“A republic . . . if you can keep it.” - Benjamin Franklin
Franklin's concern about the republic had merit because the federal Constitution would not be law until the people voted to accept it. During this ratification process, both those for and against the Constitution promoted their position. Those for ratification were the Federalist party and those against the present Constitution were the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists won the ultimate battle when the Constitution received the required votes from the states. Demonstrating their strength, the Anti-Federalists then forced the first Congress to pass the Bill of Rights.
Constitutional Convention of Federalist Leaders
The American founding fathers met secretly in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. These elite Federalist leaders had received authority from their states to revise the then current national law, the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the founders believed America needed a stronger national government to survive. They also wanted to protect the independence of the individual states. The result of these two desires was a Constitution based on the principle of federalism with three co-equal branches of government.
Ratification of the Constitution
Any changes to the Articles of Confederation required a vote of approval from all 13 existing states. Sidestepping the rules of the current law, the Constitution was declared the new law of the United States of America upon ratification by three-fourths or nine, of the states. Throughout the remainder of 1787 and into 1788, when the Constitution passed, two competing camps debated the merits of the new set of laws.
The Anti-Federalists believed the Constitution took too much power from the citizens. Anti-Federalists claimed the Executive could become a monarch. To them the nation, as well, was too large as a single unit. Historically, the Anti-Federalists pointed out no large republic had ever been sustained. They also believed that slavery that had been written into the Constitution to placate certain Southern states, violated the spirit of the American Revolution. Their last main belief was that the Constitution in its original form did not include a Bill of Rights. Anti-Federalists wanted this set of written guarantees of what powers people have to protect their liberty from the government.
Federalist Party Beliefs
Federalists believed the Constitution provided for both a strong national government and an empowered citizenry. The existence of three co-equal branches prevented an abuse of privilege by any one political institution. For example, the Executive branch though the Commander-in-Chief of the military, could not declare war. Justices of the Supreme Court, though nominated for life tenure, were chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Congress possessed the authority to write laws but the Supreme Court could ultimately strike the laws down. Though they felt it unnecessary, to ensure ratification by the required nine states, the Federalists promised that a first order of business for Congress would be passing a Bill of Rights.
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: Differences Between Federalists and Antifederalists
- History: Federalist Party
- Bill of Rights Institute: Would You Have Been a Federalist or an Anti-Federalist?
- North Carolina History: The Antifederalists: North Carolina’s Other Founders
- National Constitution Center: Perspectives On The Constitution: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
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