Introduction to my Anti-Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis:
I recently finished reading The Anti-Federalist Papers, which is one reason why I would like to write a summary and analysis of The Anti-Federalist Papers. In doing so, I managed to read through and analyze all 85 of them. My favorites were Anti-Federalist Paper 9, written by “Montezuma”, Anti-Federalist Paper 17, written by “Brutus”, and Anti-Federalist Paper 21, written by Centinel.
While I will refrain from summarizing each one of The Anti-Federalist Papers individually, I would highly recommend that you read them all, or at least those three. They are great ones to read and very important for American political thought and development. Without them, our nation would be a very different place.
Had we not had writings like both the Federalist Papers by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, then the Constitution would probably not have been adopted. That would have been a great tragedy. But, I think the nation eventually would have found a workable Constitution to replace the failed Articles of Confederation.
However, had we not had The Anti-Federalist Papers written by great men like Brutus, Centinel, and Patrick Henry, then Americans would not understand why liberty is so important. I think that would have stunted our political growth more than a delayed Constitution would have. Without The Anti-Federalist Papers, we would not have the same arguments for limited government, states’ rights, and skepticism of government to use to push back against expanding government power.
For that reason, I think every American should read The Anti-Federalist Papers. These writings, written by great men like Brutus, are the best way to understand the importance of limited government. If Americans don’t learn that, then tyranny will soon ensue. So, enjoy this summary and analysis of The Anti-Federalist Papers, but also use it to understand what is important about limited government.
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Summary of The Anti-Federalist Papers:
In my view, the best summary of the arguments against the Constitution found in The Anti-Federalist Papers is fourfold. So, I will make yy attempt to summarize the Anti-Federalist arguments against the Constitution fourfold. That is because there were four main things that the Anti-Federalists hated about the Constitution; it’s aristocratic nature, the immense power it handed to the executive branch, the appellate power it gave to the Supreme Court, and the lack of a sufficient Bill of Rights. I already explored those topics in my review of “What the Anti-Federalists were For,” but I think it will be useful to explain them in more depth here, in my summary of The Anti-Federalist Papers.
The Aristocratic Nature of the Constitution:
Anti-Federalist No. 1 is called “General Introduction: A Dangerous Plan of Benefit to only the Aristocratick Combination.” It was written by “A Federalist.” By “Aristocratick Combination,” the author meant the aristocratic nature of the Constitution. Like many other Anti-Federalists, his main worry was that the Constitution would do too much to empower the elite in America. Namely, he mentions bankers and lawyers as part of that aristocracy that the Constitution would give too much power to. He thought that the centralization and consolidation of American government under the Constitution would give those men too much power and in effect solidify an American aristocracy.
Other writers expressed similar concerns. One frequently cited concern about the aristocratic nature of the Constitution was that it created the Senate. While we are now used to the Senate and it is open to all sorts of people, it was then a much more aristocratic institution. Because there are only two seats, and originally there was only an electoral vote for Senators, not a direct vote, many Anti-Federalists worried that the Senate would become a place for powerful families to become American aristocrats. By buying off electors every six years, the wealthy and powerful could theoretically cement their power in the Senate, which was given much more authority than the House of Representatives.
Anti-Federalists found that troubling. Like modern Americans, they had a profound distaste for aristocracy. And originally, the centralization of power and creation of the Senate looked very aristocratic. Luckily, we now do not have as much of that problem. The reform of the Senate electoral process through the Seventeenth amendment means that now we have a direct vote for our Senators. That has helped make the system more aristocratic.
But when the Constitution was being ratified, no such amendment existed, and the Senate wielded vast power over the fortunes of our nation. Had selfish and greedy men taken advantage of the situation, Anti-Federalist concerns about the aristocratic nature of the Constitution might have been realized.
The Immense Power of the Executive Branch:
Modern Americans are used to the executive branch having huge amounts of power. Presidents set policy objectives, start and stop wars on a whim (as long as Congress doesn’t declare war), and otherwise have immense powers. Modern presidents have even created trade deals, which is supposed to be exclusively a concern of the Senate. Yet, we don’t see that power as tyranny. Occasionally, we might think that certain aspects of it are problematic, but we never really see it as tyranny.
The Anti-Federalists, however, saw the president’s power as tyrannical. In Anti-Federalist no. 68, William Grayson remarks that it is dangerous to trust the president with too much power because as soon as he can take advantage of it, he will. And if Congress is weak, then there is no one to stop him. I think that that fear came from having just escaped from King George III’s tyrannical grip. Because their only experience with a strong executive was a tyrannical king, they were understandably wary of the concept. When viewed in that context, their fear of and vehement opposition too a strong executive makes sense.
While there are some benefits to having a strong executive, such as decisiveness and speed of action, there are also drawbacks. Anti-Federalist no. 68 perfectly sums up those drawbacks and makes it easy for the average person to understand them.
In the modern-day, we have decided that the benefits outweigh the risks. That is because we have never had a truly tyrannical executive come to power. The Anti-Federalists were much more realistic; they knew the dangers that could, and eventually would, come to pass if the executive branch grew too strong. We should all read a good summary and analysis of The Anti-Federalist Papers so that we understand their concerns about a strong executive and learn how to curb the president’s power.
The Appellate Power of the Supreme Court:
As with the concept of a strong executive, Americans are used to the Supreme Court being the final say in legal matters. We accept its supreme appellate power. However, the Anti-Federalists were not used to a court with such immense power and responsibility. Great Britain had no such court at that time; the idea of it was completely new to them. Their main problem with the court was that it was a panel of judges, not a jury of their peers.
One key tenant of the American judicial system is our right to trial by jury. While that is the case today, it is not a modern judicial development. That precedent has existed since the American judicial system was created and was viewed as a key way to make the judicial process fair. Rather than your fate being decided by highly educated legal technocrats, it is instead decided by your peers; people that might understand you and your situation better. Yet Supreme Court cases are not tried by a jury, but instead by a panel of judges. That was highly disconcerting to Anti-Federalists.
Additionally, they were worried about the lack of oversight of the Supreme Court. It has immense power and responsibility, so to them it seemed like there should be some oversight. In England, judges can be removed by the House of Lords. In America, we have no way to remove Supreme Court justices other than impeachment, which has never happened and probably will not happen because of how the institution is viewed. In Anti-Federalist no. 78-79, Brutus sums that fear up excellently.
The Lack of a Bill of Rights:
One of the chief Anti-Federalist concerns was that the original Constitution had no Bill of Rights. The Federalist response was that it didn’t need one because the Constitution enumerated the powers of the government. The Anti-Federalists responded that there were plenty of instances in the Constitution where it prohibited certain actions, such as ex post facto laws, that are not enumerated in the Constitution. In Anti-Federalist no. 84, Brutus summarizes that argument very well.
So, why did Anti-Federalists worry about the lack of a Bill of Rights? Because it meant that their rights could potentially be stripped away by new legislation. They were worried that the government’s view of tis power would shift from an enumerated powers view to a more expansionist view of power. If that happened, it would most likely lead to the government starting to restrict rights that weren’t explicitly defended in and protected by the Constitution.
Turns out, they were right. Now the only rights we have left are ones that are protected in the Bill of Rights. Getting the Bill of Rights implemented was a major Anti-Federalist victory. It has protected our rights for generations; we just have to make sure to defend it.
Analysis of the Anti-Federalist Papers:
This is a summary and analysis of The Anti-Federalist Papers, so it wouldn’t be complete without an analysis section. In this section, I will show that many of the Anti-Federalist concerns were prudent concerns to have because their worries have since come to pass. However, the Anti-Federalists were too fragmented to be successful in most of their arguments. I will also show why that was..
The Anti-Federalist Concerns were Valid Concerns:
The Federalists ended up winning the Constitution debate; it was ratified. But, many of the Anti-Federalist concerns have stuck with us. Concerns about big government, too powerful of an executive, our rights being stripped away. We have the same worries that the Anti-Federalists did, the government’s actions have made them worse rather than assuaged them.
For example, many liberals are now pushing for increased gun control; they want to strip our rights away. What is worse is that that right is one enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and still they don’t respect it. We can only imagine how quickly it would have disappeared if the Bill of Rights had never existed. Luckily, that was the one debate that the Anti-Federalists won. We have them to thank for firearm rights, free speech, and some level of states’ rights still being respected by the government. Without the Bill of Rights, those would be long gone.
Another valid concern the Anti-Federalists had was that the executive branch was given too much power. If he decided to use it in a corrupt manner, then perhaps he could become the “Warrior King” that we are warned about in Anti-Federalist no. 74. While that has not happened (yet), the executive branch has far exceeded its constitutional authority. That trend began under either Woodrow Wilson or FDR, as Jonah Goldberg discusses in Liberal Fascism, and has continued ever since. We have to read The Anti-Federalist Papers and start pushing back against that growth of power. Soon, it might be too late.
In short, the Anti-Federalists had many valid concerns about the government set up by the Constitution. Many of the potential problems they brought up back then are problems that we struggle with today.
The Anti-Federalists Were too Fragmented for the Anti-Federalist Papers to Be Effective:
As you have probably already discovered by reading this summary and analysis of The Anti-Federalist Papers, there was no single strain of Anti-Federalist thought. Instead, they focused on a wide array of issues and expressed a huge number of concerns. Sometimes those concerns were even contradictory.
Unlike the Federalists, that had talking points that they stuck to so that the Constitution would be ratified, the Anti-Federalists were all over the place. They cared about too many issues to effectively defend the most important ones.
Although they had one victory- the Bill of Rights- they lost pretty much every other debate. Especially once the Constitution was ratified. Why could the Anti-Federalists not fix their fragmentation issue?
They couldn’t fix that because they were from too many backgrounds. The Federalist leaders had generally been together as government officials and officers during the American Revolution. They knew each other’s opinions, came from similar areas and backgrounds, and were committed to getting the Constitution ratified because they had written it.
On the other hand, the Anti-Federalists, as you can tell from reading The Anti-Federalist Papers, came from all over the nation, were more numerous, so they didn’t know each other, and had too many issues to discuss. Those fractures led to their defeat.
Although the Anti-Federalists lost the debate, their arguments are still a core part of the American identity. I hope that this Anti-Federalist Papers summary and analysis showed why that is the case. Their arguments are still extremely relevant, even if they lost the original debate. By reading and comparing the Federalist and The Anti-Federalist Papers, or by reading a good summary and analysis of The Anti-Federalist Papers, we can learn their opinions and use those opinions to change modern politics for the better.
And make no mistake, American certainly, 100% need to make our politics better. If you read The Anti-Federalist Papers, then you’ll see just how we’ve strayed from the path envisioned by the Founding Fathers. They envisioned us being a nation of independent citizens that worked for ourselves and were responsible citizens (in other words, they knew what it takes to succeed in America).
Nowadays, however, far more people work for others than for themselves. That has decayed our society, as has our drift away from Protestant ideals and towards hedonism. Americans need to recover the ideals of the Founding Fathers and one great way to do so is by reading The Anti-Federalist Papers.
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By: Gen Z Conservative
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