An Introduction to Federalist and Anti-Federalist Arguments Regarding Constitution Ratification (2020)

“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true” (Hamilton et al., 2009).

            James Madison’s words cut to the heart of America’s political division in his famous Federalist 10. In 1788, New York was divided by heated debates concerning the ratification of the newly framed Constitution. New York, being the eleventh state to ratify, was the lynch pin determining the success or failure of replacing the Articles of Confederation (Faber, 2019). Following the New York Convention Debates, an Anti-Federalist writing under the pen name Brutus hit the press in protest against ratifying the Constitution. Federalists Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were quick to respond with 85 articles published under the pseudonym Publius throughout New York newspapers. “The Federalist Papers” appeared in New York newspapers and journals to convince the split state to support the ratification of the Constitution, address the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and rebuttal the concerns posed in Anti-Federalist arguments.

              To understand the depth of the division splitting New York at this time, it is important to understand the motivations for Anti-Federalist objection. Farmland occupied upstate New York and although being a landowner was indicative of wealth at this time, it implied substantial debt for most. Reasonably, these people were opposed to the increase of poll and cultivated land taxes that would come with the ratifying the Constitution (Main, 1961). Other Anti-Federalists feared strengthening a centralized government could lead to too much governing power. The American people had only recently freed themselves from the oppression of aristocracy during the Revolutionary War. They would fight tooth and nail to prevent the risk of creating a federal government that could evolve into similar tyranny over the American people (Brynner, 1994). Violence and rebellion had already sprouted over the country in preceding events, strengthening the vehemence of Anti-Federalist conviction.

            Shay’s Rebellion occurred in response to the state of Massachusetts attempting to increase and collect individual and trade tax (Brynner, 1994). The people took to arms and glaring issues with the Articles of Confederation were brought to light. The Federalists used the armed uprising to fuel their propaganda by spreading fear regarding how a weak centralized government would not have the militant power to aid states in maintaining the peace and protection of their civilians. Likewise, this enraged the Anti-Federalists as funding an army meant an increase in taxes (Main, 1961). In 1788, Pennsylvania shook with cannon fire and rallying cries as the Carlisle Riot erupted between Anti-Federalists and Federalists (Faber, 2019). By the time the debate reached New York, tensions were high. It was a fight, with ink and quill, for the favor of New York’s citizens.



Brynner, R. (1994). Cromwell’s Shadow over the Confederation: The Dread of Cyclical History in Revolutionary America. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 106, 35-52. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from

Faber, M. (2019). Federalist Momentum. In An Anti-Federalist Constitution: The Development of Dissent in the Ratification Debates (pp. 76-93). Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from

Hamilton, A., Madison, J., Jay, J., & Shapiro, I. (2009). The Federalist Papers : Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay. Yale University Press.

Jackson Turner Main. (1961). The Antifederalists : Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788. Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press.

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