In politics, Anti-Federalism is a term referring to those who believe that a central or federal government should have less power than state government.
Nullification is the branding of a specific law or act of Congress contrary to the needs and desires of the state government and the people of that state. The Boston Tea Party was a strong act of nullification of Britain’s taxation policies by some of the residents of Massachusetts.
Secession of the 13 colonies followed when many such despicable acts of the British crown forced the colonists to realize there would and could be no co-existence with Britain. The colonies felt they and they alone should have the right to determine their course in the world as free and independent, sovereign nations. The basic reason for the formation of a union of nation states was mutual defense.
The Federalists (liberals?) of colonial times favored the creation of a strong federal government that would more closely unite the states as one large, continental nation. They tended to come from the wealthier class of elite merchants and plantation owners. Federalists had been instrumental in the creation of the Constitution, arguing that it was a necessary improvement on the Articles of Confederation, the country’s first attempt at unifying the states in a national political arrangement. Leaders among the Federalists included two men who helped develop the Constitution; James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, and two national heroes whose support would greatly improve the Federalists’ prospects for winning, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
Anti-Federalists (conservatives?), on the other hand, were members of a loosely structured movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government and which later opposed the ratification of the Constitution of 1787. The previous constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, gave state governments more authority. Led by Patrick Henry of Virginia, Anti-Federalists worried, among other things, that the position of president, then a novelty, might evolve into a monarchy.
Passage of the Constitution by the states was by no means certain in 1787. The Anti-Federalists included primarily farmers and tradesmen and were less likely to be a part of the wealthy elite than were members of their opposition, the Federalists. The Anti-Federalists believed that each state should have a sovereign, independent government. Their leaders included some of the most influential figures in the nation, including Patrick Henry and George Mason, leading national figures during the Revolutionary War period.
Between September 17, 1787, the day the Constitution was signed by the Constitutional Convention, and May 29, 1790, the day Rhode Island became the thirteenth and last state to ratify the Constitution, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists engaged in a fierce national debate on the merits of the Constitution. This debate occurred in meeting halls, on streets, and on the printed page. Both sides in the argument had a considerable following. Many of the questions raised remain with us today: What is the best form of government? What rights must the government protect? Which governmental powers should be granted to the states, and which to the federal government?
In making their arguments, the Anti-Federalists often relied on the rhetoric of the Revolutionary War era, which stressed the virtues of local rule and associated centralized power with a tyrannical monarch. Thus, the Anti-Federalists frequently claimed that the Constitution represented a step away from the democratic goals of the American Revolution and toward the twin evils of monarchy and aristocracy. The Anti-Federalists feared that the Constitution gave the president too much power and that the proposed Congress would be too aristocratic in nature, with too few representatives for too many people.
The Anti-Federalists also shared the feeling that so large a country as the United States could not possibly be controlled by one national government. One Pennsylvania Anti-Federalist, who signed his articles “Centinel,” declared,
“It is the opinion of the greatest writers, that a very extensive country cannot be governed on democratical principles, on any other plan than a confederation of a number of small republics, possessing all the powers of internal government, but united in the management of their foreign and general concerns… Anything short of despotism could not bind so great a country under one government.”
Although the Anti-Federalists were united in their opposition to the Constitution, they did not agree on what form of government made the best alternative to it. Some still believed that the Articles of Confederation could be amended in such a way that they would provide a workable confederation. Some wanted the Union to break up and re-form into three or four different confederacies. Others were even ready to accept the Constitution if it were amended in such a way that the rights of citizens and states would be more fully protected.
The Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist arguments continue to this day – over different issues, of course. The “Federalists,” for example, want the federal government to take over health care. The “Anti-federalists” believe health care is best left to individuals and their insurance companies. At worst, the Anti-Federalists believe the individual states are better equipped to handle the issue than a central government too far removed from the problems facing individuals.
Today’s Federalists probably jump for joy every time Obama appoints a “czar” to a government post. Anti-Federalists see such things as czars just one more reason to secede from the union – just one more example of a federal government gone amok.
Today’s Federalists don’t seem to be bothered by run-away federal tax and spend policies. Anti-Federalists are seeing red – red from anger and red from the color of budgetary ink.
Federalists favor strict gun controls and want all guns registered. Even better, from a Federalist viewpoint, is for private ownership of guns abolished and seized by the federal government. Anti-Federalists scream in bloody rage because they believe the 2nd Amendment is inviolate and is the only thing protecting them from a complete federal takeover.
Whether it be nullification, such as Montana’s stand against gun laws, or secession, as Texas has already threatened, most Americans agree that something has to be done.