10 April 2015

The Anti-Federalists

The Anti-Federalists by Jackson Main, 1961, Edited Excerpts

As the year 1781 drew to a close, the people turned their attention away from the war and to who was to rule the country in peace. In order to guard against the tyranny of power and preserve popular rule, the men entrusted with power had to be kept responsive to public opinion. The Revolutionary generation needed only to recall events out of their own experiences: the behavior of the royal governors or of officials appointed by them; the failure of councilors and elective officers to heed the people’s will.

Independence was enthusiastically supported by the artisans and western farmers under the leadership of new men who aggressively seized the initiative. It followed that where property was widely distributed and an excessive concentration of wealth was avoided, a democratic or popular government was most agreeable. 

Creditors, both public and private, tended to be Federal, while debtors were ordinarily Antifederal. They are called the Antifederalists, but it should be made clear at once that they were not antifederal at all. In reality, they were determined to preserve the Confederation, and the name was imposed upon them by their opponents, the so-called “Federalists.” The attachment to them of a word which denotes the reverse of their true beliefs, and which moreover implies that they were mere obstructionists, without any positive plan to offer, was part of the penalty of defeat. The victors took what name they chose, and fastened on the losers one which condemned them. Since the victory was a lasting one, the name and the stigma have endured.

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