The History Book Club discussion

The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates
34 views
ARCHIVE > INTRODUCTION - ANTI-FEDERALISTS

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
While discussing the Federalists, we need a thread to discuss the ANTI-FEDERALISTS. This is that thread.


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Introduction

Lesson 1: Anti-federalist Arguments Against "A Complete Consolidation

"Throughout 1787-88, as Americans continued to debate the proposed Constitution, one of the most contentious issues was whether the Union – tightened into one indissoluble nation under a federal government – could be maintained without doing away with both liberty and the state governments.

Anti-federalist Brutus summarized the issue thus: “The first question that presents itself on the subject is…whether the thirteen United States should be reduced to one great republic…or whether they should continue thirteen confederated republics, under the direction and controul of a supreme federal head for certain defined national purposes only?”

One of the chief objections of Anti-federalists was that the new national government would likely not be able to efficiently govern an extent of territory as vast as the United States. “[I]n a republic of such vast extent as the United-States,” wrote Brutus, “the legislature cannot attend to the various concerns and wants of its different parts.”

Other Anti-federalists objected that such a system would only work if the national government gradually usurped all powers from the states, resulting in what they called a “consolidated” government.

With the United States thus “melted down into one empire,” Anti-federalists argued that the national government would likely resort to force to maintain the Union and ensure compliance to national laws. As Centinel wrote, “It would not be difficult to prove, that any thing short of despotism, could not bind so great a country under one government.” The result, Anti-federalists believed, would be a powerful tyranny, in which the national government exercised its virtually unlimited powers to oppress the people and deprive them of their liberty. “A free republic,” Brutus concluded, “cannot long subsist over a country of the great extent of these states.”

Source for all of the above:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan...

This lesson will focus on the chief objections of the Anti-federalists, especially The Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), Centinel, and Brutus, regarding the extended republic. Students will become familiar with the larger issues surrounding this debate, including the nature of the American Union, the difficulties of uniting such a vast territory with a diverse multitude of regional interests, and the challenges of maintaining a free republic as the American people moved toward becoming a nation rather than a mere confederation of individual states.


message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 04, 2011 08:44PM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod


Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee (1732 - 1794), was the leading anti-federalist who is thought to have been the individual who wrote as the "Federalist Farmer

Photograph: Library of Congress - American Memory


message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Guiding Questions

What are the merits of the Anti-federalist argument that an extended republic will lead to the destruction of liberty and self-government?

Source:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/an...

Please feel free to discuss this question on this thread.


message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

Understand what Anti-federalists meant by the terms “extended republic” or “consolidated republic.”

Articulate the problems the Anti-federalists believed would arise from extending the republic over a vast territory.

Better understand the nature and purpose of representation, and why, according to Anti-federalists, it would not be successful in a large nation.

Explain why Anti-federalists believed that eventually the extended republic would result in rebellion or tyranny.

Articulate how the problem of representation in a large republic would lead to abuse of power by those in national office or the use of force to execute the laws.

Explain why a great diversity of interests in a large republic was an obstacle, according to Anti-federalists, to uniting Americans together as one nation.


Source for all of the above:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan...

Please feel free to discuss any of the learning objectives or their impact today.


message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Background

After the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had ended and the proposed Constitution had been submitted to the American people for ratification, public debates raged between those who supported the Constitution (Federalists) and those who opposed it (Anti-federalists).

One of the central issues in the debates was whether it would be possible to unite the thirteen states into one great nation, under one federal government, in such a way that the individual states and their respective governments would not be eliminated – and with them, the means of securing the liberties of the citizens of America.

This question, in fact, had been one of the most important questions at the Convention, and had kept delegates preoccupied for the better part of half the time they had spent in Philadelphia. Delegates such as James Madison and James Wilson had put forward a plan that would transform the American Union from a loose confederation of sovereign and independent states – as they were considered to be under the Articles of Confederation – to a nation of one people, living in thirteen states, under a federal system that strengthened the national government but still left certain powers and responsibilities to the government of each state.

This was accomplished, in the end, by altering the scheme of representation: under the Articles of Confederation, each state legislature selected delegates to a unicameral Congress, and each state delegation had an equal vote on all national matters; under the proposed Constitution, a bicameral Congress was created, and each state sent a proportional number of delegates, elected directly by the people of that state. The effect was that under the new federal arrangement, the Union was no longer to be based simply on a “league of friendship” between sovereign and independent states, but on a contract between all Americans united in one nation – a nation that was already vast by historical standards and that promised further growth in the future.

The question of the nature of the American Union carried over into the Federalist and Anti-federalist debates – both groups, in fact, took their names either from their support or opposition to the proposed changes to the nature of the American Union. Should the United States remain a loose connection of thirteen smaller republics, or could they be united into one larger republic? The Anti-federalists generally agreed that the project of consolidating into one great republic should be rejected. As the Anti-federalist “The Federal Farmer” (believed to be Richard Henry Lee) wrote in 1787, “The first interesting question, therefore suggested, is, how far the states can be consolidated into one entire government on free principles…If we are so situated as a people, as not to be able to enjoy equal happiness and advantages under one government, the consolidation of the states cannot be admitted.” The Federal Farmer explains that there are three possible “forms” that the Union could take. First, it could retain its form as existing under the Articles of Confederation, in which “the respective state governments must be the principal guardians of the people’s rights, and exclusively regulate their internal police; in them must rest the balance of government. The congress of the states, or federal head, must consist of delegates amenable to, and removable by the respective states.” The second option, according to the Federal Farmer, is to “do away [with the] state governments, and form or consolidate all the states into one entire government.” The Federal Farmer rejects these first two options in favor of a third, in which a partial consolidation takes place, or, as he puts it, “We may consolidate the states as to certain national objects, and leave them severally distinct independent republics, as to internal police generally.” Although he favors this “partial consolidation” in theory, the Federal Farmer rejects the proposed constitution because in time – due to the lack of safeguards for the rights of citizens and the reserved powers of the states – a complete consolidation of power on the national level is inevitable. “The convention appears to have proposed the partial consolidation evidently with a view to collect all powers ultimately,” wrote the Federal Farmer, “in the United States into one entire government.”

Anti-federalist Brutus echoes these concerns, but elaborates on the disadvantages that must be felt from the attempt to create such a vast republic under one federal government. “If respect is to be paid to the opinion of the greatest and wisest men who have ever thought or wrote on the science of government,” wrote Brutus, “we shall be constrained to conclude, that a free republic cannot succeed over a country of such immense extent, containing such a number of inhabitants, and these increasing in such rapid progression as that of the whole United States.” History furnishes no example, Brutus says, of a large republic that did not eventually succumb to the political evils of disintegration or tyranny. The greatest flaw in an extended republic, Brutus believed, is that it would be impossible for legislative representatives to adequately know and act upon the interests of their constituents. The proposed Constitution would allow no more than one representative in the House for every 30,000 constituents, which would lead to a relatively small number of delegates in the national legislature. Federalists such as James Madison believed that a small number was necessary to prevent the House from being overcrowded and mob-like in character. Brutus agreed with Madison on this, but this just proved his point: the national legislature must have either too many members (and thus be unwieldy and inefficient) or too few members, in which case the interests of the constituents would not properly be represented.

Brutus and fellow Anti-federalist Centinel agreed that this problem of representation in a large republic would likely lead, eventually, to the emergence of either rebellion or tyranny in America. “It would not be difficult to prove,” wrote Centinel, “that any thing short of despotism, could not bind so great a country under one government.” In a large republic, Brutus argued, with relatively few representatives, constituents will not know their representative and vice versa. The result will be that the people “will have no confidence in their legislature, suspect them of ambitious views, be jealous of every measure they adopt, and will not support the laws they pass.” Without the voluntary support of the people, Brutus writes, the only way the national government could ensure prompt and efficient execution of the laws would be “by establishing an armed force to execute the laws at the point of the bayonet — a government of all others the most to be dreaded.” The small number of representatives – and their remoteness from the watchful eye of their constituents – would also lead them to “become above the controul of the people, and [to] abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves, and oppressing them.”

The vast extent of the American Republic would also bring other disadvantages, especially to the people of those states most remote from the seat of the national government. With the institution of a federal court system, citizens would be forced to travel great distances – a lengthy and expensive undertaking at the time – in order to bring legal suits or defend themselves at trials in federal courts. “I think it one of the greatest benefits in a good government,” wrote the Federal Farmer, “that each citizen should find a court of justice within a reasonable distance, perhaps, within a day’s travel of his home; so that, without great inconveniences and enormous expenses, he may have the advantages of his witnesses and jury.”

One of the strongest objections that Anti-federalists made against the extended republic was that it would consist of a great multitude of diverse interests, which would not only be inadequately represented in the national legislature, but would also serve as an obstacle to complete unity as one people and one nation. “In a republic,” writes Brutus, “the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar. If this be not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of the other.” In the extended American Republic (consisting of “near three millions of souls” and growing) a wide variety of occupations – “professional men, merchants, traders, farmers, mechanics, &c.” – is made even more diverse by the differences in climate, manners and habits from state to state, not to mention the complexity of local laws and customs. Harmony among the citizens and cooperation in Congress could hardly be expected in such a vast nation; rather such a Union “would be composed of such heterogenous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with each other.” All of these difficulties led the Anti-federalists to conclude that the project of melting the states “down into one empire” in “so extended a territory” would be worse than in vain – it would, in fact, lead to the loss of liberty and to the eventual dissolution of the Union altogether.

Source for ALL of the above:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/an...


message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Here is the On line Library of Liberty links to the following:

letter i - John Dickinson, Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson). Letters from the Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee) [1962]

At a future time we may have a formal discussion of the above; right now we have to focus on the Federalist Papers; but I wanted to make these available to you.

Here is the link:

http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=co...


message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Here is a copy of Brutus I - at a future time we may study and discuss the Anti-Federalist Papers. Right now, I am just providing links to some of these docs.

http://www.teachingamericanhistory.co...


message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is the activity worksheet for:

The “consolidated republic” over a vast extent of territory

Here is the link:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/defau...

Source for ALL of the above:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/an...


message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is the activity worksheet for:

Dangers of the extended republic

Here is the link:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/defau...

Source for ALL of the above:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/an...


message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 04, 2011 09:33PM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is a sample: Centinel I:
Centinel No. 1, 5 October 1787

http://www.teachingamericanhistory.co...

The above is for a discussion of:

Reading Set A: Fear of despotism or anarchy under a consolidated government

Source for the above:

TeachingAmericanHistory.org


message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Brutus IV:

http://www.teachingamericanhistory.co...

Brutus No. 4, 29 November 1787

Source for the above:

http://TeachingAmericanHistory.org/


message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Here is the On line Library of Liberty links to the following:

letter ii - John Dickinson, Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson). Letters from the Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee) [1962]

http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=co...


back to top