The contributions of America’s original populists were overshadowed by the brilliant response of their adversaries.
The anti-federalists were America’s original populists, enriching the new constitutional order with their lively spirt of dissent. But no one today claims them as inspiration. Though essential actors in the grand drama in which the Constitution was debated, defended, and ratified, their contributions were overshadowed by the brilliant response of their adversaries. In criticizing the Constitution, they defended their own understanding of federalism, yet their opponents preemptively claimed that term for themselves.
Michael J. Faber’s An Anti-Federalist Constitution: The Development of Dissent in the Ratification Debates is an ambitious, erudite study of the Anti-Federalists on their own terms. Faber, a professor of political science at Texas State University, presents the Anti-Federalists as an opposition movement whose overlapping criticisms of the Constitution gradually coalesced into an alternative national vision.
The ratification debates, he observes, were “the most contentious and divisive war of words in the history of the United States.” The Federalists took the initiative, emerging from the secretive Philadelphia convention in September 1787 with a concrete national proposal. Anti-Federalists
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