06 May 2015

Philadelphia Convention of 1787

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

The Convention which assembled in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1787 contained only a handful of men who were opposed to a strong government and none who spoke out clearly for democracy. The struggle over the ratification of the Constitution was primarily a contest between the commercial and non-commercial elements in the population. This is the most significant fact, to which all else is elaboration, amplification, or exception.

The Federalists included the merchants and the other town dwellers, farmers depending on the major cities, and those who produced a surplus for export. The Federalists dominated the towns and the rich valleys, they included most of the public and private creditors, great landowners, lawyers and judges, manufacturers and ship-owners, high ranking civil and military officials, and college graduates. Almost all of the public securities were held by Federalists. Merchants, shipowners, bankers, manufactuurers, lawyers, and judges were Federalists by a very large majority, as were generals, naval captains, and members of the Cincinnati; most college men were Federalists, and most ministers.

The Antifederalists were primarily those who were not so concerned with the mercantile community and foreign markets. Antifederalists rank and file were men of moderate means, with little social prestige, farmers often in debt, obscure men for the most part. The Antifederalists had only moderate property, very few Antifederalists were well-to-do. In the Antifederal ranks at the convention were at least twenty-nine delegates who had actively participated in Shay’s Rebellion.

About half of all the delegates to the convention had seen some military service during the war, almost all of them as officers, but of the Antifederalists only one had held a rank higher than captain, whereas among the Federalists there were at least sixteen field officers. The ten members of the convention who belonged to the Society of Cincinnati were Federalists. The great majority of the merchants, large manufacturers, lawyers, judges, and those with extensive holdings in land voted for the Constitution.

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