Participants in the Debate
The debates over ratification of the Constitution represent the most important and intellectually sophisticated public debates in American history. On the one side, the supporters of the Constitution, or "Federalists," argued that the nation desperately needed a stronger national government to bring order, stability and unity to its efforts to find its way in an increasingly complicated world. Opponents of the Constitution, or "Antifederalists," countered that the the governments of the states were strong enough to realize the objectives of each state. Any government that diminished the power of the states, as the new Constitution surely promised to do, would also diminish the ability of each state to meet the needs of its citizens. More dramatically, the Antifederalists argued that the new national government, far removed from the people, would be all to quick to compromise their rights and liberties in the name of establishing order and unity. A handful of men on each side of the debate became the central figures in an extensive public discussion about the proposed Constitution, publishing a series of widely-published and carefully read articles explaining their positions. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, writing under the pseudonym Publius, wrote dozens of articles supporting the Constitution which are now collectively referred to as The Federalist Papers. Articles written in response by George Mason, Elbridge Gerry and Patrick Henry are, appropriately, known as the Antifederalist Papers. While these writings are the best known and most widely read today, there were hundreds, even thousands of others who joined in the debates through public argument or speech-making and by writing articles, letters and pamphlets.
Most Notable Argument Points Between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists| Issue| Federalist Argument| Anti-Federalist Argument|