Posted by: danielfee | March 21, 2013

Civil War 2.0: Round One – The Anti-Federalists

Round One – The Anti-Federalists

At the time the Constitution was being ratified, those who were espousing today’s Tea Party rhetoric were known as the Anti-Federalists. These Anti-Federalists were opposed to the ratification of the Constitution. They published a series of arguments that appeared in various forms, by various authors, which collectively became known as the Anti-Federalist Papers. They were believers in a confederation of states with a weak and ineffective Federal government. While some recognized that the Articles of Confederation had failed over the prior decade, they favored minor changes to the articles and were strongly opposed to a powerful centralized Federal government.

Here are a few selected quotes from the Anti-Federalist papers in opposition to the Constitution. Judge for yourself if it sounds like today’s Tea Party, minus the colloquial English:


“We the Aristocratic party of the United States, lamenting the many inconveniences to which the late confederation subjected the well-born, the better kind of people, bringing them down to the level of the rabble – and holding in utter detestation that frontispiece to every bill of rights, “that all men are born equal” – beg leave (for the purpose of drawing a line between such as we think were ordained to govern, and such as were made to bear the weight of government without having any share in its administration) to submit to our Friends in the first class for their inspection, the following defense of our monarchical, aristocratical democracy.”

“Impressed with a conviction that this constitution is calculated to restrain the influence and power of the LOWER CLASS – to draw that discrimination we have so long sought after; to secure to our friends privileges and offices, which were not to be … [obtained] under the former government, because they were in common; to take the burden of legislation and attendance on public business off the commonalty, who will be much better able thereby to prosecute with effect their private business; to destroy that political thirteen headed monster, the state sovereignties; to check the licentiousness of the people by making it dangerous to speak or publish daring or tumultuary sentiments; to enforce obedience to laws by a strong executive, aided by military pensioners; and finally to promote the public and private interests of the better kind of people – we submit it to your judgment to take such measures for its adoption as you in your wisdom may think fit.”


“The “necessary and proper” clause has, from the beginning, been a thorn in the side of those seeking to reduce federal power, …”

“It appears from these articles, that there is no need of any intervention of the State governments, between the Congress and the people, to execute any one power vested in the general government, and that the Constitution and laws of every State are nullified and declared void, so far as they are or shall be inconsistent with this Constitution, or the laws made in pursuance of it, or with treaties made under the authority of the United States.

“It has the authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and property of every man in the United States; nor can the Constitution or laws of any State, in any way prevent or impede the full and complete execution of every power given. The legislative power is competent to lay taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; – there is no limitation to this power, unless it be said that the clause which directs the use to which those taxes and duties shall be applied, may be said to be a limitation. But this is no restriction of the power at all, for by this clause they are to be applied to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but the legislature have authority to contract debts at their discretion; they are the sole judges of what is necessary to provide for the common defense, and they only are to determine what is for the general welfare.”


“Was that the case, as it is not, will any man in his sober senses say, that the least infringement or appearance of infringement on our liberty – that liberty which has lately cost so much blood and treasure, together with anxious days and sleepless nights-ought not both to rouse our fears and awaken our jealousy?”

“The new constitution in its present form is calculated to produce despotism, thraldom and confusion, and if the United States do swallow it, they will find it a bolus, that will create convulsions to their utmost extremities.”

“What then may we expect if the new constitution be adopted as it now stands? The great will struggle for power, honor and wealth; the poor become a prey to avarice, insolence and oppression. And while some are studying to supplant their neighbors, and others striving to keep their stations, one villain will wink at the oppression of another, the people be fleeced, and the public business neglected. From despotism and tyranny good Lord deliver us.”


“The complaints of the deficiency of the Congressional powers are confined to two articles. They are not able to raise a revenue by taxation, and they have not a complete regulation of the intercourse between us and foreigners.”

“The second article of complaint against the present confederation . . . is that Congress has not the sole power to regulate the intercourse between us and foreigners. Such a power extends not only to war and peace, but to trade and naturalization. This last article ought never to be given them; for though most of the states may be willing for certain reasons to receive foreigners as citizens, yet reasons of equal weight may induce other states, differently circumstanced, to keep their blood pure.”

“The remaining power for peace and trade might perhaps be safely lodged with Congress under some limitations. Three restrictions appear to me to be essentially necessary to preserve that equality of rights to the states, which it is the object of the state governments to secure to each citizen. 1st. It ought not to be in the power of Congress, either by treaty or otherwise, to alienate part of any state without the consent of the legislature. 2nd. They ought not to be able, by treaty or other law, to give any legal preference to one part above another. 3rd. They ought to be restrained from creating any monopolies….”


“The assumption of this power of laying direct taxes does, of itself, entirely change the confederation of the states into one consolidated government. This power, being at discretion, unconfined, and without any kind of control, must carry every thing before it. The very idea of converting what was formerly a confederation to a consolidated government is totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us. This power is calculated to annihilate totally the state governments. Will the people of this great community [Virginia] submit to be individually taxed by two different and distinct powers? Will they suffer themselves to be doubly harassed? These two concurrent powers cannot exist long together; the one will destroy the other. The general government being paramount to, and in every respect more powerful than the state governments, the latter must give way to the former…”

In Anti-Federalist Paper No. 9, the argument put forth by “Montezuma” was that establishing a strong central government would provide it with too much authority, create an aristocratical class which would control the government operations and be led by a tyrannical monarch. Written in a satirical style as if it were meant to be a defense of the proposed Constitution, it was actually an argument in favor of state’s rights and against a centralized Federal government. This is the same basic premise of today’s Tea Party states rights argument of “limited federal government.” However, the Constitution that was ratified did provide for a strong central government, much to the chagrin of the anti-federalists and today’s Tea Party.

In Anti-Federalist Paper No. 17, the argument put forth by “Brutus” was that the adoption of the Constitution will override state authority and allow the Federal government to implement laws that will supersede state laws that may be favored by that particular state, with slavery being one of the primary examples. He further argued that the “necessary and proper clause” would lead to expansive federal powers, and that the legislature was being given wide latitude to incur debt and determine what was meant by “General Welfare” and “necessary for the common defense.” Brutus was not wrong. The Constitution did create a muscular federal government which could and would supersede state laws in many areas. This was an intentional decision on the part of George Washington and James Madison at the Constitutional Convention. After operating for ten years under the Articles of Confederation, a convention was called to propose amendments and refer those suggestions back to the state legislatures. However, after fighting the Revolutionary War and struggling to keep an army in the field with a lack of funding, Washington saw first hand that the Congress was inept and the individual states would not live up to their voluntary obligation based on what they liked to call local prejudices. So at the beginning of the convention they proposed to throw out the Articles of Confederation and draft an entirely new Constitution with a strong central government that could supersede the states. Realizing that state legislatures would never agree to giving up some of their sovereignty to a federal government in order to create a country instead of just a loose confederation of states, they bypassed the state legislatures and put the new Constitution before special conventions and only required 9 of 13 states to approve it before it became ratified. This was sure to leave a significantly sized group, including some powerful political people, fearing a tyrannical central government because they would find themselves in the minority. The Tea Party and many state elected officials like to ignore the fact that the “necessary and proper clause” and the “General Welfare” provision in the Constitution does provide the Federal government with wide latitude to establish national policies and programs, just as Brutus had warned. Their arguments against “Obamacare”, claiming it’s unconstitutional, is a good example; even though today’s conservative Supreme Court found that “Obamacare” was constitutional. When the Tea Party is arguing for a Constitutionally limited government, what they really mean is limited to only those things with which they agree, even when they are in the minority.

In Anti-Federalist Paper No. 7, the argument put forth by “Philantropos” was to keep the Articles of Confederation with a few tweaks. He envisioned that the adoption of the Constitution would excite local interest by anything they perceived to be an infringement or even the “appearance of infringement” on liberty, by which he meant local prejudices, and that it ultimately would lead to a Civil War. Sadly, he was correct. As the country was slowly moving towards the abolishment of slavery, the most contentious of all local prejudices, the southern states saw the election of Abraham Lincoln as an “appearance of infringement” on their liberty to own other human beings. The issues surrounding the Civil War will be addressed in more detail in a future post.

In Anti-Federalist Paper No. 11, the argument put forth by “Agrippa” in a series of letters published in December 1787, he acknowledged that the Articles of Confederation were deficient in Congressional power in two areas, to raise revenue by taxation and regulation of the intercourse between us and foreigners. But even though he saw there was a foundation for these complaints, he did not believe it justified providing them to the federal government in the proposed Constitution. Agrippa was opposed to the Congress having any authority when it came to naturalization of new citizens. He believed each state should establish its own immigration laws, which sounds a lot like the arguments that we heard from conservatives and the Tea Party during the arguments on Arizona’s SB 1070. However Article I, Section 8 gave Congress power to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” While Agrippa did allow that the powers of peace and trade could be safely provided to Congress with some limitations, the limitations he proposed were effectively giving the states the power of nullification over Congress. Article I, Section 8 provided Congress with the power “to declare War”, “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” and “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations and among the several States” without the limitations Agrippa sought.

In Anti-Federalist Paper No. 35, which was the speech delivered by George Mason at the Virginia ratifying convention in June 1788, his argument was in opposition to the Constitution because by giving the federal government the power to tax directly it would be at the sole discretion of Congress without control by the states. He believed this would lead to the total annihilation of state governments. He proposed the Constitution be amended before ratification so “that Congress shall not exercise the power of raising direct taxes till the states shall have refused to comply with the requisitions of Congress.” Effectively he wanted to give the control of the federal budget to 13 different state legislatures. The Constitution provide the Congress with the power to “lay and collect taxes” and Mason was wrong; it did not annihilate the state governments.

When you translate these Anti-federalist arguments into modern English they sound just like the arguments of today’s Tea Party. The Tea Party advocates that their core values are for: a constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, free markets, opposition to same-sex marriage and making abortion illegal in all or most cases. While the more libertarian members of the Tea Party will dismiss these last two core values, the evangelical members will not. As David Barton, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcast Network, points out in his book “The Teavangelicals”, what would be left of the Tea Party if the evangelicals were not a part of it is a “handful of people who won’t be consequential.”

Of course when the Tea Party refers to a “constitutionally limited government”, they mean restricting the role of the federal government, and by “constitutional” they mean their interpretation of the Constitution, which in reality are the same anti-federalist arguments that were not incorporated into the ratified Constitution. By “fiscal responsibility” they mean limiting the Federal government’s ability to tax and spend, except for those spending programs which they like such as defense spending. By “free markets” they mean deregulating or restricting the federal governments authority to regulate commerce. The last two, opposition to same-sex marriage and making abortion illegal, were not the subject of any debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. But as David Barton explained, these are part of the Tea Party platform in order to keep the coalition between the libertarian and evangelicals together. They need each other to bolster their numbers and make their movement appear larger, although it is still a minority view.

If you spend any time perusing the Internet sites of the various Tea Party organizations such as: Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, Americans for Prosperity, or Freedom Works, you will very quickly learn that President Obama is a socialist tyrant who was only elected and re-elected by creating a class war and redistributing wealth by taking from the rich (aka the well born and better kind of people) and giving away free stuff to those in the undeserving lower class (aka the rabble) in order to make everyone equal, which is the Anti-Federalist Paper 9 argument; that Obama has raised everyone’s taxes, which of course is not true, and is encroaching on state rights, which is the Anti-Federalist Paper 35 argument. And that he has massively increased federal spending, regulations and authority over the states with the adoption of laws such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus bill) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), which are the Anti-Federalist Papers 11, 17 and 35 arguments.

After the Constitution was ratified and the anti-federalist arguments did not prevail, those that were opposed to a centralized federal government evolved into the “nullifiers”, which will be discussed in the next post named Round Two – The Nullifiers.


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