Hamilton Argues Against a Bill of Rights

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During the late 18th century the Antifederalists argued against the constitution on the grounds that it did not contain a bill of rights. They believed that without a list of personal freedoms, the new national government might abuse its powers and that the states would be immersed by an all to dominant and influential national government. The Antifederalists worried that the limits on direct voting and the long terms of the president and senators, supplied by the constitution, would create a population of elites and aristocrats, which in turn would eventually take away power from the people. They also feared that the president might become another monarch. In other words, the Antifederalists ultimately felt that the new Constitution was undemocratic.

Supporters of a constitution, lacking a bill of rights, were called Federalists. The Federalists included members such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, whom wrote a series of essays that were designed to inform and persuade the public of their views pertaining to the issues of the day. Among these views was whether a bill of rights should be added to the constitution. The Federalists, via Alexander Hamilton, dealt with this issue in a foremost way in their 84th essay.

In the 84th essay Hamilton begins by explaining that a bill of rights, which are "in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince." Therefore Hamilton states that bills of rights "have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people," and that under the constitution "the people surrender nothing, and as they retain everything they have no need of particular reservations." Another argument used by Hamilton was reminding, those who criticize the constitution for lacking a Bill of Rights, that many of the state constitutions do not contain one either. He believes that the...
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