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From 1787-1791 the development of the American Constitution was a battle between two opposing political philosophies. This led America’s best political minds to gather in Philadelphia and other cities in the Northeast in order to find common ground in a governmental structure. The Federalist Party, led by James Madison, was in favor of the newly formed Constitution and it’s strong central government. The main purpose of the Constitution was to create a strong centralized government to resolve the problems of the country having stemmed from the weakness of the central government created by the Articles of Confederation. The Anti-Federalist Party, led by Patrick Henry, objected to the constitution, favoring the weaker central government in favor of stronger state legislatures. In the end, the Federalist Party and the Anti-Federalist Party would agree to the Federalists’ Constitution including the Anti-Federalists’ Bill of Rights.
While the Federalists had developed a new political philosophy, they saw their most important role as defending the social gains, liberty, and independence that the American Revolution had created through the use of the Constitution. The Federalists focused their arguments for the ratification of the Constitution on the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation and on the benefits of national government as formed by the Constitution. The Federalists were well organized and, using their influence and power, often controlled the elections of ratifying conventions. The Federalist Party consisted of wealthy, well-educated, and influential men united by the desire for a powerful, centralized government. These members were proponents of an orderly, efficient government that could protect their economic status. They were also more disposed toward commerce than the Anti-Federalists and argued that a strong central government would foster commercial growth in the new country. Furthermore, the Federalist vision of society was viewed as more of a compromise of many different and competing interests and groups with none being entirely dominant than the Anti-Federalist view of society made up principally of farmers.
Many Anti-Federalists believed in a type of government centered on the society of landowning farmers who participate in the local politics. The Anti-Federalists, meanwhile, found many problems in the Constitution, arguing that the document would give the country an entirely new and untested form of government. Hence, they saw no sense in replacing the existing form of government and believed that the Federalists had overstated the current problems within the country. The Anti-Federalists also maintained that the Framers of the Constitution had met as an elitist group under a veil of secrecy as well as violated provisions within the Articles of Confederation in the means the Constitution was ratified. Although the Anti-Federalists were united in the opposition to the Constitution, they were divided in which form of government made the best alternative. Some believed the Articles of Confederation could be modified, some wanted the Union to split into several confederacies, and others were ready to accept the Constitution if it were amended so the rights of citizens and states would be more protected.
To further rebuke the critics of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published a series of eighty-five letters and essays in defense of the Constitution and its principles to persuade New York citizens to ratify the Constitution. The Federalist Papers each took on a different reason for opposition and explained how the Constitution will resolve their issues; examples include Federalist Paper No. 10 where James Madison attacks the Anti-Federalists’ fear that a republican form of government will inevitable give rise to “factions,” small political parties or groups united by common interest, that will control the government. Another example of the use of the Federalist Papers is Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 78 which outlines the basis court’s power of judicial review and explains why federal judges should be appointed and given lifetime tenure as well as highlights the importance of the independence of the judicial branch. The Federalist Papers also serve the purpose to allow modern society to understand the original purpose of the Constitution when written by the Founding Fathers.
American Federalism was designed with the purpose of a dynamic, multi-dimensional process that has economic, administrative, and political aspects as well as constitutional prospects. The Founding Father’s original purpose for American Federalism have been identified to avoid tyranny, to allow more participation in politics, and to use the states as “laboratories” for new ideas and programs. The original American Federalism attempted to avoid tyranny by preventing a person who takes control of a state from easily taking control of the federal governments as well. By electing both state and national officials also increases the input of citizens into their government, elevating participation in politics. Also, the use of states as “laboratories” prevents a catastrophe for everyone if a state adopts a new policy, yet allows other states to modify policies for their own needs. American Federalism is constantly being changed by the issues America is facing at the time. The current six crucial issues Americans currently face include unfunded mandates, constitutional issues, public finance, reinventing government, international trade, and the states as laboratories. How America effectively meets these challenges and use these opportunities will continue to shape the future of American Federalism.
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