Federalism and Anti-Federalism
An essay in which "Richard E. Wagner discusses the debate that separated the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists," which "still speaks to an America that should be concerned about the size of government and its role in our lives" — The Essential Aims and Ends of Government. The first two paragraphs:
- In eighteenth-century usage, a federation was a league between sovereign states. The federal government could relate only to the state governments; it could not deal directly with the individual citizens of those states. This arrangement characterized the Articles of Confederation. Hence, Congress could not impose taxes on individuals directly but had to petition the states for money. In February 1787 Congress called a convention “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” What emerged from this convention was not a revision of the Articles, but a proposal for a new form of government—one that rejected the federal principle and created instead a national government that could directly govern individual citizens.
A period of intense debate followed, as individual state conventions met to consider whether to ratify the new constitution. The Anti-Federalists opposed ratification. In one of the more notable ironies of American history, those who wanted to maintain the federal principle were called Anti-Federalists, while those who wanted to create a national government were called Federalists. In the June 1788 debate in the New York convention over ratification, Melancton Smith, in rebutting Alexander Hamilton’s advocacy of the new constitution, remarked that he “hoped the gentleman [Hamilton] would be complaisant enough to exchange names with those who disliked the Constitution, as it appeared from his own concession that they were Federalists, and those who advocated it Anti-Federalists.”