The Anti-federalist vs. Federalist argument is one of the most heated political debates the United States has ever seen. Though the length of the actual debate was relatively short, lasting from October of 1787, when the final version of the constitution was approved by the first congressional convention to June of 1788 when Virginia was the first to ratify the constitution of the United States. The concepts ideas and standards that were set forth by both the anti-federalists and the federalists as well as other more moderate politicians are expressed throughout the foundational documentation of the United States.
Most notably the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution are a reflective example of the compromises and victories of both sides but this can be seen elsewhere in the foundational documentation as well. Knowing this and being able to demonstrate it through careful analysis of the legacy of documentation that remains from this very public and heated debate is the responsibility of any student of American History.
Even today the debate and the knowledge it holds has much the same importance as was felt by the anti-federalist writer Brutus in his first know address to the country on the subject.
When the public is called to investigate and decide upon a question in which not only the present members of the community are deeply interested, but upon which the happiness and misery of generations yet unborn is in great measure suspended, the benevolent mind cannot help feeling itself peculiarly interested in the result.
Brutus and many others expressed their personal and political fears with a well expressed zeal that cannot be mistaken. Their own lives, the lives of their children and even their grand children could be forever affected by well planned and well intended outcome, the affects being good or bad was in the hands of these new lawmakers.
Within the addresses that appeared in the public arena, namely notable newspapers, the television of the time are hundreds of documents and letters pronouncing the validity of the arguments in favor of a strong federal government and in favor of a weaker federal government
Both sides of the debate argue valid points, based on understandings of history and politics they had seen within their own times or the times of their fathers. Yet, some of the most telling of arguments were waged by the Anti-federalists, namely DeWitt, Brutus and Cato.
Reduced to a very simplistic summation, anti-federalists believed that a strong central government, on paper and in reality would lead to a dominant central authority, which would leach power from the states and the individual based on the historical perspective of watching this very thing happen repeatedly in western civilization, namely Europe.
A rulers have the same propensities as other men; they are as likely to use the power with which they are vested for private purposes, and to the injury and oppression of those over whom they are placed, as individuals in a state of nature are to injure and oppress one another. It is therefore as proper that bounds should be set to their authority, as that government should have at first been instituted to restrain private injuries. This principle, which seems so evidently founded in the reason and nature of things, is confirmed by universal experience."
Federalists, on the contrary believed that a weak central government would be ineffective and useless in times of national need and could not stand independently to make decisions about national needs if constantly in conflict with state and local governmental entities. Yet, most importantly the anti-federalists were asking for careful examinations of not only motive but fact and future when decisions so serious were to be made.
Convention from the different States for that sole purpose hath been appointed of their most respectable citizens -- respectable indeed I may say for their equity, for their literature, and for their love of their country. -- Their proceedings are now before us for our approbation. -- The eagerness with which they have been received by certain classes of our fellow citizens, naturally forces upon us this question: Are we to adopt this Government, without an examination?
Probably the most effective way to judge the correlation between the anti-federalist papers as they are called and the actual Bill of Rights is by analyzing each amendment for the messages it conveys of the anti-federalist cause. The first amendment being: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. In the sentiments of the man penned John DeWitt there is evidence of this understanding:
Civil liberty, in all countries, hath promoted by a free discussion of publick measures, and the conduct of publick men. The FREEDOM OF THE PRESS hash, in consequence thereof, been esteemed one of its safe guards. That freedom gives the right, at all times, to every citizen to lay his sentiments, in a decent manner, before the people.
Though speaking only of the freedom of press, DeWitt makes clear in his letters that the need to protect such freedoms, for the individual is integral to the success of any national government and without it each individual looses the ability to speak freely and also to have full knowledge of circumstances and decisions they greatly need understanding of in order to vote for what they think is right.
Amendments Two and Three speak of a time when the idea of a national army was not yet formulated;
Two: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. And Three: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Though the time which these men spoke of may be past the amendments made clear address to the right of all meant to protect themselves, their families and their property from the ravages of wars so vivid within the minds of men.
The Fourth through Ninth Amendments speak of the right of an individual to protect himself and his property from official scrutiny, without cause and without regard to certain necessary conditions.
Forth: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fifth: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Sixth: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Seventh: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Eight: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Ninth: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Without this secured right many people feared that for any number of -political and/or personal reasons the government they had ratified would essentially administer itself as a police state, not unlike some of the places they had left. According to "Cato" the differences between men of America and men of other more aged governments was simply not enough to ensure the safety of individuals from unlawful encroachment of the government, based on the personal and/or political interest of an accuser…