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The Federalists vs. The Anti-Federalists

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When deciding whether the Constitution better embodied the American commitment to democracy (republicanism), or whether it produced a greater compromise to it, one must define the nature of a republican government. Both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist set forth their distinctive views on the quality of representational government, but it was James Madison and Alexander Hamilton vision I feel was the most correct. By accepting their view, it is clear that they propose the best arguments for why the Constitution establishes a greater democratic state then the Articles of Confederation. In their opposing arguments, Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee see the two distinctive problems with the Constitution, with regard to its democratic nature: the character of the judiciary and the process by which the executive is put into office. I will argue that federalist provide greater justification for why these two branches enumerated in the Constitution are indeed democratic (as examined through the Federalist view of republican government). First I will discuss how each side’s view of “republican” government differs.

The Constitution proposed by the Federal Convention in 1787 provided the basis for a strong national government. Elections to the House of Representatives were by the people directly, not the states, and the federal powers over taxes and the raising of armies were completely independent of the state governments. (pp. 71,73) This new form of federalism essentially produced a new form of republicanism, the large republic. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, in writing the Federalist Papers, provide the strongest arguments in support of it. Federalist No. 10 justified the new form of republicanism, not only as the price of union but also as the republican remedy to the disease of majority faction, or majority tyranny. (pp. 85-86) Because the Federalists saw a major danger not from the increasing power of the ruling few, but from the tyranny of the majority, they sought to restrain the influence of that majority in order to secure individual rights and the permanent and collective interests of the community.

Such restraint was to be achieved through a large extended sphere, i.e. the constituencies of the federal government. These would be larger and more diverse than the constituencies of the states, and so would make majority tyranny more difficult, since more negotiation and compromise would be needed for any single faction to become part of a majority. Similarly, the increased competition for office would produce better representatives and a more effective administration throughout the government. Madison understood republican government to require only that offices of government be filled directly or indirectly by popular vote. (pp. 87) Furthermore, the representation of the people was satisfied by the fact of election, regardless of the contrast between the wealth and influence of the elected and the electorate.

Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee (Anti-Federalists) believed that to maintain the character of republican government, which was the best defense against tyranny, individuals needed to know one another, be familiar with their governments, and have some direct experience in government. (pp.125) Only then would the citizenry possess a genuine love of country, which is the essence of republican, or civic, virtue. (pp. 126) The Anti-Federalists supported the then traditional view of republican government, reflected in the first state constitutions, which emphasized the legislative branch of government. With the first federal constitution, the Articles of Confederation, the states, through their legislatures, retained control of federal men and federal measures. The delegates to Congress were chosen by the state legislatures and were subject to being recalled.

The federal power to raise taxes and armies not only required a vote of nine states, but, even after such a vote, it depended on state requisitions, which meant that the federal government depended on the good will of the states to execute the law. (pp. 53) Because the Anti-Federalists emphasized participation in government, they argued that a small territory and a basically homogeneous population were necessary for a notion of the public good to be agreed upon. The Anti- Federalists did not insist that every citizen exercise legislative power. But they did emphasize representation of the people in the legislatures and on juries. By “representation” they meant that the number of people in a legislative district must be small enough and the number of districts large enough so that the citizens will know the people they are voting for and be able to elect one of their own-one of the “middling class.”(pp.125)

Though the Anti-Federalists felt a stronger form of government was needed, they saw the Constitution contained too much of an aristocratic character, mostly in respect to the Congress. They saw both the Senate and Judiciary branch (supreme court) lacking a democratic nature. In the article (article 1 section 3) referring to the appointment of Senators it states that two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, would serve six-year terms and be given one vote. The first problem argued by the Anti-Federalist was that the Senators would not be directly elected to office by the people, but rather appointed by the state legislatures. This way of appointment is almost identical to the way members of the continental congress were appointed outlined in the Articles of Confederation.

The anti-federalists wanted to maintain individual power, and by having the government of the states appointing their own representation gave the each state a greater democratic voice. But I say that the Anti-Federalist argument falls short when looking at the makeup of the other half of the Congress, the House of Representatives. Article I section 2 provides that the House of Representatives be a delegation consisting of members elected through direct elections by the people. This article provides the best defense for why the constitution is a more democratic document then the articles of confederation. Here we see that this part of the legislature is directly accountable to the public.

The Anti-Federalists objected as well to the extensive appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Article III section 2 may have guaranteed a jury trial in criminal cases, but on appeal, the fate of the defendant would be up to the judges. The Anti-Federalists wanted to have the right of jury trials extended to civil cases and to have the results protected against appellate review. The argument can be made that it is essential for the highest court in the land to be one not subject to popular influence, but rather should be a group consisting of individuals with extensive understanding of the law. (pp. 112)

The Constitution states in Article II (section 2) that the executive shall appoint the judges to the Supreme Court and that their appointment must be conferred upon by two thirds of the Senate. (pp.75) This is one of the prime objections the Anti-Federalist make to the Constitution. They see the Supreme Court undemocratic due to the fact that the judges presiding on it will be appointed rather then elected. But Hamilton, Federalist No. 78, argues that it is essential for the members of the court to be free from legislative encroachment. (pp. 112)

The Anti-Federalists lost the ratification debate because they failed to present a clear and convincing account of a constitutional plan that stood between the Articles of Confederation, which they acknowledged was unable to provide for the requirements of union, and the Constitution proposed by the Federal Convention, which they feared would produce a consolidation of power. And yet the periodic and contemporary constitutional debates over federalism, over the extent of legislative and executive power, and over individual rights and judicial review reflect the different conceptions of republican government that were developed in the founding dialogue over the Constitution.

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