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A Lesson in Anti-Federalism

by Alan L. Lundy
http://www.SafestCrime.com

Just a few short years after we gained our independence from the British, a political battle raged that would reshape the newly formed confederation of States. 

The battle raged over which direction this newly formed union of States would go. As infants, the thirteen sovereign States had enjoyed several years of Liberty and independence and were governed under the Articles of Confederation. Many of these thirteen States also succumbed to financial hardships under the Articles. This would soon change. The substance of the meeting was the brainchild of James Madison and was held under a cloud of secrecy. It was destined to change the course of the country and stimulate some of the greatest political debates in our history. 

Probably the main attraction was that of George Washington. He was unanimously elected President over the Constitutional convention, a position that he admittedly felt awkward and unqualified to hold. Other shining stars of Independence chose to be absent. 

"Patrick Henry refused to attend this meeting, declaring he "smelt a rat." He suspected, correctly, that Madison had in mind the creation of a powerful central government and the subversion of the authority of the state legislatures. Along with many other political leaders, Henry believed that the state governments offered the chief protection for personal liberties. He was determined not to lend a hand to any proceeding that seemed to pose a threat to that protection. 

With Henry absent, with such towering figures as Jefferson and Adams abroad on foreign missions, and with John Jay in New York at the Foreign Office, the convention was without some of the country's major political leaders. 

A rat was exactly what Henry had "smelt". Several plans were offered including Madison's, that called for the near annihilation of the State legislatures and the creation of an implied empire. Alexander Hamilton along with a small following offered the most offensive, by declaring the British Government "the best in the world". Hamilton's plan made provisions for lifetime appointments of the Executive and officials with the only qualification being good behavior (I think Mr. Clinton has proved that the definition of good behavior can be broad and therefore useless). A suggested American monarchy repulsed many at the convention and lack of support for his plan along with a complete distaste for royalty quickly quieted the talk of "a King George of America". 

Under British rule in the mid-18th century, many colonists were becoming more and more disillusioned with their masters from across the sea. Like any other government bent on oppression, the Brits began to take steps to curb this dissent, and a standing Army was put into place to quiet and monitor the disgruntled factions. This led to back room meetings and hushed corner gatherings in local taverns. It also required absolute loyalty from those involved in the soon-to-be armed resistance to tyranny. 

After a long line of abuses against what was considered inalienable or basic human rights, 56 men signed, sealed and delivered a Declaration of Independence. This maneuver immediately marked them as enemies of the Crown - and you know the rest of the story. While Hamilton surely felt that the system of British government had not been the culprit, just a tyrannical King, others felt that this system had led to and created tyranny. 

Two prominent sides emerged over the long period between September 17, 1787 and 1789. Some folks actually believe it was a simple process of: win the Revolution (which was not a Revolution at all), ratify a Constitution and create what we know as America today. Not so simple. 

The Federalists were attempting to install a new government under the Constitution and did so behind locked and guarded doors. This raised suspicion in many sectors of the political arena. Many of their individual rights quotes were made out of necessity to woo public favor for the new Constitution and not necessarily out of personal conviction. When you read a Federalist quote on the right to keep and bear arms, it always seems to have the qualifying attachment of "why, you have nothing to fear from us, we've guaranteed your right to remain armed". 

The Anti-Federalists on the other hand, were very content with the idea of their new found liberty and in no hurry to give it up. For the most part they felt the Articles of Confederation merely needed amending and to throw them out was hasty and irresponsible. Their argument was abandoned and the idea of a Constitution was pushed forward but not without fierce opposition and amendments. 

The Constitution of these united States was drafted and heavily scrutinized by many. George Mason made reference to the fact that the document was flawed because it contained no declaration of individual rights. Mason had drafted Virginia's DOR and when read, it's easy to see where the language in our Bill of Rights originated. Elbridge Gerry seconded Mason's concerns and both refused to sign the Constitution. Once again the Federalists found themselves backed in a corner. 

This new argument led to more heated debates between the two factions. The Federalists were vehemently opposed to a declaration of rights and considered them unnecessary, as the States already recognized individual rights. The Anti-Federalists argued that the Constitution on it's own was vague and gave broad sweeping power to the new general government that made the States subordinate entities. The Federalists shot back with the fact that the new compact defined and restricted the power of the Fed and would indeed protect the individual rights of all. The Anti-Federalists were not convinced, so compromises on both sides were made in order for an experimental union to become a reality. 

Thomas Jefferson, while favoring the new government, was a staunch defender of Liberty. He wrote to Madison that a bill of rights was "what the people are entitled to against every government on earth." 

Madison ultimately conceded to a bill of rights during the Virginia ratification process. 

The Federalists allowed the Anti's to amend the Constitution with their Declaration of individual rights, thus assuring the public they would be protected under the new government. The Constitution was eventually ratified, but all critics were not immediately silenced. Compromises were made on both sides, and I'm sure that any reasonable person would agree that while no government concocted by mere mortals can ever be deemed perfect, we have the best documents at our disposal to guarantee our Liberties and Freedoms. 

The Federalists were very protective of their new government and drafted a Constitution that served the interest of the governing body. 

The Anti-Federalists were equally protective of our individual (inalienable) rights and insisted a declaration of those rights be included with the Federalist's Constitution. 

Many read the remarks of the Founders today and lump them into one fishbowl of agreement. Agreement would be the farthest thing from the truth. Many of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms quotes of the Founders were made during the ratification period of the U.S. Constitution. Anti-Federalists such as Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee and George Mason made their pro-individual rights to arms statements in open opposition to the new Constitution. Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made similar statements but with a slightly different motivation. 

Today we have to fight for our God-given rights even with them written down and well documented. Imagine if the Anti-Federalists had not held out and fought for the people's portion of the Constitution. We might very well have the "king" that Hamilton originally wanted, ruling over us today. 

The next time you read a Founder's statement on our individual rights, remember those who fought to insure they were included, written down in plain simple English and not forgotten, then remember those who were willing to give us a "King". Also remember that even those who did not feel the same passion for liberty, in the end, recognized ours. 

The Federalists and Anti-Federalists did not completely see eye to eye on every issue and compromises were struck, both were participants in the founding of our country. It would be wise to understand that the Anti-Federalists never wavered or compromised our individual rights. The Anti-Federalists' amendments to the U.S. Constitution have historically been the target of government abuse. These ten Amendments were and are the proverbial thorn in government's side. They explain in detail the areas of our lives that government may not tread. Government seeks absolute power and the Patrick Henry's and George Mason's of the 18th century said no to that absolution. They stood firm, as should we. 

Today, as it was in the late 1780's, we are forced again to petition the government to protect and secure our rights, and we must stand firm, as well. If we are willing to stand together, then we would do well to heed the words of the Prince of Anti-Federalism, who inspired Virginians and a nation to fight for their Liberty:

"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined." Patrick Henry, during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788) 

Alan L. Lundy 

Resources: 

  • A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution
  • The Virginia Declaration of Rights 
  • The Anti-Federalist Papers

© Copyright 2000 http://www.safestcrime.com All rights reserved. Visit our site to view our project showing states that are safe/unsafe to live in and why, at http://www.safestcrime.com/Safe.htm. Our goal is to have all 50 states done, and we welcome assistance for the states that are not yet done.


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 QUOTES TO REMEMBER
"And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? [...] The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!" —Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (Chapter 1 "Arrest")

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