Opposing the U.S. Constitution, Ratification Debate, Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, Anti-Federalist Essays and Letters, Primary Sources for Teachers, America in Class, National Humanities

« Previous Next »

4. Opposing the Constitution

  • Anti-Federalist letters to papers in the proposed Constitution, 1787-1788 PDF
  • Anti-Federalist essays of «Philadelphiensis,» 1787-1788, selections PDF
  • Appeals for calm within the ratification debates, 1787-1788 PDF


At right are details from an engraving entitled The hunting Glass for 1787 that satirized the contentious ratification debate in Connecticut. Their state is represented as a wagon enmired in mud and weighted straight down with paper (heavy financial obligation and inflated paper cash), while two sets of state senators—supporters and opponents of this proposed Constitution—pull the wagon in other directions. The written text balloons expose their polarized contempt—«we abhor the antifederal Faction» and «curses regarding Federal Govermt.» As historian Jack Rakove reminds us, «the debate over ratification... took the shape perhaps not of a Socratic discussion or an academic symposium but of a cacophonous argument in which interests concept and common sense and close analyses of certain clauses accompanied wild predictions regarding the good and wicked impacts that ratification would bring.»1 Inside preceding section, Promoting the Constitution, we considered the Federalist voice into the «cacophonous argument»; right here we sample the Anti-Federalist objections. To discern the variety of tone into the pieces—serious, sardonic, angry, humorous—read the pieces aloud. Proceed with the mixture of unbiased and impassioned rhetoric. Exactly how did these pieces work as persuasion and declamation?

  • Anti-Federalist letters to papers in the proposed Constitution, 1787-1788. Core readings for a report of Constitution are the very carefully reasoned essays written by many accomplished political theorists associated with the day—including the Federalist Papers by Publius (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay), and Anti-Federalist essays by Cato, Centinel, the Federal Farmer, the Columbian Patriot, and other Constitution critics.2 Every one of these works first starred in papers, and most were quickly reprinted as pamphlets and books. Offering an intriguing companion to these essays are the shorter viewpoint pieces submitted by visitors through the country for their neighborhood papers. Eight quick Anti-Federalist pieces are presented here from top months of national debate on the proposed Constitution. With many different genre and tone, they represent the major Anti-Federalist concerns towards proposed Constitution. Exactly what perspective do they add to a report regarding the ratification process? (6 pp.)

  • Anti-Federalist essays of «Philadelphiensis,» 1787-1788, choices. One of the pseudonyms that abounded during the ratification debates, «Philadelphiensis» had been used by a recent Irish immigrant being employed as a mathematics trainer during the University of Pennsylvania. Their eleven fevered essays appeared over five months in 2 Philadelphia magazines, during and after their state ratifying meeting. Selections from six of their essays are presented here, like the sixth that was mercilessly satirized by Francis Hopkinson in their Federalist satire «The New Roof» (see the past part, marketing the Constitution). Workman condemned the proposed constitution as a device to combine energy among the list of «well-born» elite and also to relegate other residents toward status of serfs and slaves, and he predicted British-like tyranny from the standing (permanent) national military that might be delivered into the states to enforce federal law—both prevalent Anti-Federalist warnings. It is worthwhile to contrast the Philadelphiensis essays because of the more reasoned and dispassionate functions Anti-Federalists like George Mason, Mercy Otis Warren, George Clinton, and others (see Supplemental web sites). (6 pp.)

  • Appeals for relax in ratification debates, 1787-1788. Amidst the whirlwind of Federalist and Anti-Federalist essays, satires, poems, and letters that filled the papers through the ratification debates, occasionally a short piece would appeal for relaxed, explanation, and openness toward merits of an opponent's argument. «Cool minds are clear,» published one page author; «turn your backs upon all fiery declaimers.» Presented listed below are four such letters, followed by a dialogue between a Federalist and an Anti-Federalist that models civil discourse for antagonists whose «cool minds» had strayed. (4 pp.)

Framing Questions

  • How did Us americans' concept of self-governance change from 1776 to 1789? Why?
  • How did their emerging national identification affect this procedure?
  • What divisions of governmental ideology coalesced inside process?
  • How did the procedure induce the last Constitution and Bill of Rights?
  • how can the Constitution and the Bill of Rights mirror the ideals regarding the United states Revolution?


Anti-Federalist letters to newspapers
Anti-Federalist essays of Philadelphiensis
Appeals for calm within the ratification debates
6 pp.
6 pp.
4 pp.
16 pp.

Supplemental internet sites

1Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and a few ideas in Making of the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1996), p. 132.
2 Cato: Gov. George Clinton of the latest York. Centinel: Samuel Bryan of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. The Federal Farmer: Melancton Smith of New York or Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. The Columbian Patriot: Mercy Otis Warren of Boston, Massachusetts.
Banner and slideshow images: details from The Looking Glass for 1787, cartoon in the Connecticut ratification debates, probably by Amos Doolittle, 1787. Thanks to the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-1722.
*PDF file — you'll need computer software on your computer which allows you to definitely read and print Portable Document structure (PDF) files, like Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this computer software, you maydownload it FREEfrom Adobe's internet site.

How to cite this essay: