed in these articles were state sovereignty, equal rights, congressional development and delegation, armed forces and more. This document was not a very strong agreement for a nation to be based on. For example, one articles states:
The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other… (Articles of Confederation, Article III)
The Articles of Confederation took years to get ratified by the thirteen states, Virginia being the first to do so in the year of 1777 and Maryland being the last, 4 years later. This document made Congress the only form of a federal government.Unfortunately, it was weakened because it could not find any of the resolutions that it had passed. One issue that they faced was that they had no way to regulate money. This caused the value of money to depreciate quickly. Another problem Congress faced regarding the states was when they had asked for millions of dollars in the 1780s. In return, they only received less than 1.5 million dollars between the years 1781 and 1784. These patterns of poor governance caused an economic downfall and eventually, rebellion. After a while, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s chief of staff, recognized the problems that resulted from a federal government with no strength. He then got Washington’s approval to gather a group of nationalists and together write a report of the federal government’s conditions and how to improve them. This meeting was called the Annapolis Convention, also known as the Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government.They also discussed how the government would need to expand in order to survive the domestic turmoil and international threats as a sovereign nation.
Later, in the year 1788, the Constitution was made in order the replace the articles of Confederation. This document was created in order to expand on the power of the federal government. The United States Constitution is still the supreme law of the country to this day. It allows the government to define, protect, and tax American citizens. The Constitution was quickly ratified, which is likely another result of having a weak federal government. People who were the main supporters of the Constitution were called Federalists. These people identified with federalism as part of a movement. People who fought against the Constitution’s ratification were called Anti-federalists. Anti-federalists specifically fought against the amendments that gave the federal government fiscal and monetary powers.4 A hot debate between the two positions inflamed, resulting in many series of essays writing by several important historical figures as well as anonymous. Essays were made to support and opposes the ratification of the United States Constitution. Some examples include the Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay as well as the Anti-Federalist Papers, which was written by anonymous authors.
As previously stated, Federalists were supporters of the proposed Constitution. Their name stands for wanting a loose, decentralized system of government. Federalists were aware that the country’s problems were coming from the fact that the central government government had many weaknesses stemming from the Articles of Confederation. For them, the Constitution was there in order to protect the liberty and independence of the American citizens that they had won in the American Revolution. They felt that their most important task was to protect and preserve their social gains of the the Revolution. In the essay Federalist No. 10, James Madison, one of the many prominent federalist leaders explained that the Constitution was created in order to be:
A republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government (Madison, 48)5.
A great amount of Federalists had previous experience in working with building the nation and creating innovative political plans. Federalists also proved to be well organized, funded and created carefully printed work. The majority of Newspaper companies supported the Federalists’ political plans and agreed to publish their articles and pamphlets that discussed why the people in the states should approve of the Constitution. Although, the Federalists did have several advantages, the fight against Anti-federalists remained difficult. This was because some of the political positions that federalists posed went against traditional beliefs. They carried the belief that the abuse of central power was not as much of a threat as excess democracy was. It would be difficult for them to convince the public that democracy would need to be constrained in order to have a strong central government and weaker state governments.
On the other hand, Anti-federalists were a diverse group of people who were against the ratification of the Constitution. They were less organized than the Federalists yet they also held a strong group of leaders who were prominent in state politics. Strong political figures such as Patrick Henry, John Hancock and George Mason were supported by a vast number of American citizens. These citizens were primarily farmers residing in rural areas whereas, Federalists were primarily residing in urban areas. Although there was diversity in the Anti-federalist opposition, they all shared the core ideology of American politics that the future of the United States was threatened but the government’s potential to hold too much power and become tyrannical, ultimately completely ruling over the people.6 Being that they had just succeeded from British rule, this treat was a more serious matter in politics. The Anti-federalists believed that the Constitution that had been proposed threatened to rule the states to similarly to the rule that they had just escaped, and they wanted to do everything in their power to prevent that type of political corruption from happening once again. The three branches of the new central government had especially threatened Anti-federalist beliefs in the importance of holding back from excess government power. They were disturbed from the things that the president would be allowed to do, such as the veto to overturn the representative’s decisions in the legislature. They also feared that Congress would give oppressive taxes since the legislature would have increased fiscal authority. Ultimately, the biggest objection that this group had was based on the lack of protections the Constitution would have for individual liberties.
In conclusion, the Federalists and Anti-federalists did agee on one matter: the future of their country relied on this contest over the ratification of the Constitution. In 1788, the ratification of the Constitution was approved, the Federalists had won the fight. This important, and still relevant, document was created thigh an extensive political process, demanding hard work and compromise.
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