Gentlemen May Cry – Anti-Federalism

The top Anti-Federalists that history should never forget, are:

  1. Thomas Burke, of North Carolina: While he died prior to the 1787 Convention due to the conditions of War and being imprisoned by the British, he was an eloquent debater in the Second Continental Congress, and insisted on adding Article 2 of the Articles of Confederation, which established that each state was Sovereign, Free, and Independent.
  2. Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts: was a founder of the Sons of Liberty who carried out the Boston Tea Party, and along with his cousin John Adams, argued vociferously for Independence from Britain. Unlike John, however, he did not abandon the idea of sovereign States for want of more power in the national government. A month after independence, he concluded a speech to Congress saying, “If I have a wish dearer to my soul than that my ashes be mingled with those of a Warren and a Montgomery, it is that these American States may never cease to be free and independent.”
  3. Luther Martin, of Maryland: He was the first Attorney General of Maryland, and is noted for his elegant arguments in support of State Sovereignty during the McCullough v. Maryland case. However, his greatest role was in vehemently opposing the adoption of the 1787 Constitution, protesting that the convention required all to swear an oath of secrecy, thereby hiding their intrigue from criticism by the States, and ultimately leaving the convention in disgust without signing the Constitution. He railed against the continuation of slavery under the Constitution, and the lack of a religious test to serve in office. His Genuine Information, delivered in November of 1787 to the Maryland General Assembly, is an outstanding and clairvoyant critique of all the failures, shortcomings, and dangers posed by the current Constitution.
  4. Patrick Henry, of Virginia: Virginia’s first Governor was by far the most eloquent speaker of his time. Even in written form, the passion and power of his speeches comes through. He called for his fellow Virginians to come to the aid of their American countrymen in Massachusetts, but he also railed against the consolidation of the government into a single Empire, noting that this would destroy the States. Patrick Henry also railed against the Constitution’s slavery provisions, and warned that the President would make himself a King and enslave the American People.


Also worthy of mention are the three Anti-Federalists who remained at the convention, but did not sign the Constitution: George Mason (VA), Edmund Randolph (VA), and Elbridge Gerry (MA.)

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Anti-Federalists at the Constitutional Convention noted that the new Constitution threatened to consolidate the sovereign States into a single government. They were alarmed that it was illegally passed by a Convention (not by a Congress) and sent to State ratifying conventions (not the State legislatures) for approval, both of which were required by the 13th Article of Confederation. All but three Anti-Federalists left the Convention in 1787 in disgust, and even those three refused to sign the Constitution, denying the appearance of unanimity which had been the case for the Declaration. Some of their more salient anti-federalist arguments pointed out that citizens owed loyalty to their States first over the Union, yet the 1787 Constitution declared that Treason consisted of making war against the United States, or any of them! This meant that should the inevitable case arise where the “More Perfect Union” should be at odds with one or more individual States, a citizen would be committing treason against the Union if he sided with his state—but he’d be committing treason against his State if he sided with the Union. Either way, he’d be likely to hang.

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James Madison, one of the greatest apologists for the 1787 Constitution, had no response for this. While Hamilton repeatedly accused critics of the Constitution of being too stupid to understand it or of seeking power for themselves, Madison usually assured his critics that the States would not be destroyed by the Union, as the People were to have greater affection for their State governments than they would for the National. While this may have been true for a while, that sentiment of attachment did not last—Madison realized the monster he had built in 1798 when he and Jefferson drafted the Virginia & Kentucky resolves, but they were too little, too late—and it all but disintegrated after passage of the 14th and 17th Amendments. While Madison exclaimed repeatedly that the government the “More Perfect Union” provides is at the same time partly federal and partly national, there can be no illusion that with the passage of these 2 Amendments, all vestiges of federalism have been rendered null and void. And while Madison initially failed in his quest to grant Congress the power to veto State laws, today’s Supreme Court can easily countermand any State law it desires, due to various provisions of the 14th Amendment as well as the “emanations and penumbras” of the Constitution.

Madison once assured us that each State would be garrisoned with militia consisting of its own citizens who would outnumber the National standing army, yet this was never fully realized, and was finally wiped out with Reconstruction. And though Madison promised that each State would have its interests represented by Senators appointed by their State legislatures, the 17th Amendment saw this totally wiped out, so that members of the Senate now represent the popular mood of a simple plurality in their State, usually motivated by wealthy business interests and political factions, with all regard for land and property eradicated from consideration, in elections governed not by the laws of their State, but rather by the laws of Congress.

The Articles of Confederation, in contrast, were a far better Constitution for the preservation of the Sovereignty of the States. What our schoolbooks almost universally refer to as “weaknesses” of the Union under the Articles, are in fact a testament to the STRENGTH of the States. Consider that the United Nations is a mere alliance of cooperating States, like the United States once were under the Articles. Would it be right or fair if a majority of U.N. member States were able to compel the United States to do their bidding, change our laws, compel us into trade at the prices and wages they approved of, force us to accept same-sex marriage, tell us what our immigration laws had to be, and put our elected officials on trial for war crimes at-will? The answer is clearly, “no,” as a Sovereign answers to no government but itself.

Likewise, the States being sovereign, had no obligation to submit to the determinations of the league under which they had confederated. The Confederation was to be for their benefit—not for their detriment. And can we not see that being in the Union today has led to the detriment of many-a-State? States have gone bankrupt, been invaded by foreigners, experienced massive power outages, and have seen terrorist attacks successfully waged upon them, with no effective protection from the government of the Union. Always, the response of the Union has been a knee-jerk reaction that results in higher taxes, more government agencies which snoop and spy on us, and less freedom for the citizens of the States. Might not the Citizens of New York, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, or Texas have fared better if they didn’t have to rely on the celebrity-politicians in Washington, D.C. for their own security? Might not they be better off if they could investigate, deport, and/or execute violent criminals on their own? And might not these States and their citizens feel more free if they were not being forced, at this moment, to adopt a system of socialized medicine which forces each individual to buy an insurance plan approved by Washington, D.C., whether they want it or not—whether they need it or not—and whether they can afford it or not?

This is Part 2 in a Series. Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 3 here.

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