The Antifederalists were a diverse coalition of people who opposed ratification of the Constitution. Less well organized than the Federalists, they still had political elite leaders like James Winthrop, Melancton Smith, Patrick Henry, and George Mason. They were supported by a large number of ordinary Americans, particularly yeomen farmers. The Antifederalists were strong in western regions of the country.
The Antifederalist believed the greatest threat to the future of the United States was in the government’s potential to become corrupt and seize power until its tyrannical rule dominated the people. Having just succeeded in rejecting the tyranny of British power, such threats were seen as a very real part of political life.
To Antifederalists the proposed Constitution threatened to lead the United States down an all-too-familiar road of political corruption. All three branches of the new central government threatened Antifederalists’ traditional belief in the importance of restraining government power.
The President’s vast new powers, especially a veto that could overturn decisions of the people’s representatives in the legislature, were especially disturbing. The court system of the national government appeared likely to encroach on local courts. Meanwhile, the proposed lower house of the legislature would have so few members that only elites were likely to be elected. Furthermore, they would represent people from such a large area that they couldn’t really know their own constituents. Antifederalists feared that Congress would pass oppressive taxes enforced by creating a standing national army.
They mainly objected to the sweeping new powers of the proposed central government. George Mason, a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention who refused to support the Constitution, embodied the Antifederalist fear of the rise of national power at the expense of state power. The most powerful objection raised by the Antifederalists was on the lack of protection for individual liberties in the Constitution.
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