Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists

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Mark Sheen – 529794668
POS 442 – American Political Tradition
12 October, 2006

During the period between its proposal in September 1787 and ratification in 1789, the United States Constitution was the subject of numerous debates. The contending groups consisted of Federalists, those who supported ratification, and Anti-Federalists, those opposed to the constitution. Each group published a series of letters known as the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. The Anti-Federalist papers objected to provisions of the proposed constitution while the Federalist Papers defended the rationale behind the document. Anti-Federalist objections included that; the United States was too extensive to be governed by a republic, the constitution included no bill of rights, and the federal judiciary was vaguely defined and could become too powerful. Each of these arguments is worthy of attention as an examination of the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the proposed Constitution. Anti-Federalists contended that a republican form of government is unworkable over extensive territory for two reasons. First, government is frustrated by large territories because of logistical matters (Ex: will rural constituency find a federal courthouse within a reasonable distance?). Second, with a large, diverse population federal law will not reflect the will of the people, and debate will be endless. Let’s look at how each of these reasons was articulated and how they were answered by Federalists. First, anti-federalists argue that republican government is best within a small territory, governing a small group of people for logistical reasons; it is difficult for large populations to be active in their government and receive the benefits thereof. This objection was enumerated in one of the first Anti-Federalist writings, by The Federal Farmer. He wrote: “Independent of the opinions of many great authors, that a free elective government cannot be extended over large territories, a few reflections must evince, that one government and general legislation alone, never can extend equal benefits to all parts of the United States…The United States contain about a million of square miles, and in half a century will, probably, contain ten millions of people; and from the center to the extremes is about 800 miles.” He goes on to write about the difficulties arising from establishing federal polls, police forces and courthouses sufficiently near to rural populations. This argument is retorted in Federalist XIV: “The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter.” The distinction, “Publius” argues “is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region” (Federalist XIV). In later papers he explains how the new government would pay for and organize national lawmaking and enforcement, and reinforces the argument that most laws would be made, enforced and adjudicated at local and state levels. This brings us to the second contention of Anti-Federalists concerning the expansive territory and heterogeneous populations of the United States. It was thought to have been demonstrated, historically and theoretically, that free, republican governments could extend only over a relatively small territory with a homogeneous population. Representatives over a large body of people would lose touch with their constituency and not feel their “distress [nor] be disposed to seek their true interest” (Melancton Smith). Additionally, a large body of...
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