One major area of disagreement between Federalists and Antifederalists was where power should reside. The Federalists envisioned a strong central government and weak state governments, while Antifederalists wanted power to be retained at the state level. Given the vast political, economic, cultural, and geographical differences among the states, it was unclear at the time whether a powerful union was possible or even desirable (McClellan, 2000, p. 386). Brutus (likely Robert Yates) foresaw that a “free republic” over “such vast extent” of territory would be impracticable because the people would eventually become “acquainted with very few of their rulers” (Brutus, 1787).
A devout Federalist, James Madison, advocated for a strong central government that would provide order and stability and viewed the Constitution as a means to this end (National Archives, 2021). Madison was convinced the powers granted to the federal government were specific, limited, and externally focused, while state powers would be robust, general, and focused on internal affairs. He viewed the role of the federal government as especially important in times of war or impending danger. As a mouthpiece for the Federalists, Madison argued that the plan of government did not propose new powers but rather merely strengthened the original power that had been vested in the Articles of Confederation (Madison, 1787).
Antifederalists had concerns about the Supremacy Clause, the powers of the President, six-year terms for Senators, and the array of new powers granted to Congress (UMKC, 2021). One of the most celebrated Antifederalists, Brutus, was convinced that the kind of government to be created by the proposed Constitution would necessitate a great concentration of power at the center. He warned of a “constant clashing of opinions” where “the representatives of one part [would] be continually striving against those of the other” (Brutus, 1787). The Antifederalists envisioned an eventual one-way drift of power to the national government (Rakove, 2019). Agrippa (James Winthrop) warned that the new Constitution was impractical and that “the very great empires have always been despotic” (Agrippa, 1787).
Centinel (likely Samuel Bryan) agreed with Montesquieu concerning the size and homogeneous nation of states, arguing that, in order to remain free, they needed to be small and comprised of citizens with common interests. He lamented that the Constitution did not rely on the virtue of the people but instead attempted to balance the powers of those governing them. Centinel was also suspicious of what is now referred to as the General Welfare and Supremacy clauses, viewing them as a blueprint for a permanent aristocracy (Storing, 1981). According to the Antifederalists, the Constitution seemed to encourage government by minority factions and wealthy aristocrats, an example being the ability of a handful of Senators to block legislation desired by the majority of the population. The Antifederalists predicted the executive would have undue influence over the legislature and that the judiciary would be oppressive (McClellan, 2000, p. 389). Centinel observed this new form was “Far from being a regular balanced government” (McClellan, 2000, p. 388). Elridge Gerry of Massachusetts even refused to sign the Constitution as a protest against its broad delegation of powers, which he described as ambiguous and indefinite as well as dangerous.
The arguments of the Antifederalists were more persuasive based on Christian principles concerning rights, liberties, and the nature of government. The Federalists believed that humans needed to be controlled while the Antifederalists felt they needed to be set free. The Antifederalists thought that a free people would make rational decisions and rejected the idea of looking to a large bureaucratic government for provision of their needs. They believed that the responsibility was on the individual rather than the empire and also worried that the president would become like the king whom they had recently rejected. (David, 2020). Early predictions have come true, as more and more power has been delegated to the executive branch and executive agencies while corresponding powers and authorities have multiplied, especially in the last few decades. Particularly concerning is the potential for a monopoly of force and the inability of individuals to effectively defend themselves. A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objectively defined laws (Rand, 1963).
A functional government depends on the consent of the governed, and we are a nation divided. Looking to a central government as a solution to all existing or potential problems is akin to idolatry. God warns: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3, KJV) and “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:5, KJV).
Agrippa IV. The Despotism and Misery of a Uniform National State, 1787.
Brutus I, Antifederalist, 1787.
David, Alex. Examining the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Debates, Enslow Publishing, LLC, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/lib/liberty/detail.action?docID=6226586.
Madison, James. Federalist No. 45. The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered. Independent Journal, 1788.
Madison, James. Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared. New York Packet, 1788.
McClellan, James. Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government. Liberty Fund, 2000.
National Archives and Records Administration. Constitution of the United States—A History, 2021. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/more-perfect-union
Rakove, Jack. The Federalists vs. the Anti-Federalists. National Constitution Center, 2019. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/podcast/the-federalists-vs-the-anti-federalists
Rand, Ayn. The Nature of Government. The Objectivist Newsletter, 1963.
Storing, Herbert J. The Complete Anti-Federalist, Vol. 2. 136-143, 1981.
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. The Question of States’ Rights: The Constitution and American Federalism (An Introduction), 2021. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/statesrights.html