Satire and Political Humor in the Ratification Debate

The debates over the ratification of the Constitution are often associated with the lofty prose of “Publius” of The Federalist Papers or the Antifederalist writings of “Federal Farmer” and “Brutus.” But not all discourse about the Constitution was substantive. Federalists frequently lampooned Antifederalists as rubes, unsophisticated people who were susceptible to rumors, irrational fears, and anarchy. Antifederalists likewise attacked Federalists, who they believed had been blinded to the dangers of the Constitution merely because men such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin supported it. Federalist and Antifederalist authors regularly found space for insults and general abuse. Few, if any, topics were off-limits in the contest over ratifying the new Constitution.

The Federalist author of spurious “Centinel” XV satirized Antifederalists as so desperate to stir up the people that they might resort to kicks “in the breech.” “Peter Prejudice” caricatured an Antifederalist as so suspicious of changes proposed by the Convention of 1787 that he refused to wear a pair of new pants—a metaphor for the Constitution—that would constrain his “free-born members.” Antifederalists poked fun at Federalists by imitating the Gospel of Luke in “The Chronicles of Early Times”: “blessed art thou amongst men, O Gouvero [Gouverneur Morris].” And “One of the Nobility” appended a bitingly satirical “Political Creed of every Fœderalist” to his letter to the printer, scorning Federalists for elitism, anti-liberalism, and blind loyalty to the Constitutional Convention.

Federalist Pieces

Antifederalist Pieces