Are You an Anti-Federalist?
by Saul Cornell, Ohio State University


The debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the Constitution was one of the most important in American history. Ratification touched on a variety of issues that remain controversial to this day, including

    The issue of federalism: How should power be shared between the states and the federal government?
    The problem of individual liberty: How should the rights of individuals be balanced against the needs of society?
Federalist thought (in support of the Constitution) has had an enormous influence on the way courts and scholars have interpreted the Constitution. In recent years, however, there has been renewed interest in the ideas of the Anti-Federalists, the original opponents of the Constitution.

For much of American history, the Anti-Federalists were accorded the inferior status reserved for the losers in history's great struggles. They were ignored or dismissed as malcontents, "men of little faith" who failed to appreciate the advantages of the federal Constitution.

The revival of Anti-Federalist ideas among groups across the political spectrum is a remarkable measure of political discontent in contemporary America. On the political left, Anti-Federalist ideas are invoked as part of a lost democratic alternative to America's dominant constitutional tradition. On the political right, Anti-Federalist ideas find a congenial audience among those opposed to the power of the central government. One measure of the new respectability accorded to Anti-Federalist thought may be found in the frequency with which their ideas are now cited in Supreme Court decisions. Legal scholarship has also turned to Anti-Federalist writing for insights into the original meaning of nearly every provision of the Bill of Rights.