What the Anti-Federalists were For is a highly informative but short book about the early American Republic and how the Federalists and Anti-Federalists presented their viewpoints. The book is presented in a back and forth manner between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists and shows how each side presented their arguments and tried to win public support after the Constitutional Convention.
In other words, What the Anti-Federalists were For is short enough that even the layperson should not have trouble reading through the information in it and staying interested, unlike in books like The Age of Federalism, but is packed full of information, so you will still learn something.
Therefore, it is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough. Every American should know their history. The real, 1776 Commission type of history, not the fake news 1619 Project type of history. Reading books like What the Anti-Federalists were For is the best way to gain that knowledge. You can read it and decide for yourself whether you would side with the Federalists or Anti-Federalists and why. The real history and real opinions of the men involved are presented to you in it, not inane editorializing about the moral flaws of certain men involved.
So, if you want to learn more about American history and the ideas that built this nation and were hotly debated during the early republic, you need to read What the Anti-Federalists were For. I’ll cover more of the “why” in my summary and review of it, but know that it will inform you and make you proud to be and American.
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Summary of What the Anti-Federalists were For:
What the Anti-Federalists were For has 9 chapters, each of which presents an argument or set of arguments made by the Federalists or Anti-Federalists. Its back an forth nature is mostly chronological, and helps the reader understand not only the arguments themselves, but also the reasons for the arguments.
The Anti-Federalist argument as presented in this book is that society would be corrupted by the tendency towards self-interest created by the Constitution, that states would be oppressed by the tyranny of the federal government because of its power of the purse and army, and that there was more likely to be tyranny from the government than tyranny of the majority.
That is an opinion that is also discussed in Dominion of Memories. It was generally an opinion of Southern planters and farmers that appreciated the societal benefits of a republic of yeoman farmers and were loathe to surrender those benefits for the potential rewards of a republic with more industrialization and a stronger central government. They preferred dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery because they did not want the sort of oppressive government described by Hobbes in Leviathan to come to America under the guise of the Constitution.
The Federalists, on the other hand, were more hopeful. According to What the Anti-Federalists were For, they thought that while self-interest might be dangerous, it would be constrained by the Constitution and would help make the country more economically successful. As such, they focused more on industry and trade than farming.
Additionally, they believed that the rulers created by the system would be the best. Because of that, they had more faith in the Federal government than state governments. They thought that the best would become the national leaders. Finally, they were more worried about a tyranny of the majority than tyranny being created by the government. To correct that they tried to include more republican than democratic tendencies in the Constitution to restrain the majority.
That dichotomy between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was a huge problem and stumbling block for the early republic; the two groups had very different ideas about the future of the country.
What the Anti-Federalists were For states that the Federalists mainly won. While the Anti-Federalists were able to argue their points well, they simply had the weaker argument and could not coalesce around a singular vision for America. Like the Trump-era Democrats, they were united by their dislike of something, not a shared vision for the future that they could use to rally support for their cause. Few people are attracted to a negative cause.
Additionally, their vision could not work in America. The nation was rapidly expanding, both in terms of population and GDP, so the yeoman republic envisioned by the Virginians was gradually becoming obsolete. The nation needed more banks and manufacturers, not more small farms. While the Anti-Federalist idea of virtue being inculcated by small farms and land ownership, which What the Anti-Federalists were For identifies as one of the main parts of the Anti-Federalist ideology, was likely true, it became obsolete and couldn’t attract the necessary support.
However, according to the author of What the Anti-Federalists were For, the inclusion of the Bill of Rights was their major victory and is a long-lasting and important one for America.
Analysis of What the Anti-Federalists were For:
What the Anti-Federalists were For taught me a lot about early America. While I have read widely about the Revolutionary War and the early 1800’s, I hadn’t read much about the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist period. This book did a good job of succinctly explaining that period. After reading it, I had a much better understanding of the arguments at play and why the Federalists won, which is something that I did not gather from reading The Federalist Papers or The Anti-Federalist Papers.
Before reading this, I had thought the Federalists were more focused on government and equality and the Anti-Federalists were focused on pure liberty. After reading it, my opinion is reversed. Yes, the Anti-Federalists cared about ensuring liberty for the people. But they also were more democratic and wanted equality for voters. They weren’t worried about the tyranny of the majority. The Federalists, however, cared about ensuring continued liberty through restraining the masses. Their republican instincts proved correct and we have them to thank for the non-direct democracy nature of our system.
Additionally, before reading I hadn’t really thought about the main historical figures in the argument. While Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were important national figures, they mostly stayed removed from this argument. That let relatively new figures, such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, to rise to the top, which is important because they became the next generation of American political leaders after Washington and Jefferson retired from public life.
I hadn’t realized that, but found it very interesting. It explains why those historical figures rose to national prominence despite being in the presence of greats like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Patrick Henry, however, did insert himself into the argument. Read to find out which side he was on.
I liked reading What the Anti-Federalists were For because of how well it presented the information and ideas in it, while still remaining succinct and easy to read. That is quite difficult to do, but Herbert Storing, the author, did it well and in so doing created an excellent resource for those that want to learn more about the Founding Fathers and why they believed what they believed.
If you are at all interested in the US Constitution, the Anti-Federalists, the Federalists, or early America, read What the Anti-Federalists were For! It is informative yet interesting. Packed with quotes and historic material, yet easily readable and succinct. Plus, the information contained within it is some of the lesser-known information about the aftermath of the American Revolution.
Because of their fame and the fact that the Federalist side of the debate won, many people have heard of The Federalist Papers and know at least something about those opinions. However, the views of the Anti-Federalists are somewhat lesser-known. Reading this book will help you avoid that historical ignorance and learn how to apply the vision of the Founding Fathers to modern-day America.
If you read it, you won’t be disappointed and you will learn quite a bit about the fight between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists and how the Anti-Federalists made their arguments, which is good background to read before reading more general books about the period such as Founding Brothers.
By: Gen Z Conservative
Buy the Federalist Papers here, on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2WEndsY
Read more about the debate here: https://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-articles-of-confederation/the-great-debate/
Check out this other article about early America: https://genzconservative.com/book-reviews-history-of-the-us/
And buy that book here: https://amzn.to/2WwbjBV
Check out my review of The Anti-Federalist Papers here: https://genzconservative.com/anti-federalist-papers-summary-and-analysis/
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