Beginning in 1787, the debate over ratification of the Constitution separated political leaders into two camps. The first were “Federalists” who favored the creation of a strong national government. The second were “Anti-Federalists” who worried the new government would increase taxes, limit state power and create an American aristocracy. Although the Constitution was ratified, the Anti-Federalists had a strong influence on the creation of a Bill of Rights and the political tone of the country.
Bill of Rights
The primary objection of the Anti-Federalists over the creation of a large government was that it could create a politically powerful aristocracy, which would limit the rights of common citizens. The Anti-Federalists sought to weaken the federal government. The first battle was fought to add basic civil liberties into the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists believed this would prevent a central government from infringing on the rights of citizens. These rights became the first 10 Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.
Thomas Jefferson became the acknowledged leader of the Anti-Federalist, or Republican, party. He was the first of the “Virginia Dynasty” that controlled the presidency from 1801 until 1824 under presidents Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. One of the key functions of the Anti-Federalists was to limit the influence of Federalists like Alexander Hamilton, who wanted to increase the power of the federal government. Jefferson and his followers wanted the states to remain strong. Jefferson reduced the military, limited taxes in spite of growing national debt and kept the country from adopting a National Bank.
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