What Were the Objections of the Anti-Federalists Toward the Constitution?

Anti-federalist George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which the Constitution's Bill of Rights followed.
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When the framers presented the Constitution for ratification, a number of its proponents, known as Federalists, published essays to encourage approval of the new government it established. Those opposed to ratification became known as Anti-federalists, and included several well-known heroes of the Revolution such as Patrick Henry. Generally, they opposed the strong national government created by the Constitution, but the diverse group failed to reach a consensus on a suitable alternative.

1 Too Central, Too Strong

The Constitution formed a large, federal government with more centralized control than existed in the Articles of Confederation. The Articles, drafted after perceived government tyranny under British rule, had no national judiciary or executive branches and no standing army. The Anti-federalists particularly opposed sections such as the "necessary and proper" clause, which allowed the federal Congress to pass any laws it felt were necessary and proper to govern the nation. While the Federalists countered that any abuses would be controlled through the system of checks and balances, Anti-federalists believed that system actually could be used to hide corruption by government officials. For the Anti-federalists, this strong central government improperly took away rights from the states.

2 The Rights of the People

One of the major complaints of the Anti-federalists was the lack of any bill of rights in the proposed Constitution. Some states, such as North Carolina, refused to ratify the Constitution until a bill of rights was included. Most state constitutions already had provisions guaranteeing the individual rights of state citizens. Eventually, the Anti-federalists won over key Federalists, and the first 10 constitutional amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were drafted. The amendments put an additional check in the hands of the judiciary by ensuring citizens could sue if the government infringed their rights. North Carolina ratified the Constitution in 1789, after the Bill of Rights had been added.

3 Preservation of Wealth and Power

Many Anti-federalists worried that long terms and no limits on re-election would result in the formation of an elected aristocracy, particularly in the Senate. The weak federal government created by the Articles of Confederation failed to maintain order in the new nation. In the minds of some Anti-federalists, the Constitution was the product of wealthy and privileged elites who capitalized on that confusion to promote their own ambition and power. Anti-federalist proposals included allowing state legislatures to recall senators, or requiring rotating terms in office.

4 Distant and Unresponsive

From the Anti-federalist perspective, true republican government required a small geographic area where representatives could get to know their constituents. Additionally, a small community of voters was more likely to have similar concerns and interests, making it easier for their representative to promote them more effectively. However, the House of Representatives proposed under the Constitution would only have 55 seats -- a body smaller than many state legislatures at the time. Anti-federalists feared districts containing 30,000 or more citizens were too large for a single official to represent. The representatives would be too far removed from their constituents to ascertain the will of the people, much less be accountable to them.

Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.