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  1. #1
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    The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate

    In light of the passionate political debates in American politics (e.g. health-care, debt, immigration etc.) which have reflected the dysfunctional nature of the American federal government, I would like to draw parallels between the current debacle with the historical divide between the Federalists and Anti-federalists. The history of the divide between the two factions is too extensive to detail in its entirety so I will keep it as short as possible.

    The divide between Federalists and Anti-federalist was really fomented during the formation of the (current) United States Constitution in 1787, as a replacement for the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union of 1777 (which was the original constitution by which the US was governed).

    Generally, Federalists favoured a stronger, more centralized federal government than what the system under the Articles of Confederation had originally produced.

    Under the Articles, the federal government had very little authority to act in any functional capacity. It was weak and ineffective. Since there was no intention to make it a powerful government, it was centred only on a congress without an executive branch or a federal judiciary. Any laws passed by Congress were relegated to the individual state governments to enforce. Even the members of Congress were little more than messengers of the state legislatures, who were paid by, and answerable to, the state which they represented. Since there was no federal judiciary, the U.S. federal government did not have jurisdiction between interstate disputes and controversies. Disputes among states were left to be resolved by the states. One of the most significant limitations was the fact that the the federal government had no authority to enforce any taxation nor could it regulate interstate commerce. What little there was of the federal government could only function if the individual states agreed to cooperate.

    Those that opposed a centralized, more powerful, federal government were labeled "Anti-Federalists" for their opposition to the proposals and ideas of their Federalist counterparts. They essentially favoured greater state autonomy and sovereignty. They believed the Articles required amendments but not an entire transformation. While the two factions debated, bickered and fought tooth and nail during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to produce a system of governance that would favour their interests, the Anti-Federalists eventually compromised on a deal. The Federalists made a few concessions. Anti-Federalists agreed to ratify the new Constitution on the condition that a codified Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to prevent the infringement of liberties by the federal government over its citizens.

    Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists agreed on the principle of having a limited federal government. But they disagreed on where and how to place limits on government authority.

    I don't have a specific focus of this thread, so nearly anything related to the Federalist v. Anti-Federalist historical debate is fair game. But I'd like to throw out some questions: Were the Federalists right in arguing for a more central federal government with more broad powers than what was previously in place? Does the renewed call for a more limited, decentralized government and greater state autonomy reflect what the Anti-Federalists (like John Jay, George Clinton and Samuel Adams) felt at the time of the Convention? Do Americans think it is time for another Constitutional convention to address the current state of American society?
    Last edited by KingOfTheEast; August 20th, 2011 at 01:09 PM. Reason: adjustment of some historical dates
    "Those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY deserve neither LIBERTY nor SAFETY."--Pennsylvania Assembly

  2. #2
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    Re: The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate

    Quote Originally Posted by KING
    Were the Federalists right in arguing for a more central federal government with more broad powers than what was previously in place?
    I think so. The difficulties of waging a national war with out a central Gov is enough in my mind to justify having it strong enough to manage such an important affair.
    I don't think that had the Anit-federalists won, we would have been able to handle a war like WWII. Granted, we probably wouldn't have had a civil war to begin with, so maybe not a clear cut
    decision.

    I really don't know enough about them to discuss them much.
    I apologize to anyone waiting on a response from me. I am experiencing a time warp, suddenly their are not enough hours in a day. As soon as I find a replacement part to my flux capacitor regulator, time should resume it's normal flow.

  3. #3
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    Re: The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    I think so.
    Frankly, I'm surprised. I would've thought you'd be championing state's rights and that you would be critical of any broad federal government powers.

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    The difficulties of waging a national war with out a central Gov is enough in my mind to justify having it strong enough to manage such an important affair.
    In fact, that's one of the main arguments in favour of a federalist state with centralized and broad powers.

    There's certainly some merit in that argument. A central government projects the notion of strength, unity and solidarity. Many individual states uniting into one country appears to be more powerful than one decentralized country divided by individual self-autonomous states.

    Contrarily, one could argue that if all states followed a form of federalism in which power was divided evenly between the federal governments and the individual state/provincial governments, there would be less tendency to go to war and less risk that the government would turn tyrannical. The countries that provoked and fought in the two world wars were largely centralized unitary states (e.g. England, both the German Republic and Nazi Germany, Imperial Russia and Soviet Union). A few others were federal states in which the national government maintained strong central powers over state/provincial governments.

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    I don't think that had the Anit-federalists won, we would have been able to handle a war like WWII. Granted, we probably wouldn't have had a civil war to begin with, so maybe not a clear cut
    decision.
    If the Anti-Federalists had it their way, it would be questionable whether the United States, as a whole, would be as powerful as it was before entering the second World War.

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    I really don't know enough about them to discuss them much.
    Fair enough. I appreciate any contribution that promotes positive discourse in the thread. Thanks for your input.
    "Those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY deserve neither LIBERTY nor SAFETY."--Pennsylvania Assembly

  4. #4
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    Re: The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate

    Quote Originally Posted by KING
    Frankly, I'm surprised. I would've thought you'd be championing state's rights and that you would be critical of any broad federal government powers.
    I generally do champion states rights, but I do so because (I believe) the federal gov has grown far more powerful than even any federalist would have wanted.

    Take for example the bill of rights. As I understand it the general consensus from the everyone was that they went without saying. They were "self evident" to the founders. I suspect that is why the federalists had no problem with that "compromise". On the other hand, had the anti-federalists a time machine, I would be willing to be the "bill of rights" would be a lot longer

    Still, I do believe we need a fed, just that it needs to stay within its very limited and well defined powers.


    Question.
    Do you think the federalists would have defined a federal power more specifically if they could see the Gov today? Which one would it be?
    I apologize to anyone waiting on a response from me. I am experiencing a time warp, suddenly their are not enough hours in a day. As soon as I find a replacement part to my flux capacitor regulator, time should resume it's normal flow.

  5. #5
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    Re: The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    I generally do champion states rights, but I do so because (I believe) the federal gov has grown far more powerful than even any federalist would have wanted.
    I agree. Federal measures like unfunded mandates and mandatory provisions, is likely not what the framers had in mind when drafting the Constitution.

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    Take for example the bill of rights. As I understand it the general consensus from the everyone was that they went without saying. They were "self evident" to the founders. I suspect that is why the federalists had no problem with that "compromise".
    Well actually, many of the Federalists were adamantly against the inclusion of a bill of rights in the Constitution. Their arguments were principally that a bill of rights would be an unwarranted limit on the federal government's power and would impede on the new federal government's ability to function properly.

    The other objection to the inclusion of a bill of rights was that a list of individual rights of the people would imply that those were the only rights that the people retained (a fear which subsequently led to the formulation of the Ninth Amendment to address this issue). Federalists generally believed that internal checks and balances would be the best measure of preventing any abuse or usurpation of power by the federal government.

    As Alexander Hamilton stated in the Federalist Papers No. 84:

    It has been several times truly remarked, that bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. ... Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing, and as they retain every thing, they have no need of particular reservations.

    I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? ..."

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    On the other hand, had the anti-federalists a time machine, I would be willing to be the "bill of rights" would be a lot longer

    Still, I do believe we need a fed, just that it needs to stay within its very limited and well defined powers.
    You could say that the federal government maintained relatively limited powers (in relation to the state governments) in the 18th and even the start of the 19th century (with the exception of a few measures like the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798). The major changes to this began with the landmark US Supreme Court ruling in McColloch v. Maryland in 1819. The Supreme Court broadened the scope and authority of Congress by indicating that Congress had implied powers, pursuant to the Necessary and Proper Clause which were not expressly given to Congress but were inferred from its express powers and were necessary for the national government to function properly. The other major exception was the case of Gibbonz v. Ogden in 1824 in which the national government's powers under the Commerce Clause were expanded and broadly applied.

    But ultimately, the U.S. Constitution is ambiguous in terms of setting a definite line between federal power and state power. Sure, it sets out the express powers of the national government. But where it gets muddy is with the inclusion of broad and implied powers including the Commerce Clause, Necessary and Proper Clause and Welfare Clause, among others. This means that the interpretation of the Constitution and the extent to which these implied powers extend have been left to the US Supreme Court to review (which Anti-Federalists in the past, and strict constructionists alike, would (have) disagree(d) that the Court has such broad discretion to strike down laws and clarify ambiguous issues related to the Constitution).

    But it was really in the New Deal era (approx. 1937) that you begin to see the federal government's expansive powers more broadly applied to the American system of governance. That's when you start to see a new type of federalism form--cooperative federalism. There's a mainstream consensus in certain circles which believes that a new federalism began to form, beginning with Reagan in the 80s, as a way of devolving authority back to the individual states and promoting state's rights. That issue is still disputed.

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    Question.
    Do you think the federalists would have defined a federal power more specifically if they could see the Gov today? Which one would it be?
    Very interesting question.

    I think the Federalists clearly wanted a strong national government with broad powers so that it had more flexibility to function when necessary. They were aware of the weak, ineffective nature of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation. They were so weary of unecessary impedements to federal governmental authority that most didn't initially support the inclusion of a bill of rights. And they were so weary of excessive democracy and mob rule that they implemented several key measures as a way of preventing a tyranny of the majority.

    It's difficult, however, to gauge how far they expected the federal government's powers to extend and how strong they expected the central government to be. Did they foresee the federal government so significantly involved in education, commerce, and security? Perhaps...and I tend to lean towards the view that save for a few exceptions, the Federalists might have generally supported the current federalist structure in place in the United States (not necessarily each federal law but the federal structure in general). On the contrary, the Anti-Federalists would likely view the federal government today as having extended beyond the powers it was given and having usurped the powers of the state governments and the rights of the people.
    "Those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY deserve neither LIBERTY nor SAFETY."--Pennsylvania Assembly

  6. #6
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    Re: The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate

    Thread moved to the new Formal Discussion forum.

    Please see the announcement about this change.
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