Front Page Titles (by Subject) Antifederalism: Country vs. Court - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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Antifederalism: Country vs. Court - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
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.
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Antifederalism: Country vs. Court
“Country, Court and Constitution: Antifederalism and the Historians.” The William and Mary Quarterly 38 (July 1981): 337–368.
The historiography of Revolutionary America reflects the difficulties scholars have experienced in classifying one of the period's most conspicuous groups of losers: the Antifederalists. Historians writing between the beginning of the present century and World War II, the so-called “Progresive” historians, confidently differentiated the Antifederalists from their opponents: Antifederalists were rustic, democratic levelers opposed by merchant capitalists (the Federalists), some of whom had been loyalists. The contestants were cast in sharp relief. They could not be confused.
In the years after World War II, the thrust of historical writings changed in the direction of minimizing the differences between Federalists and Antifederalists, seeing a remarkable “consensus” between the two groups. Far from being simple, shirt-sleeved democrats, the Antifederalists were described as holding political ideas similar to those of their antagonists. Instead of being debt-ridden, subsistence farmers, they were found to contain in their ranks speculators in the capital markets, sophisticated and unscrupulous enough to match the Federalists at their best and worst.
In the first part of his article, Prof. Hutson details the bewildering array of theories propounded to contrast both the political position and socio-economic level of the Antifederalists with those of their opponents. Hutson then proposes what he feels to be the most likely categories to fit these two hitherto unclassifiable groups of antagonists.
The real distinction between the two groups, he asserts, may be found in the words “Country” and “Court,” terms first coined to identify political groupings in Great Britain. “Country” is an ancient name, dating at least from the fourteenth century. By the beginning of Charles I's reign, it had acquired the basic meaning which it retained through the next two centuries: opposition to the exercise of power by government. The adversary of the Country was the “Court,” the collective designation of the monarch, his residence, council, officials, and courtiers. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the terms became more closely identified with contrasting socio-economic groups.
The Court Whigs were patrons not only of commerce but of strong government to secure the new commercial-bureaucratic society then forming. If the Court faction enlisted the beneficiaries of the socio-economic changes occurring in England, the Country rallied its victims. Bearing the brunt of the growing national debt, the landed interests believed that they were being fleeced by the government—that a deliberate policy of income redistribution was underway by which rural wealth was being syphoned into the pockets of city financiers and speculators.
Significantly, both Court and Country shared misgivings about democracy. Both sides agreed that power, being dangerously progressive in nature, should be jealously watched and feared. Both fervently believed in the merits of England's mixed, balanced constitution. Where they differed was in the emphasis on the implementation of their common convictions. The Court, for example, insisted that the balance of the constitution was to be maintained by interdependence between the executive and the House of Commons. The Country claimed that nothing less than the absolute independence of the House of Commons from the executive would do.
In America, the Federalists recognizably fit the Court mold, while the Antifederalists continued the Country tradition. Sharing a common commitment to the limitation of government power, the Antifederalists went far beyond the Federalists in their zeal to root out influence and corruption. The Federalists, on the other hand, found their opponents' suspicions of government power almost pathological. Antifederalist supporters tended, by and large, to be older than their political opposites. As such, they primarily represented the older agrarian-localist stratum of American society, while the Federalists represented the rising “monied interests.”
Prof. Hutson finds in the early disputes over the Constitution a startling replay of the Country and Court debates in England a century before. By applying this model to the United States, he believes, we may finally comprehend and indeed reconcile the conflicting contributions of the Progressive and consensus historians on the Federalist-Antifederalist question.