Differences between Federalists and Antifederalists

The differences between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists are vast and at times complex. Federalists’ beliefs could be better described as nationalist. The Federalists were instrumental in 1787 in shaping the new US Constitution, which strengthened the national government at the expense, according to the Anti-Federalists, of the states and the people. The Anti-Federalists opposed the ratification of the US Constitution, but they never organized efficiently across all thirteen states, and so had to fight the ratification at every state convention. Their great success was in forcing the first Congress under the new Constitution to establish a bill of rights to ensure the liberties the Anti-Federalists felt the Constitution violated. Below are some key differences in the groups.

Issue

Federalists

Anti-Federalists

Overall Vision

Strong, central government

Wanted power in the states, not central government

Key Figures

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

Patrick Henry, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee

Favored Document

Constitution

Articles of Confederation

Bill of Rights

Against. State constitutions gave their own Bill of Rights

For. State constitutions didn't give enough; a national Bill of Rights would secure more liberties

Support

Largely in urban areas

Largely in rural areas

Sources consulted:
Berkin, Carol. “Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History video.
Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Questions for Discussion

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