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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Original date: 1996 May 12 — Updated: 2003 December 20

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