The ratification of the US Constitution was long and strenuous. It elicited a heated debate between the federalists and the anti-federalists. A change of the constitution was imminent, and delegates resolved to replace it rather than addressing the confederation’s contagious articles. Among other issues, representation in the congress, sources of corruption, and constitutional effects on the states were the three main discussion issues. 55 delegates convened at the constitutional convention to witness the birth of a new constitution in 1787. The Articles of confederation had several weaknesses, which the new constitutional draft sought to strengthen. Speeches from three key politicians fueled the debate in the convention including Alexander Hamilton and Robert Livingston, who spoke in favor of the Federalists and supported the government. On the other hand, Melancton Smith spoke in favor of the anti-federalists and supported the general public. This paper discusses the speeches made by the three politicians and how the anti-federalists forecasted their country’s future in case the new constitution was ratified.
The anti-federalists opposed the ratification of the proposed constitution because they envisioned a nation where power struggle would be witnessed between the federal and the state governments. They argued that a central federal government would be far away from the people (Way 11). Therefore, such government would not attend fully to the needs and interests of the citizens. Besides, corruption would be rampant because people would not hold those in power accountable. Anti-federalists believed that when governance is taken down to the states, small republics would be created. Consequently, power and decision-making would be entrusted to the local leadership, thereby creating a sense of ownership and patriotism as citizens become self-reliant and self-sufficient. Additionally, small republics create an environment where citizens are more responsible and supportive of the government’s projects for the public’s good (Way 14). To the anti-federalists, the ratification of this constitution would favor the elite and oppress the poor. They believed that this dream could not be achieved when the central government was given all the power and mandate to govern the states.
Although the anti-federalists did not win the ratification debate, their voices significantly impacted democracy and governance in the US. The most important achievement was the famous Bill of Rights, a list of ten constitutional amendments. Enshrined in this Bill are the fundamental individual rights and privileges that protect the American people and changes that helped shape political institutions. The changes include the right to free speech, religion, press, and assembly. Additionally, the concerns of the anti-federalists were captured in this Bill of rights; for instance, excessive power to the central government is well articulated in the amendments by moving any authority that does not belong to the federal government to the states and the American citizens. The legacy built by the anti-federalists is seen in the Bill of rights. It has become a tool of reference in enhancing the American people’s freedom and civil rights and the entire world.
Anti-federalists made several objections to the proposed constitution because they believed it was unfair to all social classes. Several clauses needed amendment so that an appropriate draft that safeguards all the American people could be achieved. Firstly, the anti-federalists held that the central government would be far away from the people and would not play an active role in building it. They believed that the only way the government would rule adequately would be through the military, hence creating room for despotism. On the other hand, federalists responded by stating that the government had proper checks and balances, thus limiting it from becoming a tyranny. They reiterated that the government would deliver services to the citizens to win loyalty and affirmation eventually.
Secondly, anti-federalists called for small republics, which would be easily governable. They believed that the small communities would comprise people who were not too rich or too poor, and, thus, they would readily agree on what was best for their common good. They proposed that the governance area would be too large, and that people would not readily agree on their basic welfare. Federalists reacted by stating that small republics had been spoilt by people with selfish ambitions in the past. They believed that the government was structured to divide power between the central and the state government. Therefore, people with selfish interests would not find their way to mutilate the day’s dream and plan. As such, these stringent measures would safeguard the interests and goals of the American people.
Anti-federalists objected that the proposed constitution had bestowed too much power on the federal government at the state government’s expense. They claimed that all the central government laws were superior to the state government laws; hence, the states would be rendered powerless when the national government assumed power. In addition, they faulted the national government for basing most of its objections on the future rather than addressing the citizens’ present needs. Federalists acknowledged that the federal government had more power, although it was confined to limited undertakings that involved the entire nation, such as defense and security, currency, and trade. These parameters would require a strong government to be executed effectively. Therefore, the constitution would protect the state governments from any form of destruction.
Additionally, anti-federalists noted that the constitution had given the executive branch of government a lot of power, and ultimately, it would become a monarchy. Therefore, when introduced, a proper clause would limit the extent to which the application of power could reach. Federalists, on their side, said that a strong executive complements the government’s ability to fulfill its mandate. The three arms of government enjoy equal powers, as none dominates the other. Congress and the Supreme Court had been mandated by the constitution to monitor the executive’s use of power, and, thus, it could not become a monarchy. Moreover, general welfare clauses had been put in place to facilitate the national government’s mandate to its people.
Moreover, anti-federalists raised an essential issue on the lack of the Bill of Rights. They believed that it was necessary for giving civil rights and protection from the national government. The state governments had a bill of rights in place, but the new constitution could override the same. Federalists believed that the bill of rights was not necessary at that time because the government’s powers were already limited. They also argued that citizens could take back the authority delegated to the government, and, thus, there would be no reason to object.
According to anti-federalists, the proposed constitution protected the interests of the wealthy and elite individuals in government and kept them in power to preserve their interests. They also believed that the elites were corrupt, which explains why they proposed elections to be carried out more often to address this problem. On the other hand, federalists held that the national government would take care of all the citizens and protect their rights and interests. They also believed that the elites were better placed to occupy positions of leadership in the federal government.
Federalists displayed hidden motives related to social class from the positions they took in this debate. They supported the government, and it is evident from their speeches that they were safeguarding their interests and gains by being in the government. From the tone of their speeches, they displayed a lot of arrogance in support of the national government. The fact that they acknowledged the need for future amendment of the constitution was hypocritical. The issue of representation needed their attention because the central government was far from the people. However, they chose to ignore this altogether and supported the proposed constitution to protect their present and selfish gains. According to them, the new constitution would address the current affairs and not future generations. The gap between the rich and the poor was widening, but the federalists did not have a laid down procedure to reduce it. They wanted to occupy more positions in government to defend their elite nobility. Anti-federalists, on the other hand, had the public interests at heart. They agitated for equality and fair representation of all social classes.
Way, Jennifer. What Is the Constitution? The Rosen Publishing Group, 2015.