A review of The Anti-Federalist: Writings by the Opponents of the Constitution, edited by Herbert Storing and The Essential Antifederalist, edited by W.B. Allen and Gordon Lloyd
Documentary collections, particularly those intended for classroom use, are rarely evaluated in professional journals. The American Historical Review, for example, excludes all documentary collections from its Book Review section, and documentaries are usually found only in the Books Received section of most other scholarly journals. That is unfortunate for, as The Anti-Federalist compiled by Murray Dry and The Essential Antifederalist edited by William Allen and Gordon Lloyd demonstrate, documentary collections can raise important issues about the way we teach. They also point out the need for a like anthology of Federalist essays (other than those of Publius).
In considering these volumes, I make certain assumptions. I presume that the editors of both of these volumes prepared them principally for undergraduate classroom teaching. Dry says in the preface to The Anti-federalist that the volume is intended as a companion to The Federalist Papers while Allen and Lloyd explicitly state that their purpose is to make a collection of the essential writings of the Antifederalists available for undergraduate use.
If we accept this as their basic purpose, the standards by which we evaluate the works follow logically: Is the selection of documents appropriate; is the editorial matter sufficient; are the introductions and notes helpful? In a nutshell, is the volume usable?
In answering these questions, there exists a presumption that the Dry volume will be an outstanding collection. After all, the selections are from The Complete Anti-Federalist, edited by Herbert Storing. The volume also bears the Storing imprimatur by the very nature of the selection process. Dry telling us that he selected the essays on the basis of “their importance and prominence in the ratification campaign” as implied by Professor Storing’s introductions in The Complete Anti-Federalist.
Unfortunately, the volume fails to meet these expectations. In the first place, Professor Dry borrows chapter one of Professor Storing’s seven-chapter introduction to The Complete Anti-Federalist for the introductory chapter of The Anti-Federalist. The chapter does not stand alone well enough to justify its use as the introduction to the volume. It would have been better had Dry written a new introduction and encouraged teachers to adopt as supplementary reading Storing’s introductory volume, published separately in paperback as What the Anti-Federalists Were For. In trying to remain true to the work of his mentor, Dry limited the usability of the abridgement.
I also wonder if Dry remained true to the criterion for selection he articulates at the outset. He states that the importance and prominence of the essays were his standard of selection. Yet he includes James Winthrop’s “Letters of Agrippa” and John Francis Mercer’s “Letters of a Maryland Farmer,” neither of which was extensively circulated, but leaves out George Mason’s “Objections” which were both “thoughtful,” to use Storing’s description, and widely circulated across the country.
Dry’s reluctance to tamper with the work of his mentor also has an unfortunate effect on his choice of editorial apparatus. As Dry states in the preface:
Much of the editorial apparatus of The Complete Anti-Federalist has been retained-Storing’s introductions to each part of the ratification campaign and to each selection included here; the notes with their extensive cross references; and the marginal paragraph numbers. (The three-part number system was devised for convenient cross reference; the first number denotes the volume of The Complete Anti-Federalist, the second the position of the essay within that volume, and the third the paragraph.) Where omissions have been made within a selection, the original paragraph and note numbers remain unchanged. Some numbers are therefore nonconsecutive, and Storing’s introductions in some instances refer to passages not included in this abridgement.
In other words, the introduction to the Essays of Brutus, for example, makes reference to the essays of Sydney, “see below.” Below in this case means in The Complete Anti-Federalist. The notes to “The Letters of the Federal Farmer” are also discontinuous, skipping from note 68 to note 115, and the cross reference (e.g., XVI, 2.8, 196-230) is again to The Complete Anti-Federalist. There are, on the other hand, some strengths to the volume. The introductions to the documents are informative, and the summary outline of each essay should appeal to students. Furthermore, the notes to the documents are well-done scholarly annotations, while the abridgement also includes an Updated bibliography.
These strengths of the Dry volume are more conspicuous when the volume is compared with Allen and Lloyd’s The Essential Antifederalist. Its editors chose to forego both annotations and bibliography as well as the traditional scholarly notes to the documents. I expect they will be faulted for these decisions as well as for their willingness to modernize the text of the documents in order to make it “easily readable.”
These decisions are unusual by traditional standards, but Allen and Lloyd are willing to run the risk of professional disdain in order to provide a volume that undergraduates will use and benefit from. I am not certain that the decision to eliminate scholarly annotation and a bibliography will contribute to that end. I suspect the decision to modernize the text will. And I am certain that the headnotes they wrote to each section, while not traditional in their approach, are a strong point in the volume’s favor. That is not to say that I agree with the interpretations they present in the introductions to the documents they print. Quite the contrary. Allen and Lloyd argue, for example, in the introduction to the section “In Support of Capitalism and Democracy,” that the Antifederalists believed “that with respect to trade” commerce should be “free to pursue natural courses” because “the prosperity of the nation was best served when a large number of buyers and sellers pursued their self-interest in a marketplace free from the regulation and intrusion of a central government.” There are two difficulties with that analysis. First, it is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the same Antifederalists Allen and Lloyd see as free traders generally supported granting to the central government under the Articles of Confederation the power to regulate interstate and foreign trade. Admittedly John Winthrop, whom they include in the anthology, objected to the potential abuse of the commerce power but that does not transform Winthrop or any other Antifederalist (notably the New Yorker John Lamb who was collector of the state’s customs-duties) into a free trader. But, this is the stuff of traditional scholarly debate which the Allen and Lloyd introductions do a good job of promoting.
In a second way, Allen and Lloyd raise a key methodological question that makes their anthology prone to criticism even as it makes it a useful documentary. In their introductions to the documents, Allen and Lloyd write in the language of twentieth-century public policy debate. As one example, again drawn from the section of “In Support of Capitalism and Democracy,” Allen and Lloyd write “[T]he Antifederalists cautioned that the new plan gave Congress unlimited power over internal taxation. Such a power not only distorted allocation decisions, . . . [it] enervated the enterprizing spirit. . . .” Again, one can argue with this interpretation of the Antifederalists’ objection- but the broader issue raised here has to do with the language used.
There is, of course, no question that all of us, to some degree, reflect in our teaching and writing our political views, both in the questions we frame and the answers we draw. But, while there are contemporary policy implications in my study of the Antifederalists (The Politics of Opposition: Antifederalists and the Acceptance of the Constitution, Millwood, N.Y.: 1979), I did not draw them out in that work. I have, of course, also addressed contemporary public policy issues as a contributor to Public Research, Syndicated, and elsewhere. But, I try to keep those two roles as separate as possible. Allen and Lloyd, perhaps as a function of their academic discipline, political science, or because of their willingness to ignore academic conventions, tend to merge those two roles. If I disagree with the extent to which they have done that, it is because in academics and judicial decision-making I prefer restraint over activism. If, however, Allen and Lloyd are more activist than I prefer, their work is not polemical and it is their very activism that makes the book a more interesting one with which to introduce this generation of students to the political thought of the Antifederalists.