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Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist?: The Wrong Question

17 January 2020 @ 17:31

Many of us who cite The Founders and their Wisdom and Insights are unaware that what we espouse is the combined philosophies of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists

It is not an either/or situation [as I thought for many years]: you can support both sides in the arguments that occurred during our early years of Constitution-Building.

We are the product of those fights — with some of us leaning toward one side, but incorporating a decent amount from the other.

I, myself, tend to lean towards the Federalist side when the Anti-Federalists move a little too close to embracing Democracy and Ideology.

I agree with Russell Kirk that:

…did the Framers of the Constitution, and the men of the state ratifying bodies of 1788, actually intend that the Constitution should be a conservative instrument, a bulwark of permanence? Aye, most decidedly they did, with few exceptions. Even the Anti- Federalists, most of them, were conservatives of another stamp, fearful that the proposed Constitution might break in upon the established powers and pattern s of government of the several states. The cry of 1775-1776 had been for liberty; the cry of 1787-1788, among the same classes of Americans, was for order. The purpose of calling the Convention of 1787 was to conserve and improve the political order of the United States; the Articles of Confederation had not sufficed for that purpose….  [Russell Kirk, The Constitution’s Conservative Character, lecture delivered at The Heritage Foundation, 14 July 1987]

Mr. Kirk here shows that he is a Constitutional Republican and also through his Marvelous biography of Old Republican John Randolph Of Roanoke and treatment of the subject’s Ideas [Mr. Randolph also features in a large way in the Author’s seminal work: The Conservative Mind].

It is true that some of Anti-Federalists embraced a more Radical Idea about what the new United States should be, but they were overruled and out-voted by their non-Radical Anti-Federalists.  The important goal of the latter was to secure Amendments to The Constitution known as The Bill Of Rights.

I think they were exactly right to insist on this in the State Ratifying Conventions and in the First Session of The Congress.  I find it amazing that The Federalists were willing to put so much Faith in the men who would govern under The Constitution — considering most of them, especially John Adams, believed that man was a Fallen Creature, easily subject to the Temptations Of Tyranny.

Regarding the strands of thought in the AF Movement that Michael Faber looks at in his new book, An Anti-Federalist Constitution: The Development of Dissent in the Ratification Debates, I agree with him [based on this review of said book by Nathan Coleman] that there were three such strands within the Anti-Federalists:

A highlight from the book review [emphasis mine]:

…Within the chaos [of the Movement], however, Faber identifies “three related but distinct strands of political thought.” He calls these strands Rights Anti-Federalism, Power Anti-Federalism, and Democratic Anti-Federalism.

Of the three, Rights Anti-Federalism proved the “most rationally developed and cogently argued.” Rights Anti-Federalists maintained that, with the Constitution’s conspicuous lack of a bill of rights, tyranny became an inevitability. Only by protecting rights at that moment when they seemed threatened by the proposed Constitution, could this slide into tyranny be overcome. Thus, Rights Anti-Federalist called for either outright rejection of the Constitution or a Bill of Rights to be amended to the document.

Power Anti-Federalism, as its name suggests, feared the immense power granted to the central government. Its adherents believed that the Constitution’s powers should be well-defined and limited only to those issues clearly national in scope, such as war and peace. Yet the scope and ambiguity of the Constitution’s powers, particularly over the judiciary, standing armies, and taxation, which Faber believes Anti-Federalists considered “the most grievous example of a power too extensive,” suggested that the Framers sought to “consolidate” the union of sovereign states into a centralized nation.

The final strand, Democratic Anti-Federalism, while boasting fewer adherents than the other two groups, was “well-represented in the first wave of essays.” This group typically argued that the Articles did not need replacing since state governments remained answerable to the people of those states. At the heart of Democratic Anti-Federalism was the fear that this new government, with only one element — the House of Representatives — being directly elected by the people, squinted towards aristocracy and undermined the Revolution’s support of popular sovereignty.

In the end, the most influence was wielded by the Rights Anti-Federalists, with the Power Anti-Federalists getting some of what they wanted eventually in The Bill Of Rights.  This was a Fortunate occurrence.

As Mr. Coleman remarks:

…The high drama of those debates did not center on acceptance or rejection of the Constitution but turned “to the prospects of trying to shape rather than resist the new government.” In the end, the legacy of the Anti-Federalists rests on the notion that while they “could not keep the republic, they at least perhaps avoid tyranny and live their lives in peace. In this effort, the Anti-Federalists succeeded more admirably than perhaps even they thought.”

I agree — although I wish some of the wording in The Bill Of Rights was more direct.  Take the Second Amendment an example.  James Madison should have explained it better, such as George Mason did in The Virginia Declaration Of Rights:

XIII. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state….

or as John and Samuel Adams put it in The Constitution Of The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts:

Article XVII.  The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence….

Such wordings might have saved us a lot of grief.

I think it important that we read the essays, news articles, and pamphlets of this period of both sides so that we better understand the Righteousness of our Philosophy of the Restoration of Freedom And Ordered Liberty.  I understand that this would be a very time-consuming task, but one book is available to help: Pauline Maier’s Magisterial work Ratification: the People Debate.

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