In 1787, the states sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention, where they debated and wrote the new Constitution. Two camps developed—Federalists who favored a strong central government and Anti-Federalists, who favored a weak one. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, were strongest among Northerners, city dwellers, and merchants. The Anti-Federalists, including Thomas Jefferson, included more Southerners and farmers. The documents below show the Federalist and Anti-Federalist positions on Congressional representation and the impact of the new Constitution upon the states.
Federalist Position on Congressional Representation – Alexander Hamilton
Source: Speech by Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist, given on June 21, 1788
It has been farther, by the gentlemen in opposition [Antifederalists], observed, that a large representation is necessary to understand the interests of the people. This principle is by no means true in the extent to which the gentleman seems to carry it. I would ask, why may not a man understand the interests of thirty [thousand] as well as of twenty?
It is a harsh doctrine, that men grow wicked in proportion as they improve and enlighten their minds. Experience has by no means justified us in the supposition, that there is more virtue in one class of men than in another. Look through the rich and the poor of the community; the learned and the ignorant. Where does virtue predominate? The difference indeed consists, not in the quantity but kind of vices, which are incident to the various classes; and here the advantage of character belongs to the wealthy. Their vices are probably more favorable to the prosperity of the state, than those of the indigent; and partake less of moral depravity.
- What type of Congressional representation did the federalists favor? Why?
Anti-Federalist Position on Representation in Congress – Melancton Smith
Source: Speech by Melancton Smith, delivered June 21, 1788.
[Representatives] should be a true picture of the people, possess a knowledge of their circumstances and their wants, sympathize in all their distresses, and be disposed to seek their true interests….[T]he number of representatives should be so large, as that, while it embraces the men of the first class, it should admit those of the middling class of life. I am convinced that this government is so constituted that the representatives will generally be composed of the first class in the community, which I shall distinguish by the name of the natural aristocracy of the country.
In every society, men of this [aristocratic] class will command a superior degree of respect; and if the government is so constituted as to admit but few to exercise the powers of it, it will, according to the natural course of things, be in their hands. Men in the middling class, who are qualified as representatives, will not be so anxious to be chosen as those of the first. When the number is so small, the office will be highly elevated and distinguished; the style in which the members live will probably be high; circumstances of this kind will render the place of a representative not a desirable one to sensible, substantial men, who have been used to walk in the plain and frugal paths of life....
A substantial yeoman, of sense and discernment, will hardly ever be chosen. From these remarks, it appears that the government will fall into the hands of the few and the great. This will be a government of oppression.... The great consider themselves above the common people, entitled to more respect, do not associate with them; they fancy themselves to have a right of preeminence in every thing.
- What kind of Congressional representation did the Anti-Federalists favor? Why?
- Which argument do you find more convincing, Federalist or Anti-Federalist?
Federalist Position on State/Federal Power – Alexander Hamilton
Source: Speech given by Alexander Hamilton, June 28, 1788
The [Antifederalist] gentleman says that the operation of the taxes will exclude the states on this ground—that the demands of the community are always equal to its resources; that Congress will find a use for all the money the people can pay....
[I]t is unfair to presume that the representatives of the people will be disposed to tyrannize in one government more than in another. If we are convinced that the national legislature will pursue a system of measures unfavorable to the interests of the people, we ought to have no general government at all....
While I am making these observations, I cannot but take notice of some expressions which have fallen in the course of the debate. While I am making these observations, I cannot but take notice of some expressions which have fallen in the course of the debate. It has been said that ingenious men may say ingenious things, and that those who are interested in raising the few upon the ruins of the many, may give to every cause an appearance of justice. I know not whether these insinuations allude to the characters of any who are present, or to any of the reasonings in this house. I presume that the gentlemen would not ungenerously impute such motives to those who differ from themselves. I declare I know not any set of men who are to derive peculiar advantages from this Constitution. Were any permanent honors or emoluments to be secured to the families of those who have been active in this cause, there might be some grounds for suspicion. But what reasonable man, for the precarious enjoyment of rank and power, would establish a system which would reduce his nearest friends and his posterity to slavery and ruin?.... Gentlemen ought not, then, to presume that the advocates of this Constitution are influenced by ambitious views. The suspicion, sir, is unjust; the charge is uncharitable.
- Did the Federalists want the states or the Federal government to have more power? Why?
Antifederalist Position on State/Federal Power - Melancton Smith
Source: Speech given by Melancton Smith on June 27, 1788.
In a country where a portion of the people live more than twelve hundred miles from the centre, I think that one body cannot possibly legislate for the whole. Can the legislature frame a system of taxation that will operate with uniform advantages? Can they carry any system into execution? Will it not give occasion for an innumerable swarm of officers, to infest our country and consume our substance? People will be subject to impositions which they cannot support, and of which their complaints can never reach the government.
Another idea is in my mind, which I think conclusive against a simple government for the United States. It is not possible to collect a set of representatives who are acquainted with all parts of the continent. Can you find men in Georgia who are acquainted with the situation of New Hampshire, who know what taxes will best suit the inhabitants, and how much they are able to bear? Can the best men make laws for the people of whom they are entirely ignorant? Sir, we have no reason to hold our state governments in contempt, or to suppose them incapable of acting wisely…. We all agree that a general government is necessary; but it ought not to go so far as to destroy the authority of the members. We shall be unwise to make a new experiment, in so important a matter, without some known and sure grounds to go upon. The state constitutions should be the guardians of our domestic rights and interests, and should be both the support and the check of the federal government.
- Did the Anti-Federalists want the states or the Federal government to have more power? Why?
- Whose arguments do you find more convincing, the Federalists or Anti-Federalists?