Anti-Federalist Papers

During the period from the drafting and proposal of the federal Constitution in September, 1787, to its ratification in 1789 there was an intense debate on ratification. The principal arguments in favor of it were stated in the series written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay called the Federalist Papers, although they were not as widely read as numerous independent local speeches and articles. The arguments against ratification appeared in various forms, by various authors, most of whom used a pseudonym. Collectively, these writings have become known as the Anti-Federalist Papers. We here present some of the best and most widely read of these. They contain warnings of dangers from tyranny that weaknesses in the proposed Constitution did not adequately provide against, and while some of those weaknesses were corrected by adoption of the Bill of Rights, others remained, and some of these dangers are now coming to pass.

The most important way to read the pro- and anti-federalist papers is as a debate on how the provisions of the Constitution would be interpreted, or "constructed". Those opposing ratification, or at least raising doubts about it, were not so much arguing against the ratification of some kind of federal constitution, as against expansive construction of provisions delegating powers to the national government, and the responses from pro-ratificationists largely consisted of assurances that the delegations of power would be constructed strictly and narrowly. Therefore, to win the support of their opponents, the pro-ratificationists essentially had to consent to a doctrine of interpretation that must be considered a part of the Constitution, and that therefore must be the basis for interpretation today. This doctrine can be summed up by saying, "if a construction would have been objectionable to the anti-federalists, it should be initially presumed unconstitutional".

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  • HTML Version Chronology of the pro- and anti-federalist papers and how they related to one another and to key events.
  • HTML Version Borden Collection — Morton Borden collected some the best of the anti-federalist papers together, edited all or parts of them into 85 sections, corresponding to the 85 Federalist Papers.
  • HTML Version James Wilson speech — Pro-ratification, but included here because it received wider coverage than other pro-ratification writings, such as the Federalist Papers, and many of the anti-federalist writings were in response to it.
  • HTML Version "Centinel" (Samuel Bryan)
  • HTML Version "An Old Whig"
  • HTML Version Text Version "Federal Farmer" (Richard Henry Lee? or Melancton Smith?)
  • HTML Version Text Version  Yates Letter, Robert Yates, John Lansing
  • HTML Version Text Version "Brutus" (Robert Yates)
  • HTML Version "John DeWitt" (?)
  • HTML Version "Cato" (George Clinton?)
  • HTML Version Text Version "Pennsylvania Minority" (Samuel Bryan?) 1787 Dec. 12
  • HTML Version Text Version "Agrippa" I-XI (James Winthrop?) Nov. 1787-Jan. 1788
  • HTML Version Text Version "A [Maryland] Farmer" V (John Francis Mercer) Feb.-Apr. 1788
  • HTML Version Text Version "The Impartial Examiner" I (?) Feb. 1788
  • HTML Version "William Penn"
  •  Columbian Patriot [Mercy Otis Warren], Observations on the new Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions, (1788)
  • HTML Version Patrick Henry — speeches in Virginia Ratifying Convention
  • HTML Version Melancton Smith speeches — Also see Debates in the New York Convention on the Ratification of the Constitution.


  • The Antifederalist Papers, edited with an Introduction by Morton Borden, Michigan State University Press, 1965 — The collection included here, without the introduction and footnotes.
  • Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, edited by John P. Kaminski and others, Wisconsin Historical Society, now up to 19 volumes and growing — Promises to become a complete and definitive collection when it is finished.
  • The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification, edited by Bernard Bailyn, Library of America, 1993, 2 vol. — Good collection if you can't afford the Kaminski series.
  • The Complete Anti-Federalist, edited by Herbert Storing and Murray Dry, University of Chicago Press, 1981, 7 vol.— Not really complete, but very extensive.
  • The Anti-Federalist, edited by Herbert Storing, University of Chicago Press, 1985 — Storing's selection of the best from his "Complete" collection above.
  • The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, edited by Ralph Ketcham, Penguin, 1986 — Affordable paperback, a selection of some of the best parts, with some useful commentary connecting them. Ketcham is one of those who think the "Federal Farmer" was more likely Melancton Smith than Richard Henry Lee. We include here all the papers in this collection not in the Borden collection.

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Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 1996/5/12 — 

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