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The anti-Federalists and their opposition to ratifying the Constitution were a powerful force in the origin of the Bill of Rights to protect Amercians" civil liberties. The anti-Federalists were chiefly concerned with too much power invested in the national government at the expense of states. (Howard Chandler Christy"s interpretation of the signing of the Constitution, painted in 1940.)


The Antifederalists opposed the ratification of the 1787.Constitution, arguing that the new, powerful national government would undermine individual rights since there was no bill of rights.

Their opposition was an important factor leading to the adoption of the First Amendment and the other nine amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution, drafted at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, needed to be ratified by nine or more state conventions (and by all states that wanted to take part in the new government). A clash erupted over ratification, with the Anti-Federalists opposing the creation of a strong national government and rejecting ratification and the Federalists advocating a strong union and adoption of the Constitution.

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Anti-Federalists were concerned about excessive power of national government

There were small farmers, landowners, shopkeepers, and laborers as Anti-Federalists. .As far as foreign affairs were concerned, they favored France.

To combat the Federalist campaign, the Anti-Federalists published a series of articles and delivered numerous speeches against ratification of the Constitution.

The independent writings and speeches have come to be known collectively as The Anti-Federalist Papers, to distinguish them from the series of articles known as The Federalist Papers, written in support of the new constitution by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pseudonym Publius.

Despite the opposition to ratification of the Constitution that was publicly voiced by Patrick Henry, Melancton Smith, and other anti-federalists, the majority of them used pseudonyms to advocate their position.Historians have concluded that Anti-Federalist writers included Robert Yates (Brutus), George Clinton (Cato), Samuel Bryan (Centinel), as well as Melancton Smith or Richard Henry Lee (Federal Farmer).

By way of these speeches and articles, Anti-Federalists brought to light issues of:

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Anti-Federalists pressured for adoption of Bill of Rights

The Anti-Federalists failed to prevent the adoption of the Constitution, but their efforts were not entirely in vain.

Despite their opposition to a bill of rights, many Federalists promised to add amendments to the Constitution protecting individual liberties.The First Congress in 1789 introduced twelve amendments after ratification by James Madison.Ten of these were ratified by the states and became effective in 1791. Today they are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights.

Although the Federalists and Anti-Federalists reached a compromise that led to the adoption of the Constitution, this harmony did not filter into the presidency of George Washington.

1792 was a time when a political division arose within the newly formed government over fiscal policies.The Federalist Party was formed by supporters of Alexander Hamilton's aggressive policies, while the Jeffersonian Party was formed by those who opposed deficit spending.

The latter party, led by Jefferson and James Madison, became known as the Republican or Democratic-Republican Party, the precursor to the modern Democratic Party.

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Election of Jefferson repudiated the Federalist-sponsored Alien and Sedition Acts

The Democratic-Republican Party gained national prominence through the election of Thomas Jefferson as president in 1801.

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In fact, the Democratic-Republican Party proved to be more dominant due to the effective alliance it forged between the Southern agrarians and Northern city dwellers.

The election of James Madison in 1808 and James Monroe in 1816 further reinforced the importance of the dominant coalitions within the Democratic-Republican Party.

With the death of Alexander Hamilton and retirement of John Quincy Adams from politics, the Federalist Party disintegrated.

The partisanship in the United States subsided after the War of 1812.During the absence of the Federalist Party, the Democratic-Republican Party held a clear lead over its opponents.There followed a time known as the Era of Good Feelings in party politics, but it failed to last.The Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates continue to resonate in contemporary party politics according to some scholars.

This article originally appeared in 2009.Mitchell Ramos is an Instructor of Political Science at Northeastern Illinois University.