1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anti-Federalists

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ANTI-FEDERALISTS, the name given in the political history of the United States to those who, after the formation of the federal Constitution of 1787, opposed its ratification by the people of the several states. The “party” (though it was never regularly organized as such) was composed of states rights, particularistic, individualistic and radical democratic elements; that is, of those persons who thought that a stronger government threatened the sovereignty and prestige of the states, or the special interests, individual or commercial, of localities, or the liberties of individuals, or who fancied they saw in the government proposed a new centralized, disguised “monarchic” power that would only replace the cast-off despotism of Great Britain. In every state the opposition to the Constitution was strong, and in two—North Carolina and Rhode Island—it prevented ratification until the definite establishment of the new government practically forced their adhesion. The individualistic was the strongest element of opposition; the necessity, or at least the desirability, of a bill of rights was almost universally felt. Instead of accepting the Constitution upon the condition of amendments,—in which way they might very likely have secured large concessions,—the Anti-Federalists stood for unconditional rejection, and public opinion, which went against them, proved that for all its shortcomings the Constitution was regarded as preferable to the Articles of Confederation. After the inauguration of the new government, the composition of the Anti-Federalist party changed. The Federalist (q.v.) party gradually showed broad-construction, nationalistic tendencies; the Anti-Federalist party became a strict-construction party and advocated popular rights against the asserted aristocratic, centralizing tendencies of its opponent, and gradually was transformed into the Democratic-Republican party, mustered and led by Thomas Jefferson, who, however, had approved the ratification of the Constitution and was not, therefore, an Anti-Federalist in the original sense of that term.

See O. G. Libby, Geographical Distribution of the Vote . . . on the Federal Constitution, 1787–1788 (University of Wisconsin, Bulletin, 1894); S. B. Harding, Contest over the Ratification of the Federal Constitution in . . . Massachusetts (Harvard University Studies, New York, 1896); and authorities on political and constitutional history in the article United States.