During the period from the drafting and proposal of the federal
Constitution in September, 1787, to its ratification in 1789 there was an
intense debate on ratification. The principal arguments in favor of it were
stated in the series written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay called the
Federalist Papers, although
they were not as widely read as numerous independent local speeches and
articles. The arguments against ratification appeared in various forms, by
various authors, most of whom used a pseudonym. Collectively, these writings
have become known as the Anti-Federalist Papers. We here present some of the
best and most widely read of these. They contain warnings of dangers from
tyranny that weaknesses in the proposed Constitution did not adequately provide
against, and while some of those weaknesses were corrected by adoption of the
Bill of Rights, others remained, and some of these dangers are now coming to
The most important way to read the pro- and anti-federalist papers is as
a debate on how the provisions of the Constitution would be interpreted, or
"constructed". Those opposing ratification, or at least raising doubts about
it, were not so much arguing against the ratification of some kind of federal
constitution, as against expansive construction of provisions delegating powers
to the national government, and the responses from pro-ratificationists largely
consisted of assurances that the delegations of power would be constructed
strictly and narrowly. Therefore, to win the support of their opponents, the
pro-ratificationists essentially had to consent to a doctrine of interpretation
that must be considered a part of the Constitution, and that therefore must be
the basis for interpretation today. This doctrine can be summed up by saying,
"if a construction would have been objectionable to the anti-federalists, it
should be initially presumed unconstitutional".
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Chronology of the pro- and anti-federalist
papers and how they related to one another and to key events.
Borden Collection — Morton Borden
collected some the best of the anti-federalist papers together, edited all or
parts of them into 85 sections, corresponding to the 85 Federalist
James Wilson speech —
Pro-ratification, but included here because it received wider coverage than
other pro-ratification writings, such as the
Federalist Papers, and many
of the anti-federalist writings were in response to it.
"Centinel" (Samuel Bryan)
"An Old Whig"
"Federal Farmer" (Richard Henry Lee? or
Yates Letter, Robert
Yates, John Lansing
"John DeWitt" (?)
"Cato" (George Clinton?)
Minority" (Samuel Bryan?) 1787 Dec. 12
(James Winthrop?) Nov. 1787-Jan. 1788
"A [Maryland] Farmer" V (John Francis
Mercer) Feb.-Apr. 1788
"The Impartial Examiner" I (?) Feb.
Columbian Patriot [Mercy Otis Warren], Observations on the new Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions, (1788)
Patrick Henry — speeches in Virginia
Melancton Smith speeches — Also see Debates in the New York Convention on the Ratification of
The Antifederalist Papers, edited with an Introduction by
Morton Borden, Michigan State University Press, 1965 — The collection
included here, without the introduction and footnotes.
Documentary History of
the Ratification of the Constitution, edited by John P. Kaminski and
others, Wisconsin Historical
Society, now up to 19 volumes and growing — Promises to become a
complete and definitive collection when it is finished.
The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Antifederalist
Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification,
edited by Bernard Bailyn, Library of America, 1993, 2 vol. — Good
collection if you can't afford the Kaminski series.
The Complete Anti-Federalist, edited by Herbert Storing and
Murray Dry, University of Chicago Press, 1981, 7 vol.— Not really
complete, but very extensive.
The Anti-Federalist, edited by Herbert Storing, University of
Chicago Press, 1985 — Storing's selection of the best from his "Complete"
The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention
Debates, edited by Ralph Ketcham, Penguin, 1986 — Affordable
paperback, a selection of some of the best parts, with some useful commentary
connecting them. Ketcham is one of those who think the "Federal Farmer" was
more likely Melancton Smith than Richard Henry Lee. We include here all the
papers in this collection not in the Borden collection.
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