After winning the Revolutionary War and sovereign control of their home country from the British, Americans now had to deal with a new authoritative issue: who was to rule at home? In the wake of this massive authoritative usurpation, there were two primary views of how the new American government should function. Whereas part of the nation believed that a strong, central government would be the most beneficial for the preservation of the Union, others saw a Confederation of sovereign state governments as an option more supportive of the liberties American’s fought so hard for in the Revolution. Those in favor of a central government, the Federalists, thought this form of government was necessary to ensure national stability, unity and influence concerning foreign perception. Contrastingly, Anti-Federalists saw this stronger form of government as potentially oppressive and eerily similar to the authority’s tendencies of the British government they had just fought to remove. However, through the final ratification of the Constitution, new laws favoring state’s rights and the election at the turn of the century, one can say that the Anti-Federalist view of America prevails despite making some concessions in an effort to preserve the Union.
According to the Federalists in the early stages of the American republic, a strong central government was necessary to provide uniform supervision to the states thus aiding in the preservation of the Union. This necessity for a more organized central government was a result of the ineffectiveness of the Article of Confederation’s government that was without a unifying government body. One component of this philosophy was the creation of an executive and other federal branches to supplement and coalesce state’s activities. The electoral processes of these federal branches in meant to reflect the state’s opinions of the candidates through the mediation of state legislatures in voting. Incorporating the state’s into this federal procedure provides “each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the state, and must consequently felt a dependence, which is much more likely to beget a disposition of too obsequious than too overbearing towards them”. In other words, as federal government elections hinge on state legislatures, the people of the states face indirect representation in this voting process. In addition, these state and federal governments correlate through a desire of the federal to aid to states and consolidate the Union’s power rather than overtaking them through federal supremacy. Federalists also felt that a central tax system replace the individual state model within the article and “the proposed change to taxation does not enlarge these powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering taxes”. Through this central taxation, Federalists felt the Union would demonstrate more monetary unity and feel a greater sense of belonging to a collective American nation. Furthermore, central taxation provides a better method for money to go into federal undertaking meant to protect the Union as a whole.
Anti-Federalists on the other hand were fearful of an authoritative, central government as well as the potential for this government to abuse their privileges of state control such as the power taxation. Although Anti-Federalists could not deny the ineffectual nature of the Articles of Confederation, they continued to support the notion of state sovereignty and the apprehension of an oppressive federal government similar to the British monarchy. This view of a single executive with vested powers over a large dominion provides the fear for the potential of ruler that is “pernicious, and the duration of his office…favors his views…he therefore fancies he may be great and glorious by oppressing his fellow citizens, and raising himself to permanent grandeur on the ruins of his country”. This fear of an oppressive executive stems from the Revolutionary anxiety of the monarch and totalitarian control thereby stripping citizens of their natural rights. Anti-Federalists would rather a government in which state governments dictate the laws of their inhabitants and all of the states function in the Union via distinct representation in a Confederation. Whereas Federalists saw a centralized government as a unifier between the states, Anti-Federalists felt the potential for despotism and domination over states’ rights was imminent. Anti-Federalists also feared unwarranted taxation and felt “the general legislature will be empowered to lay any tax they chuse, to annex any penalties they please to the breach of their revenue laws.” This concern reflected unruly British taxation during the Revolution and an Anti-Federalist presupposition that a new federal government would impose reckless taxes on the states with the sole intention of maximizing government profit. In the contrasting Anti-Federalist model, each state would dictate the appropriate taxes for their distinct populace and levy accordingly.
Federalist manifestations within the American system during the late 18th century often imposed impartial political agendas onto the states in an attempt to solidify the presence of an uncontested central government. One function of this centralized government was to bond the states as a collective and solidify the Union’s identity. In the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798, John Adams set to “regulate aliens, a new law to criminalize seditious writing, talk, and behavior and various taxes & war measures to prepare for conflict with France”. Through the passage of these acts, Adams shows the stringent control a central government may maintain over its populace as well as the collective nature of war under this form of government. Punishments against speaking, writing publicly against the government and increased taxes to prepare for combat mirror the fears of post-Revolutionary Americans. However, Federalists felt this was a duty of the government to not only uphold its good names to the public as a signifier of the American identity but to also garner funds deemed necessary for the protection of the Union against attacking French forces. Federalists also passed the Invalid Pension Act of 1792 that provides for “assigned federal courts administrative and magisterial duties that were not strictly judicial…they saw their activity as simply an extension of their general political activity”. In other words, this act gave federal politicians the ability to serve on courts as a continued facet of their partisan political influence. Through the passage of this act, Federalist judges continued to impart bias federal notions in their rulings and patronage over their districts thereby tipping the supposedly egalitarian nature of the justice system.
Anti-Federalist laws were interesting in that they served largely to counteract many of the Federalist laws before them, showing a transition from Federalist influence to Anti-Federalists towards the turn of the 19th century. Firstly, Anti-Federalist criticisms on the constitutionality of the Alien & Sedition Acts as an attack on human rights led to the formulation of the Virginia & Kentucky Resolutions. According to this law “sovereign states have the right and a duty to adjudge the constitutionality of federal laws and, if need be, declare federal laws void”. As it applies to the Alien & Sedition Acts, Anti-Federalists felt this regulation of a citizen’s speech, writing, behavior and the imposition of various wartime taxes counteracted the ideals of liberty and freedom that our nation had fought for not a decade earlier. In addition, the passage of this resolution and the effectual repeal of the Alien ; Sedition Acts demonstrate early signs of a shift in power. Anti-Federalist’s accentuation on the ability of the people to challenge federal decrees ensures the protection of natural rights under a government whose sole purpose is to provide such protection, not besmirch it under the name of international pursuits. Furthermore, Anti-Federalists saw it necessary to reform the federal courts in an effort to maintain the legality and constitutionality of all rulings uninfluenced by political agendas. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, “the power to define property and interpret constitutions, became matters not of political interest to be determined by legislatures but of the ‘fixed principles of law'”. The ‘fixed principles of law’ in this assertion refer to rights guaranteed in the constitution that a centralized government may not violate. Through aiding judicial reforms, Anti-Federalists ensure that the Constitution and citizens’ rights have protection in an area free of political bias with a singular focus on constitutional interpretation.
Although many perceive the final version of the Constitution as a new beginning in America with a more centralized government, one could make the argument that the Anti-Federalist view prevails over the Federalist’s in this document. At the conception of the Constituion, many Anti-Federalists did not approve as they felt the document was leading to a powerful federal government with the ability to ignore the natural rights of its constituents. However, Anti-Federalists were able to ensure the protection of these rights through the provisional addition of a Bill of Rights. The first of Ten Amendments in the Bill of Rights provides American citizens with the freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition grievances against the government. Many of these freedoms are a direct response to the fear of how a central government can supersede the rights of the citizen’s it governs and such fears saw validation through the Alien ; Sedition Acts. Therefore, the Anti-Federalist incorporation of these guaranteed liberties in the Constitution is a win for Anti-Federalist theory and even provides for the ability to challenge government decree; this was an utmost apprehension of Anti-Federalists who saw the prospective of despotism and a totalitarian government. In the eighth amendment of the Bill of Rights, Anti-Federalists attained the freedom that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”. Through the guarantee of these rights, Anti-Federalists safeguarded against excessive taxation and penalties by the federal government in an effort to raise revenue or create punishments to scorn against tyrannical abuses of power. Although the Bill of Rights only makes up the first ten amendments of the Constitution, it provides Anti-Federalists with the legal assurances they need to protect the rights of citizens from potential overbearing federal forces. Therefore, the Constitution led to the furthering of the Federalist idea of a more centralized government, on the terms and through the lens of Anti-Federalist concerns on the fortification of citizens’ rights.
The Anti-Federalist’s subtle domination of the Constitution sheds some light on how at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Anti-Federalists demonstrate their supreme influence over the rule at home. Despite the aptness of the Bill of Rights to the Anti-Federalist argument, this is not the sole part of the Constitution that elicits their domestic supremacy and a shift of power towards Anti-Federalists. The eleventh amendment of the Constituion addresses state sovereignty by “protecting the states from lawsuits in federal courts…providing no judicial mechanism for the national government to intervene between the states and the citizenry…states would set the parameters of citizenship.” This provision permits the states to have a great amount of control over their own residents, a control once thought to be at jeopardy at the hands of an invasive federal government. By preventing the federal intervention between states and their citizens, states also ensure a system of checks and balances wherein the federal government cannot tell each state how to govern its people, as each state has distinct needs and desires. Furthermore, the emergence of the government as ‘friends of the people’ demonstrates an Anti-Federalist-like regard for human rights and the creation of a trustworthy bond between government and populace. This necessity for ‘friends of the people’ stems from “the American Revolution’s legacy to legitimate upstarts unwilling or unable to ensure genteel authority…leaders had to enact publicly their friendship to the people”. Simply put, constituents would rather have a government closer and more actively accommodating as Americans lost much faith in an executive because of the British maltreatment during the Revolution. Jefferson’s victory over Adams in the 1800 election demonstrates the contingency of factions within the nation, but more importantly, a national shift of power from Adams’ Federalist regime to Jefferson’s Anti-Federalist people-friendly platform.
After the Revolution, although Americans knew that they would now be in control of ruling at home, they were not sure in which way this rule at home would function. Contrasting views of a Federalist powerful, centralized government and an Anti-Federalist Confederation led the debate; however, as with most things in America, the eventual government proved to be somewhat of an amalgamation of these two philosophies. However, at the turn of the nineteenth century, one starts to notice an increasing prevalence in Anti-Federalist ideas in their application to a new balance of central government and state sovereignty. In the end, Anti-Federalist notions garnered more support than many of the Federalist ideas because of resonating apprehension from the despotic British rule of the Revolution and the continual fear of losing control to a tyrannical government. Despite the contributions of each train of thought to the early republican period of American development, Anti-Federalism sets the stage for the human freedoms and liberties that America adopts as its signature characteristics.