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Other Anti-Federalists

Bill of RightsDuring the period from the drafting and proposal of the federal Constitution in September, 1787, to its ratification in 1789,  there was an intense debate on ratification. The arguments against ratification appeared in various forms, by various authors, most of whom used a pseudonym. The positions of the Federalists, those who supported the Constitution, and the anti-Federalists, those who opposed it, were printed and reprinted by scores of newspapers across the country.

Due to its size, wealth, and influence and because it was the first state to call a ratifying convention, Pennsylvania was the focus of national attention. On October 5, anti-Federalist Samuel Bryan published the first of his "Centinel" essays in Philadelphia's Independent Gazetteer. Republished in newspapers in various states, the essays assailed the sweeping power of the central government, the usurpation of state sovereignty, and the absence of a bill of rights guaranteeing individual liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

 In New York the Constitution was under siege in the press by a series of essays signed “Cato.” Mounting a counterattack, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay enlisted help from Madison and, in late 1787, they published the first of a series of essays now known as The Federalist Papers. The 85 essays, most of which were penned by Hamilton himself, probed the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and the need for an energetic national government.

Against the Federalist leadership and determination, the opposition in most states was disorganized and generally inert. The leading spokesmen were largely state-centered men with regional and local interests and loyalties. The anti-Federalists attacked on several fronts: the lack of a bill of rights, discrimination against southern states in navigation legislation, direct taxation, the loss of state sovereignty. Many charged that the Constitution represented the work of aristocratic politicians bent on protecting their own class interests.

The call for a bill of rights was the anti-Federalists' most powerful weapon. The anti-Federalists, demanded a more unequivocal Constitution, one that laid out for all to see the rights of the people and limitations of the power of government. Richard Henry Lee despaired at the lack of provisions to protect “those essential rights of mankind without which liberty cannot exist.”

Although the anti-Federalists lost the struggle over ratification, their defense of individual rights and suspicion of power remain core American political values, and the bill of rights is a lasting monument to their importance.

This collecion of documents represents the spirit of their debate.