Tag

Antifederalist

This was the name given to those who opposed the Constitution during the Ratification period. Whereas the Federalists were a unified group, because they all rallied around the common cause of ratifying the Constitutions, the Antifederalists were a diverse bunch who were united only by their common rejection of the Constitution.

This was Edmund Randolph's last chance to argue about the need for a second convention.  He would not sign the constitution.In a letter written on October 10, 1787, he argues:

"1. It is said in the resolutions which accompany the constitution, that it is to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, for their assent and ratification. The meaning of these terms is allowed universally to be, that the convention must either adopt the constitution in the whole, or reject it in the whole, and is positively forbidden to amend, if therefore, I had signed, I should have felt myself bound to be silent as to amendments, and to endeavor to support the constitution without the correction of a letter. With this consequence before my eyes, and with a determination to attempt an amendment, I was taught by a regard for consistency not to sign.

2. My opinion always was, and still is, that every citizen of America, let the crisis be what it may, ought to have a full opportunity to propose, through his representatives, any amendment which in his apprehension, tends to the public welfare. By signing, I should have contradicted this sentiment.



3. A constitution ought to have the hearts of the people on its side. But if at a future day it should be burdensome after having been adopted in the whole, and they should insinuate that it was in some measure forced upon them, by being confined to the single alternative of taking or rejecting it altogether, under my impressions, and with my opinions, I should not be able to justify myself had I signed.



4. I was always satisfied, as I have now experienced, that this great subject would be placed in new lights and attitudes by the criticism of the world, and that no man can assure himself how a constitution will work for a course of years, until at least he shall have heard the observations of the people at large. I also fear more from inaccuracies in a constitution, than from gross errors in any other composition; because our dearest interests are to be regulated by it; and power, if loosely given, especially where it will be interpreted with great latitude, may bring sorrow in its execution. Had I signed with these ideas, I should have virtually shut my ears against the information which I ardently desired.



5. I was afraid that if the constitution was to be submitted to the people, to be wholly adopted or wholly rejected by them, they would not only reject it, but bid a lasting farewell to the union. This formidable event I wished to avert, by keeping myself free to propose amendments, and thus, if possible, to remove the obstacles to an effectual government. But it will be asked, whether all these arguments, were not . . . well weighed in convention. They were, sir, with great candor. Nay, when I called to mind the respectability of those, with whom I was associated, I almost lost confidence in these principles. On other occasions, I should cheerfully have yielded to a majority; on this the fate of thousands yet unborn, enjoined me not to yield until I was convinced.



Again, may I be asked, why the mode pointed out in the constitution for its amendment, may not be a sufficient security against its imperfections, without now arresting it in its progress? My answers are–1. That it is better to amend, while we have the constitution in our power, while the passions of designing men are not yet enlisted, and while a bare majority of the States may amend than to wait for the uncertain assent of three fourths of the States. 2. That a bad feature in government, becomes more and more fixed every day. 3. That frequent changes of a constitution, even if practicable, ought not to be wished, but avoided as much as possible. And 4. That in the present case, it may be questionable, whether, after the particular advantages of its operation shall be discerned, three fourths of the States can be induced to amend."

Annotated by bacraig on October 30, 2014

The “terms” that Sherman is referring to is the word, “slaves,” used in Gouverneur Morris’ motion above (Paragraph 2970).  Indeed, although the offensive terms, slaves, slavery, and the slave trade are conspicuous in the debates over the Constitution, they are conspicuously absent in the final document.  That is not accidental.  Some enemies to the Constitution (and even some friends) immediately denounced this subterfuge as an indication that what they were doing was disgraceful.  John Dickinson wrote in some notes he took at the Convention, “The omitting the Word [slave] will be regarded as an Endeavour to conceal a principle of which we are ashamed.”  And the Antifederalist “Brutus” later brings to his readers’ attention: “What a strange and unnecessary accumulation of words are here used to conceal from the public eye.” 

William M Wiecek notes that this circumlocution “may have palliated northern opposition to the slavery clauses, but, like all examples of lawyers’ poor phrasing, it created problems later.”  Nonetheless, the Framers’ scrupulousness and squeamishness is not insignificant.  As John Alvis has written, “Consequences attach to the Framers’ verbal fastidiousness.  Disinfecting the document of any direct acknowledgment of slavery imparts to the concessions regarding the census and the return of fugitive slaves a shame-faced character.  Those who insisted on keeping the offensive word off the pages of the fundamental law thereby succeeded in making the Constitution blush.”  (Alvis, 247)

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013