University of Wisconsin–Madison

Diversity of Opinion Among the Antifederalist

Throughout the ratification debate, Federalists often suggested that Antifederalists had local and dissimilar objections to the Constitution. “A Landholder” (Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut) criticized Elbridge Gerry, George Mason and Antifederalists from several other states asserting “their principles are totally opposite to each other and their objections discordant and irreconcilable; so that no regular system can be formed among you and you betray each other’s motives.” On 13 February 1788, “A Citizen of the United States” pointed to the different objections put forth by Governor Edmund Randolph, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia; Luther Martin of Maryland; Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts; and Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr. of New York. Antifederalists in the South, in New England and those in the Middle States differed in their objections as did Antifederalists in states dominated by commercial or agricultural interests. Such a wide range of Antifederalists criticism was proof enough for Federalists that a second constitutional convention, advocated by many Antifederalists, would be futile.

Antifederalists responded to the charges of disunity stating that there was broad consensus about the dangers inherent in the Constitution. “Centinel” IV (Samuel Bryan of Pennsylvania) insisted that the variety of objections demonstrated “that the main pillars of the fabric are bad, that the essential principles of liberty and safety are not to be found within it.” The author of a New York pamphlet signed “A Plebeian” wrote that, “There is a remarkable uniformity in the objections made to the constitution, on the most important points. It is also worthy of notice, that very few of the matters found fault with in it, are of a local nature.” Among the objections universally held by Antifederalists, “A Plebeian” listed the creation of a consolidated national government that would annihilate the states, the small size of the House of Representatives, the executive and judicial powers given to the Senate, the “unlimited power of taxation,” the broad jurisdiction of the federal judiciary and the failure to guarantee jury trials in civil cases, the power of Congress to regulate federal elections (which many Federalists objected to as well), and the authority to “establish and maintain a standing army.”

These and many other objections needed to be addressed before the Constitution was to be implemented. Antifederalists wanted amendments to the Constitution submitted to a second constitutional convention. If this convention accepted the proposed amendments, they should be incorporated into the Constitution.

Federalists Charges of Diversity and Division Among Antifederalists

Antifederalists Responses to Charges of Disunity and Division