The “Anti-Federalist”Papers

October 16, 2009

The first ten amendments to the U.S. constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. Today, the amendments are probably discussed more than the original text of the constitution itself. It seems unimaginable now, but if not for the work of guys like Patrick Henry, George Mason, Samuel Bryan and other “anti – federalists”, there would not have been a Bill of Rights. Before Alexander Hamilton came to his senses and penned the majority of the essays now known as the Federalist Papers, he was touting a government not unlike that from which the colonies had just been freed. During the Constitutional Convention, he gave a speech proposing that the U.S. have an elected president, who served for life, with absolute veto power over all laws. No wonder he was criticized as a monarchist sympathiser.

Patrick Henry, best known for his “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech, was so angry at the Federalists that he refused to attend the Constitutional Convention, saying that he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”

The whole idea of attaching a bill of rights to a constitution was unheard of until George Mason drew one up for the state of Virginia in 1776. Other colonies followed suit shortly thereafter. It’s apparent just by looking at these documents that they served as a model for the amendments eventually approved by the First United States Congress. Alexander Hamilton opposed a bill of rights, believing it to be unnecessary. In Federalist number 84, he wrote:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.

The ensuing compromise allowed the constitution to be ratified, with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would be included through amendments. They were introduced to the United States Congress by James Madison in 1789, and came into effect in December of 1791

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