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, June 21, 1788
The Antifederalists seem to think that a pure democracy would be the perfect government. Experience has shown that this idea is false. The ancient democracies of Greece were characterized by tyranny and run by mobs.
The Antifederalists also argue that a large representation is necessary to understand the interests of the people. This is not true. Why can’t someone understand thirty [thousand] people as well as he understands twenty people?
The new constitution does not make a rich man more eligible for an elected office than a poor person. I also think it’s dangerous to assume that men become more wicked as they gain wealth and education. Look at all the people in a community, the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant. Which group has higher moral standards? Both groups engage in immoral or wicked behavior. But it would seem to me that the wealthy overall have the advantage. Their immoral behavior often benefits the general wealth of the country, and it’s less wicked and sinful.
- What type of Congressional representation did the federalists prefer? 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. They should understand their circumstances and their troubles. Therefore, the number of representatives should be so large that both rich and poor people will choose to be representatives.
If the number of representatives is small, the position will be too competitive. Ordinary people will not attempt to run for office. A middle-class yeoman (farmer) will never be chosen. So, the government will fall into the hands of the few and the rich. This will be a government of oppression.
The rich consider themselves above the common people, entitled to more respect. They believe they have the right to get anything they want.
- 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 Antifederalists argue that the federal government should not be allowed to tax the people because it will take everything it can get.
It is unfair to presume that the representatives of the people will be tyrants in the federal government, but not in the state government. If we are convinced that the federal government will pass laws that go against the interests of the people, then we should have no federal government at all. But if we unite, we can accomplish great things.
I must finally say that I resent the implication that I am only interested in rank and power. What reasonable man would establish a system that would reduce his friends and children to slavery and ruin?
No reasonable man would want to establish a government that is unfriendly to the liberty of the people. Do not assume, gentlemen, that the advocates of this Constitution are motivated by their ambition. It is an unjust and uncharitable view.
- 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 most people live more than twelve hundred miles from the center, I don’t think one [government] body can legislate for the whole. Can such a government design a system of taxation that will be beneficial for everyone?
Won’t such a centralized taxation system lead to swarms of officers, infesting our country and taking our money? People will be taxed beyond their means, and their complaints will never reach the government.
It is not possible to find a set of representatives who are familiar with all parts of the continent. Can you find men in Georgia who know what’s happening in New Hampshire, who know what taxes will best suit its inhabitants, and how much they can afford? Can the best men make laws for the people they know nothing about?
We have no reason to eliminate our state governments, or think they are incapable of acting wisely. Our state governments should be the guardians of our rights and interests.
- 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?