With the early American government unclear, Federalists proposed a Constitution that would disperse an overall power system. This federal structure would separate power between national and state governments, decentralizing roles and responsibilities. Anti-Federalists were those concerned that the national government would consume the state governments. The two groups clashed, and in the end, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were the outcomes of the dispute that continue to govern America.
Under the pseudonym Publius, John Jay began the work of Federalist No. 2 as a means of discussing the protection of the United States from dangerous foreign influence, particularly military power. Following the American War of Independence, many in America feared that foreign powers would again limit American autonomy. A federal government consists of government divided into a superior national government, with control over military and diplomatic duties, and also individual state governments, with oversight over public activities.
With this division of duties, federalists created the Constitution, to delineate the duties of both the national and state governments. With that, the federalists sought to avoid the primary government overpowering the weaker individual states, as well as to avoid the smaller states becoming too powerful and overturning the national government.
John Jay wrote “independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty” (Jay, 1787). With that, he sought to promote the growth of a federalist government, one that provided a new general government powers that were previously lacking, curtailing the powers of the previous individual, independent states. The concern arose in that many were concerned that that primary federal government would overpower the state governments, those that had previously experienced much autonomy.
The fear of this consolidated government and the concern of the federal government delegating its power over the states led to many to demonstrate this proposition. After the approval of a Federalist government, Anti-Federalists arose, objecting to the federal government having too much power and fearing this government would overtake the individual state authority.
As a strong advocate of states’ rights, Patrick Henry addressed Virginians, stating “If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together” (Henry, 1788). Henry feared the consolidated government, one of more than one entity without checks and balances. He argued that America was not feared by others, and that the average layman enjoyed his life and job, without the worry of big government over his head.
With Henry at the helm, Anti-Federalists argued that under the new Federalist Constitution, states would be swallowed by the nation, that the constitution gave too much power, and that a president-elect mirror a king of a monarch. Although the Anti-Federalists fought to reject the Constitution, they were unsuccessful in that endeavor. However, Henry and his group were successful in persuading the Federalists to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, one of their noted accomplishments.
When viewing both arguments, one can deduce that both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists were both on a mission to ensure a perfect government. Federalists sought to prevent states from becoming too powerful by having the federal oversight, but allowing states local control. Anti-Federalists sought to prevent the federal government from subduing the individual states and opposing what they felt was similar to a monarchy. John Jay recognized the hesitation of many, noting that the plan was a recommended one that should be considered by all.
Jay noted “as a nation we have made peace and war; as a nation we have vanquished our common enemies…” (Jay, 1787), referring to the fact that as one nation, both the good and the bad may and had occurred. Patrick Henry questioned the language of We, the People, as opposed to We, the States, as he argued that the states are the soul of a nation. With more careful consideration, one can infer that both gentleman saw the people working together, but in different lights. Each wanted to ensure a government that is powerful to protect itself against foreign threat, while also seeking to limit the internal threat to the people of America.
Both men worked to create a more powerful nation but one that protected itself from itself. Henry was the radical who fought to preserve what had been the political structure of America, that of the power of individual states leading a nation. Jay sought to unify the colonial states under the one nation, hoping that the two levels of government would each hold power of a certain nature, but together, create a nation that would be protected against foreign power and the power of the thirteen states. Both John Jay and Patrick Henry recognized that both too much and too little political power can be detrimental to a nation.
Through both of these men came the nation still standing today. Without their visions and fears, America would not be the nation it is and would not be protected against foreign powers or would not be protected against the states of which it is made. While the Federalists and Anti-Federalists did not see eye to eye, what they created was a working Constitution and Bill of Rights that continues to make America one of the most powerful nations in the world.
Henry, P. (1788, June 12). Federal v. Consolidated Government .
Jay, J. (1787, October 31). Federalist No. 2. Concerning Dangers from Foreign Forcce and Influence .