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U.S. History/Anti Federalist Papers


Hi I am just wondering what was the significance of the AntiFederalist papers and where are some good places you can get a copy.

Thank you.

Thomas Lashley

Both (what we call) the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers were written as articles to be published in New York state newspapers between the time that the Constitution was finished (September 1787) and when New York held its ratification vote (I think it was in May, 1788)  

The Federalist Papers explain the new Constitution and advocate ratifying it.  Therefore, the Anti-Federalist Papers advocated rejecting the new Constitution.

The Anti-Federalist Papers talked about many of the problems that might appear if the new Constitution is accepted.  And, in fact, some of the problems they anticipated have happened! Many people think that because the Anti papers predicted problems that actually happened, they were right to reject the new Constitution.

I have a different view. Because these were published in newspapers, the Federalist Papers responded directly to the arguments presented in the Anti-Federalist Papers.  So, the Anti papers would say that something bad would happen if we accepted the Constitution.  Then the Federalist response would explain how the Constitution blocks that particular problem.

So, why did the problems appear anyway?  Because "We, the People" are not using the tools in the Constitution to block abuse of power. And if we didn't have the Constitution, the abuse of power would have been much worse and the country probably would no longer exist.

I find it intolerable that we have a clear explanation of exactly what the Constitution means--The Federalist Papers--and it isn't even studied by law students!  It seems obvious that Congressmen and Senators have no idea what they say.  And if the people don't know what is in the Papers, they can't force their representatives to follow the Constitution.

There are collections of Anti-Federalist Papers available at online bookstores.  I found that they tend to point out the problems that could happen if the new Constitution is ratified without giving a solutions.  The Federalist Papers tend to give solutions.

Federalist Paper #38 [paragraphs 6-end] explains this problem:

U. S. Constitution Historically Unique

Writing a new Constitution is complicated and difficult.  In areas with little historical experience, there will be errors even if the subject is carefully researched.  And the errors will not be found until actual trial points them out.

Both logical reasoning and our experience with the Articles of Confederation suggest this.  During the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, many objections were made and amendments were suggested.  But no one mentioned the great error that actual trial uncovered.  Although the objections proved immaterial, some States would have clung to them with dangerous inflexibility if their zeal for their opinions and interests had not been stifled by the more powerful sentiment of self-preservation.  Although the enemy was within our country, one State refused to ratify the Articles for several years.  She finally complied out of fear of being charged with protracting the public calamities and endangering the outcome of the war.

Medical Allegory

Let’s study the case of a person who grows sicker every day.  He finally decides that if he waits any longer to get help, he will be in extreme danger.  He evaluates the reputations of different physicians, then calls the doctors that he thinks are the best and that are entitled to his confidence.  The doctors arrive and carefully examine the patient.  The doctors consult.  They all agree that the symptoms are critical but that with proper and timely care the patient can actually have improved health.  And they all agree on what must be done to produce this happy effect.

As the prescription is written, however, a number of other people arrive.  They agree that the patient is in real danger.  Then they tell the patient that the prescription will poison him and forbid him, under pain of certain death, to make use of it.

Before he followed the second suggestion, won’t the patient demand that the group should agree on some other remedy?  If the second group can’t agree on a remedy, wouldn’t he try the remedy that the first group of doctors unanimously recommended?

Criticisms: Irreconcilable Wide Variety

This patient mirrors America’s current situation.  She realizes she is sick.  She has obtained unanimous advice from men of her own choice.  Now other people warn her against following this advice under the pain of fatal consequences.

Does the new group say there is no danger?  No.

Do they deny that a speedy and powerful remedy is needed?  No.

Do even two critics agree on what is wrong with the proposed remedy or the proper substitution?  Let them speak for themselves:

One says we should reject the proposed Constitution because it’s not a confederation of the States, but a government over individuals.
Another admits it should be a government over individuals, but not to the extent proposed.
A third doesn’t object to the government over individuals but wants a bill of rights.
A fourth says a bill of rights is necessary but it should not declare the personal rights of individuals, but the rights reserved to the States.
A fifth believe that a bill of rights would be superfluous, but  the Constitution has the fatal power of regulating the times and places of election.

An objector from a large State exclaims loudly against the unreasonable equality in the Senate.  An objector from a small State is equally loud against the dangerous inequality in the House of Representatives.

One group is alarmed with the huge expense because a large number of people will be needed to administer the new government.  Another group—and even some of the people in the first group at a different time—cry out that Congress is too small and the government would be less objectionable if the number and the expense were doubled.

A patriot in a State, which doesn’t import or export, objects to direct taxation.  The patriot in an exporting and importing State is dissatisfied because the whole burden of taxes may be thrown on consumption.

One politician says the Constitution promotes a monarchy.  Another is equally sure it will end in aristocracy.  Another is puzzled over which of these shapes it will ultimately assume but sees clearly it must be one or the other.  A fourth fears the opposite: the Constitution is not energetic enough to keep it upright and firm against anarchy.

Another group of adversaries to the Constitution says the legislative, executive, and judiciary are intertwined, which contradicts all the ideas of regular government and all the required precautions in favor of liberty.  This is a vague objection with few supporters.

Two people rarely agree on one objection.  

One says the Senate should not have to approve presidential appointments.  Another says that House of Representatives should also approve appointments.  Another person says that giving the President any power is always dangerous.

Some people say that the trial of impeachments by the Senate is wrong: they believe the judiciary should have this power.
Others reply that the judiciary already has too much power.

People who want an executive council can’t agree on how it would be formed.  Some people want a small council appointed by the House of Representatives.  Others think the President should appoint a large council.

If Critics Wrote Constitution, Never Agree

Let’s look at the situation in a different way.  Let’s assume the critics of the Constitution are brilliant and they can write a better constitution.  Let’s further assume the country agrees and a second convention is formed to revise the work of the first.

You’ve read some of their opinions. And know how hostile they have been towards the Constitution Convention.  Wouldn’t their deliberations be full of discord?

If the current, proposed Constitution was ratified and used, not until a BETTER but until this new group of lawgivers agrees on ANOTHER, wouldn’t it have a good chance of becoming immortal?

New Constitution Better than Articles

People who object to the new Constitution never talk about the defects in the Articles of Confederation.  The Constitution doesn’t need to be perfect; it just has to be better than the Articles.  No man would refuse to leave a shattered, tottering house for a large, solid building because the latter had no porch, or because some of the rooms might be a little larger or smaller, or the ceiling a little higher or lower than his fancy would have planned them.  The primary objections to the new Constitution lie with tenfold weight against the existing Confederation.

Is it dangerous for the federal government to have an indefinite power to raise money?  The present Congress can requisition any amount of money from the States and the States are constitutionally bound to furnish it.   It can emit bills of credit as long as it can pay for the paper.  It can borrow both abroad and at home.

If an indefinite power to raise troops is dangerous, Congress currently has that power and it has already begun to make use of it.

Is it improper and unsafe to intermix the different powers of government?  Currently Congress, a single body of men, is the sole depository of all the federal powers.

Is it dangerous to give the keys of the treasury and command of the army into the same hands?  The Confederation places them both in the hands of Congress.

Is a bill of rights essential to liberty?  The Articles has no bill of rights.

Is there an objection because the new Constitution empowers the Senate with the concurrence of the President to make treaties that are to be the laws of the land?  Without any control, the existing Congress makes treaties that most States recognize as the supreme laws of the land.

Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for 20 years?  By the old, it is permitted forever.

Congress Wielding Unauthorized Powers

I will be told: The Confederation’s powers may appear dangerous.  But they are harmless because Congress is dependent on the States to use them.  However large the Confederation’s total power may appear to be, it is lifeless.

Then I say: we can charge the Confederation with the greater folly of declaring that certain federal powers are necessary and, at the same time, making them worthless.  And if the Union is to continue under the Articles of Confederation, effective powers must either be granted to, or assumed by, the existing Congress.

But this is not all.  The Confederation has already greatly increased its power.  All the dangers from a defectively constructed national government seem to be realized.

The Western territory is a mine of vast wealth to the United States.  It won’t produce any regular revenue for public expenses for some time to come.  But eventually, under proper management, it will help discharge the domestic public debt)and furnish, for a certain period, liberal tributes to the federal treasury.  Therefore, a rich, fertile territory, equal in size to the inhabited area of the United States, will soon become part of the nation.  Congress has assumed its administration, formed new States, erected temporary governments, appointed officers for them, and prescribed the condition by which the States will be admitted into the Confederacy.  All this has been done without the least constitutional authority.  Yet no blame has been whispered; no alarm has been sounded.

Under the Articles of Confederation, a GREAT AND INDEPENDENT fund of revenue is passing into the hands of a SINGLE BODY of men [Congress].  The same group can RAISE TROOPS to an INDEFINITE NUMBER, and appropriate money to support them for an INDEFINITE PERIOD OF TIME.  Yet some of the same men who have watched and advocated for this system have objected to the new system using the arguments presented here.  Shouldn’t they urge the adoption of the new Constitution as necessary to guard the Union against future powers and resources of a body constructed like the existing Congress?

Must Have Powers to Achieve Objectives

I don’t mean, by anything said here, to criticize the current Congress.  I know they had to act.  They had to overstep their constitutional limits.  But doesn’t this prove that it is dangerous when a government doesn’t have the necessary powers to fulfill its responsibilities?  It is continually exposed to the dangers of dissolution or usurpation.

excerpt from The Federalist Papers: Modern English Edition Two, copyright 2008, Mary E Webster

U.S. History

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Mary E Webster


Federalist papers. What the Founding Fathers would have to say about current political issues based on the Federalist Papers, written to defend and promote ratification of our Constitution. Spent 4 years studying The Federalist Papers and re-writing them into easier-to-read English. My new edition was published in Spring, 1999: The Federalist Papers: In Modern Language/Indexed for Today`s Political Issues Other than the Federalist Papers, my knowledge of history is very limited.

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