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The Anti-Federalist Party, though not a true political party, but a faction, left a major legacy on the country by initiating the Bill of Rights. The ideological heritage of this faction was continued by the Democratic-Republican Party at the start of the 19th century.
After the Revolution, the United States was governed by the Articles of Confederation, which mandated a weak federal government without an executive branch. Many felt that this government was too weak and desired a strong, centralized United States government, and advocated a new United States Constitution. During the debate over the proposed constitution, however, the nationalists became known as federalists (since they wanted a stronger federation), and the Anti-federalists (who wanted to keep the weaker confederation) became known as anti-federalists. The Anti-Federalist Party was formed because of opposition to the centralized federal controls proposed by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Party in the original United States Constitution.
The Debate Over the Constitution
Initially, the anti-Federalists were an anonymous group of writers who had their opinions (regarding the US Constitution) published in New York newspapers during the formation of the constitution in 1787. Eventually, famous revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson became public Anti-Federalists. They believed that the system of a strong national government proposed by the Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton was a threat to the rights of individuals and argued that the president would become a king. In addition, many of the anti-Federalists objected to the federal court system created by the proposed constitution. However, not all anti-federalists thought that the central government created under the Articles of Confederation was sufficient. Many anti-Federalists believed that the central government in the Articles was too weak, but believed the Constitution had given the central government too much power.
The anti-federalists essentially lost the debate at the Consititutional Convention, but their input influenced the constitution. This is why the Constitution has been called "a bundle of compromises". The constitution was submitted to the states for approval in 1787. The Federalists essentially won the debate because the nationalists were supported by George Washington, who many believed to be the nation's greatest hero. The Federalists also had the advantages of a stronger organization and the support of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, the main contributors to the Federalist Papers.
Later, under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, who was assisted by James Madison, the anti-Federalists were able to pass the Bill of Rights, amending the constitution to provide individuals with stronger protection of their inalienable rights.
The Democratic-Republican Party
Saul Cornell, The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828, University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
See also : Brutus
- U. of Chicago - Documents relating to founding of US Constitution
- Antifederalist Papers-Antifederalist Papers Constitution Society
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