The supporters of the proposed Constitution called themselves Federalists. Their adopted name implied a commitment to a loose, decentralized system of government. Yet in many ways, Federalism implies a strong central government—the opposite of the proposed plan they supported. A more accurate name for the supporters of the Constitution would have been Nationalists.
Traditional political belief of the Revolutionary Era was that strong centralized authority would lead to an abuse of power. The Federalists, however, knew that the problems of the country in the 1780s stemmed from the weaknesses of the central government created by the Articles of Confederation.
For Federalists, the Constitution was required in order to safeguard the liberty and independence that the American Revolution had created. While the Federalists had developed a new political philosophy, they saw their most important role as defending the social gains of the Revolution. As Federalist leader James Madison explained, the Constitution was designed to be a “republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”
The Federalists had more than an innovative political plan. The most talented leaders of the era with the most experience in national-level work were Federalists. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington favored the Constitution. The Federalists were well organized, well-funded, and made careful use of the printed word. Most newspapers supported their political plan and published articles and pamphlets to explain why the people should approve the Constitution.
The Federalists still had a hard fight in front of them. Their new solutions were a significant change of political beliefs in this period. They believed that the greatest threat to the future of the United States did not lie in the abuse of central power, but in what they saw as excesses of democracy as evidenced in popular disturbances like Shay’s Rebellion.
Copyright ©2008-2016 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.