Anti-Federalist Papers

Anti-Federalist Papers

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about the Anti-Federalist Papers. Written for HIS 303: The American Constitution.


Anti-Federalist Papers



The Anti-Federalist Papers were a response to the Federalist Papers, which were "explanations of the Framers' intentions as they drafted the new Constitution" (O'Connor and Sabato, 2008, p. 55).  There are many Anti-Federalist papers, most of which are essays masquerading as letters.  The three I chose, each of which was written in 1787, six years after the writing of the Articles of Confederation, a matter of weeks after the writing of the United States Constitution, and two years before the creation of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, are The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania to their Constituents, by Samuel Bryan; the Speech of James Wilson, by James Wilson; and the unattributed Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican.  Each of these papers discusses perceived dangers in the wording of the U.S. Constitution, and each outlines the changes that would need to be made to remove the dangers.  I will address a few of these dangers in this discussion.

Before proceeding with the dangers of the U.S. Constitution, it is necessary to note that the current United States reflects the concerns of the Anti-Federalists, because many of the concerns of the Anti-Federalists were addressed by the first ten Amendments, which are commonly known as the Bill of Rights.  Thus, although the U.S. Constitution itself is a Federalist document, the United States as we know it today is largely Anti-Federalist.

One of the greatest concerns of the Anti-Federalists was that "the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states" (Bryan, 1787, para. 26).  Wilson (1787) wrote in his speech at the Pennsylvania State House, later known as Independence Hall, "the federal constitution, as not only calculated, but designedly framed, to reduce the State governments to mere corporations and eventually to annihilate them" (para. 7).  The unnamed Federal Farmer (1787) held the same view: "unless the people shall make some great exertions to restore to the state governments their powers ... the state governments must be annihilated, or continue to exist for no purpose" (para. 8).  This was a serious concern for the Anti-Federalists, who saw the government under the U.S. Constitution as becoming a despotism, and as stripping the individual rights from the states.  Had the Federalists got their way, and had the Constitution stood as it was originally drafted, this might have been a fair concern.  Instead, the tenth Amendment to the Constitution states that "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people" (U.S. Constitution, cited in O'Connor and Sabato, 2008, p. 84).

Another serious concern of the Anti-Federalists was for the in-born, human rights of the citizens of the new country.  Bryan (1787) stated that "[t]he first consideration ... is the omission of a BILL OF RIGHTS [capitalization and italics his], ascertaining and fundamentally establishing those unalienable and personal rights of men, without the full, free, and secure enjoyment of which there can be no liberty" (para. 45).  Similarly, Wilson (1787) wrote that "the omission of a bill of rights [is] a defect in the proposed constitution" (para. 3), and the Federal Farmer (1787) stated that "[t]here are certain unalienable and fundamental rights, which in forming the social compact, ought to be explicitly ascertained and fixed" (para. 5).  Had the Anti-Federalists not had their way, the United States would not be a nation of civil rights as it is today.  As it is, the Anti-Federalists did, in time, prevail, and the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution i 1789, and ratified in 1791.  The first Amendment in the Bill of Rights reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  (Cited in O'Connor and Sabato, 2008, p. 80)

There are some Anti-Federalist ideas that were not included in the amendments to the Constitution.  At the time the Anti-Federalist papers were written, there were thirteen states in the United States.  The Federal Farmer (1787) wrote: "We have about 200 state senators in the United States, and a less number than that of federal representatives cannot, clearly, be a full representation of this people" (para. 1).  A body of 200 senators for 13 states averages 15 or 16 senators per state, as opposed to the two senators per state that we have today.  Had the Anti-Federalists prevailed in this area, the Senate would now consist of 750 to 800 Senators for 50 states, instead of the 100 Senators currently serving.  This would make the government even larger and more unwieldy than it is today.

Wilson (1787) wrote that "[t]his constitution ... is of a pernicious tendency, because it tolerates a standing army in the time of peace" (para. 5).  Had the Anti-Federalists succeeded in removing the possibility of a standing army, as provided for in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution (1787), "[t]o raise and support Armies ... provide and maintain a Navy ... provide for calling forth the Militia" (cited in O'Connor and Sabato, 2008, p. 71), we would not have been able to mount an immediate response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and we would not be able to live with a feeling of relative safety, knowing that our armed forces stand ready to defend the United States.  Bryan (1787) was concerned that "[a] standing army in the hands of a government placed so independent of the people may be made a fatal instrument to overturn the public liberties" (para. 71), but history has proven the opposite to be true as the United States military has defended public liberties in the United States and abroad.




Bryan, S.  (1787, December 12).  The address and reasons of dissent of the minority of the      convention of Pennsylvania to their constituents.  Retrieved February 9, 2010, from 

Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican.  (1787, October 9).  Retrieved      February 9, 2010, from

O'Connor, K. and Sabato, L.J.  (2008).  American government: Continuity and change, 2008     Edition.  New York: Pearson-Longman.

Wilson, J.  (1787, October 6).  Speech of James Wilson.  Retrieved February 9, 2010, from 

© 2017 Debbie Barry

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Debbie Barry
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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, history, Anti-Federalist Papers

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..