Front Page Titles (by Subject) Antifederalism: Military & Civilian Concerns - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Antifederalism: Military & Civilian Concerns - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Antifederalism: Military & Civilian Concerns
“Antifederalism and Libertarianism.” Reason Papers 7 (Spring 1981): 73–94.
The Antifederalists of the eighteenth century opposed ratification of the federal Constitution in 1787–88, and espoused a brand of libertarianism that is frequently misunderstood by students of American political philosophy. In their arguments against the Constitution, the Antifederalists repeatedly warned that the establishment of a strong, centralized national government would result in coercion, the erosion of state and local governments, and a loss of civil liberties. Their rhetoric is often shrill and sometimes even paranoid, but these “true radicals” were largely responsible for the amended Bill of Rights that further defined and limited the role of government.
When one considers the Antifederalist view of the course of the Revolution, their logic and fervor become more intelligible. The Antifederalists believed the federal Constitution to be an outright repudiation of the goals and ideals of the American Revolution. For the Antifederalists, the Revolution had been fought as a direct challenge to strong, centralized authority, the authority of the British crown. The legacy of the Revolution was thus antiauthoritarianism—a belief in democratic, local control and a subservient national government. Though they admitted the weaknesses and need for change in the Articles of Confederation, the Antifederalists were appalled at the degree of control allowed of government in the Constitution. The “undemocratic pects” of the Constitution—the absence of compulsory rotation in office, of recall, and of annual elections; the vast and important powers of the presidency; and the proposed powers of the Supreme Court—spelled trouble to the Antifederalists. They predicted that the “Federal City” would be filled with “officers, attendants, suitors, expectants, and dependents” all safely out of the reach of the people.
One power granted the federal government under the proposed Constitution and vehemently opposed by the Antifederalist party was the power of taxation. Again, this position was rooted in the Revolutionary experience, as was the Antifederalists' advocacy of federal external taxation (tariffs, import duties, etc.) as opposed to the internal taxation proposed by the Federal Constitution. The Antifederalists believed that the ability to tax “is the most important of any power that can be granted; it connects with it almost all other powers, or at least will in proces of time draw all others after it.” They were afraid that federal taxation would take vital revenue away from the states and eventually eliminate the importance of state government.
The final thorn in the side of the Antifederalists was the creation of a professional standing army, believing that “standing armies are dangerous to the liberties of a people.” They warned that the “power vested in Congress of sending troops for suppressing insurrections will always enable them to stifle the first struggles of freedom.”
An intriguing aspect of the Antifederalists' opposition to a standing army is their prediction that civil liberties might be violated in the raising of such an army. One Antifederalist accurately predicted the draft resistance problems that were to mark American history from the Civil War to Vietnam, when he warned that the proposed Constitution would allow the central government to “impress men for the Army.”
The Antifederal party refused to ratify any plan of government without a “Sacred Declaration, defining the rights of the individual.” They were disturbed that a document that granted the national government so much power did not, at the same time, specifically enumerate the inalienable rights of the citizenry. The Antifederalists agreed with Jefferson's criticism of the Constitution—that a “bill of rights is what a people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse or rest on inference.” The powers granted the central government in the proposed Constitution were so broad that the Antifederalists feared for the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, jury trial, habeas corpus, arms and religion—freedoms that they had just fought a long and trying Revolutionary War to secure.
There were two distinctly opposing sides in the debate over the “crisis” of the Confederation. The Federalists claimed that America was beset by chaos and bankruptcy and was on the verge of anarchy because of the impotent Confederation government. They advocated a great strengthening of the coercive powers of the national government via the proposed federal Constitution. Their opponents, the Antifederalists, advocated amendments to the Articles of Confederation but violently opposed such a radical departure from state and local sovereignty as the Federalists were advocating. As it turned out, the Federalists won and the Antifederalists lost their one great battle, but their ideas have endured. The Jeffersonian and Jacksonian parties of the early national period had direct ideological roots in the Antifederalist persuasion, and American classical liberalism of the nineteenth century was a direct descendant of Antifederalism. There is a small libertarian third party in the United States today, and vestiges of Antifederalism can be found in the civil libertarian strain in twentieth century American liberal thought.