Historian Herbert Storing’s insightful little book, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, was published thirty years ago. In those days, at the dawn of the Reagan Era, popular opinion of the Anti-Federalists was just beginning to reinterpret their role during the Constitutional debates. Previously, they had been considered misguided at best, undermining at worst. Storing’s classic was the first widely read attempt to correct that misinterpretation.
Prior to the formal establishment of the United States of America in March 1789, Anti-Federalists were those who opposed ratification of the Constitution on grounds that it gave too much power to a centralized government. Federalists of that era, such as James Madison, John Jay, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, argued that the Constitution struck exactly the right balance between the power of the federal government and the powers of the thirteen original states. Numbered among the Anti-Federalists were such great American patriots as Patrick Henry, James Monroe, and George Mason, here in Virginia, and George Clinton and James Winthrop in New York and Massachusetts.
It was the constant political pressure from these Anti-Federalists that we have to thank for the important addition of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, within the first two and a half years. The integrity with which the Federalists honored their promises–made at numerous state ratifying conventions–to swiftly introduce and ratify these amendments did a great deal to keep the Anti-Federalists within the covenant of the new Constitution.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened to the country had the Bill of Rights not been ratified. This suggests an interesting e-book possibility for the Voices of the Tea Party series. I’ve always been a big fan of the first and best “alternate history,” MacKinlay Kantor’s If the South Had Won the Civil War. Here’s a title idea for an alternate history of an earlier age: If the Bill of Rights Had Not Been Ratified.
Would the Anti-Federalists have stayed in the new union? I think not. What would the country have looked like in that case? I would be very interested in seeing at least one–perhaps several–speculative answers to these questions.
Mark Kevin Lloyd is the former President of the Lynchburg, Virginia Tea Party and currently serves as Chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation. He is also the author of The Battle for Virginia’s Fifth District. He can be reached on Twitter at @mklloydva .