The United States Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, is the founding legal document upon which the nation’s government was made. But the creation of these documents was not a smooth and easy affair. Rather, the Founding Fathers and the rest of the nation became locked in a spirited, and often bitter, debate over the powers that the government should possess.
At the heart of the conversation were the opposing views of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. These two factions were at odds over how the fledgling government should protect the rights of the states and their citizens.
Strong Government Federalists
The Federalist faction, which was led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, advocated for a strong central government to rule over the people. They argued this type of government was necessary for creating a “more perfect union” that could protect the rights of the people. In this way, they hoped to ensure that the majority of Americans could not infringe on the rights of the minority.
They asserted that the federal government should have specific powers to enact certain types of policies. Anything outside of these powers would be decided by the states.
When it comes to taxation, the Federalists believed the central government should possess the power to impose and collect taxes directly from the people. They thought this was necessary for the union to provide national defense and pay debts to other countries.
The group also felt the central government should hold the power to create and implement commercial trade policy with other nations. They favored a unified trade policy that would allow the federal government to make decisions regarding trade without having to go through a lengthy process.
Weak Government Anti-Federalists
The Anti-Federalists, a group that was led by George Mason, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson, argued against a strong central government. This group fought against the ratification of the Constitution because they believed it gave the federal government too much power while not doing enough to protect the rights of ordinary people.
Anti-Federalists wanted to see a more local form of government that could not be eclipsed by a stronger federal system. This group believed the central government should only provide basic functions like diplomacy, foreign policy, and national defense.
When dealing with taxation, Anti-Federalists did not like the idea of a central government that could tax citizens directly. They were concerned that this federal power could become tyrannical by imposing oppressive taxes.
The group did not believe the central government should have the power to make decisions regarding trade. They thought a federal government could use this power to punish or favor individual states.
How Did it Work Out?
The two factions ran campaigns to sway public opinion on how the people would be governed after the Revolutionary War. Some Anti-Federalist states only agreed to ratify the Constitution if it also included a bill of rights.
In 1789, the states ratified the Constitution, and directly after this occurred, Congress submitted a list of 12 amendments. It ratified ten of the amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights.