Ratification Debates Essay

When comparing and contrasting Anti-Federalist views on the ratification of the United States Constitution with those of the Federalists, there is the relationship that represents their views upon principles, problems, and solutions, which really looks at which side best reflects or departs from the original principles set forth for the Declaration of Independence. It can be argued that the two sides are very different in their distinct views, with each group believing that its views are the right ones.

The debate raged on between the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists as to what ratification should be brought out with regard to the Constitution. This period of conflict lasted from the moment the first draft was written in 1787 until such ratification was imposed in 1789. As a result, this was a time of intense debate between the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists. There were papers that were written from both sides regarding whether the ratification should take place or not, depending on what each group supported. As a collective work, each side gave significant points that clearly illustrated their ideas. The Federalists, however, was the group that really seemed to have influenced the minds of the citizens, not only because their attempts seemed to be more organized, but possibly more so because the Anti-Federalists failed to actually prove that small republics were better able to have individual liberties than were large republics.

The Anti-Federalists were strongly opposed to any ratification of the Constitution. Supporting this view were several different authors who composed strict papers that reflected the Anti-Federalist belief. Within these works was found the reasoning as to why the Anti-Federalists were against ratifying the Constitution. They focused upon the dangers of tyranny and how it would weaken the essence of the Constitution. It was argued that the Constitution was not well equipped to deal with a monarchy. Even though it was established that the Bill of Rights would be effective enough to correct some of the weaknesses, there were still some uncertainties that caused the Anti-Federalists to continue to oppose the Constitutional ratification.

The Federalists, on the other hand, supported the ratification. Some of these supporters were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, who were responsible for composing the collection of writings that came to be known as The Federalist Papers. Basing their argument on the fact that the United States Constitution was fundamentally created as “a reflection of human attributes”, the men pointed to examples such as separation of powers and other warnings against the concept of totalitarianism. They argued that any such action only focused on the pessimistic side of humanity.

Madison’s argument asked if government was not the most significant of all human reflection. He stated that if humanity consisted on angels, there wouldn’t be a need for any governmental control at all. His point, as well as those of the other Federalists who supported the ratification, stated that there had to be control. They declared that the Constitution was constructed to maintain a system of checks and balances in order to rid the states of the tyranny that the Anti-Federalists were concerned about. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay made attempts to demonstrate how ratification was necessary in establishing the best Constitutional representation possible. Hamilton effectively defended the Federalist viewpoint when he stated that the country’s laws had to be simple enough for all people to understand and interpret, so that no one would be confused.

The Anti-Federalists had many concerns. They were concerned about the power of taxation that the central government would have. They feared that outrageous taxes would be forced upon the people for everything, from imports to land and goods “at their sovereign pleasure.”

The Federalists saw the need for the power to tax by the national government. They saw that the government described under the Articles of Confederation was inadequate in producing revenues necessary to carry out its purposes, so they thought it essential for the national government to have the power to tax. Hamilton argued that the stated unified would be more likely to levy strong taxes than would the national government. In fact, as a unified nation, there would be free trade among the states, which would help the national economy. The power to levy taxes would be in the hands of the people’s representatives, who would be trusted to act according to the people’s wishes, and if this proved to be untrue, then new representatives could be elected.

The Anti-Federalists also raised uproar over the “necessary and proper” clause, which empowered the government to make all laws judged “necessary and proper”, and the “supreme law of the land” clause, which declared that all laws passed and all treaties signed by the government were to be “the supreme law of the land; and anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” They believed these clauses would allow the local governments to be destroyed and individual liberties to be eliminated. The Federalists, mainly Hamilton, dismissed these views as misrepresentation. These backers were firm believers in the institution of “concurrent jurisdiction,” in which the national government would have means to levy necessary taxes, while the states retained their ability to tax also.

The Anti-Federalists saw many wrong ideas in the formation of a union, mainly the ones in respect to the proposed Constitution. As far as the Senate was concerned, the Anti-Federalists held the opinion that “the senate… is constituted on the most unequal principles,” where as each state has equal representation in this body. Another argument was that there was a possibility of the federal government having too much power. They feared that the president would become a tyrant and that the Congress would swallow up the states. For them the possibility of an aristocracy was too great and it would lead to the development of a government which would be the farthest thing from being balanced.

The Federalists sought out to mostly to unite the states under the Constitution. In fact, Madison carried out his promise to make the provisions for amendments and was a key person in drafting the Bill of Rights.

The proposed structure of the judiciary was not as controversial as the other elements of the Constitution. Balancing the governmental powers, the judiciary was to remain truly distinct from both the legislative and executive branches of the government, and it was to act as a check on both. The federal courts would have jurisdiction and authority to overrule state laws that were contrary to the Constitution, to facilitate interpretation of national laws, and in regard to foreign citizens. Also, the federal courts would have jurisdiction in conflicts between the states. The Anti-Federalists held objection to the lack of provision for trial-by-jury. Hamilton argued that this did not mean that the right was entirely abolished, and pointed out that the laws and constitutions of the various states did not uphold a uniform standard in regard to this issue. Regarding the issue of the Court’s ability to invalidate acts of Congress, much debate has arisen over the years, and the issue remains the topic of the argument.

It was obvious to all parties that the Constitution was not perfect. However, the Federalists argued that it should be accepted as it was, without any alterations, as provision had been made for amending it later. Under the circumstances, they argued that it was the best plan set forth thus far. The Anti-Federalists did not seem able to answer the arguments of the Federalists, proving that the new plan would be false, and thus, since a majority was not willing to discard the strengths of the proposed Constitution, the document was ratified. Those arguments were quickly answered by the addition of the first ten amendments, or Bill of Rights, shortly after its ratification.

It is clear that in answer to all of the anti-federalist arguments, the Federalists thoroughly proved the necessity of the republican form of government, rather than a confederation, for the safety of American freedoms and the conformity of the Constitution to the definition of a republican government. They also began to answer the attacks on the Constitution’s provisions for a federal government by aptly defining the nature of the government outlined in the document. It is clear that the Anti-Federalists were forced to accept the Federalists reasoning and arguments since they, after being talked into accepting the republican form of government, immediately championed it and asked if the Constitution was doing it justice in conforming to its definition. Perhaps the greatest testimony to the Federalists fine work can be seen today in the republican form of government we have had for over two-hundred years and in the Constitution that allows us to participate in it as a confederacy and as a nation.

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