An Anti-Federalist is a term that refers to a person who opposed the original ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The reason for this opposition was that Anti-Federalists were against giving the United States government more power than it already held at that time. The Anti-Federalists’ main concern was that the newly created position of the presidency would ultimately turn into a monarchy. To explore this concept, consider the following Anti-Federalist definition.

Definition of Anti-Federalist


  1. Someone who opposes the idea of federalism
  2. Historically, a member of the Anti-Federalist party


1780-1790       Americanism    (anti + federalist)

What is Anti-Federalism

Historically, anti-federalism was the sentiment opposing the strengthening of the federal government, and the ratification of a new Constitution. An example of Anti-Federalist beliefs is the theory that having a strong president of the United States would become a monarchy of sorts. The colonists were especially sensitive to this idea that the government would become corrupt, and that it would continue to grow in power to the point of becoming tyrannical, considering their recent escape of the British monarch.

Further, the position of President was a fairly new one, and people were concerned about the amount of power he should wield, especially the Constitution’s proposed power to veto. They were also worried that the national government’s court system would overstep its boundaries and infringe upon the power of the courts at the state level. Taxes were a concern as well, as Anti-Federalists were worried that Congress had enough power to both pass, and enforce, taxes that would be oppressive.

The very term “Anti-Federalism” was meant to imply that that party’s members were opposed to Congress, and considered the ruling body’s motives to be unpatriotic. Anti-Federalists feared that Congress would become too consumed with power to have the best interests of the country at heart.

Those who supported Anti-Federalism were not solely folks who feared the potential for the U.S. government to turn into a monarchy. Some actually believed that the government, as it had existed under the Articles of Confederation, was sufficient as it was, and did not need to be updated. Others agreed that the national government was too weak under the Articles of Confederation, but also feared that it would swing back the other way and become too strong under the Constitution.

Still other people who supported Anti-Federalism believed that the new Constitution made the government more centralized, rather than federal, and that in order to have a truly federal government, the states would have to be grouped together under the Articles of Confederation.

Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist

Federalists were citizens of the new America who wanted a strong central government to oversee and bring together the various state governments, while Anti-Federalists wanted the exact opposite. Examples of Anti-Federalists were those who wanted state governments to hold the power, not one central government, which could become all-powerful. Federalists, however, were better organized, making it necessary for the Anti-Federalists to fight the ratification of the Constitution in each individual state.

Federalists Anti-Federalists
In favor of the Constitution and its ratification Preferred the Articles of Confederation
Lived in urban areas Lived in rural areas
Cared more about big businesses and wanted a central government in charge of the economy Cared more about smaller businesses and wanted power to stay localized
Believed in centralized banking and finance policies Believed that states should be able to manage their own revenue
Believed the Constitution would be enough protection for the rights of individual citizens Felt the Constitution contained vulnerabilities that put the American public’s rights at risk of infringement
Believed the ratification of the Constitution was necessary in order to give the government more power Believed that giving the government an increase in power was a sure way to cause suffering for the American people when the government inevitably overstepped its bounds
Successful in ratifying the Constitution to become as it is known today Successful in adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution to protect a majority of citizens’ rights that they were worried the government could potentially violate

Anti-Federalists felt that having so many individual and varied financial policies could create such inner struggles that the national economy as a whole would be weakened. The one thing Federalists and Anti-Federalists could agree on, however, was that the future of the United States depended on whether or not an agreement could be reached on the way Constitution should be written.

Ultimately, the Anti-Federalists were successful in forcing the newly minted Congress to draft a Bill of Rights to protect the people’s personal freedoms that they believed the Constitution failed to protect. Once the Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified, the Anti-Federalists became more accepting of the Constitution.

Anti-Federalist Papers

From 1787 to 1789, while the Constitution was being proposed and drafted, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists engaged in some heated debates over the Constitution’s ratification. Federalists, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, compiled their arguments in favor of the Constitution in a series of papers, leaflets, and discussions known as the Federalist Papers. Interestingly, the main arguments that were made by these three were not as widely read as those speeches and articles crafted by lesser-known independents.

As would be expected, the Anti-Federalists countered with their own series of written arguments: the Anti-Federalist Papers. Understandably, most of those who contributed to the Anti-Federalist Papers did so under a pseudonym to avoid persecution. The Anti-Federalist Papers consisted of warnings ranging from the dangers of a tyrannical government, to the vulnerabilities to personal freedoms within the proposed Constitution. Many of these vulnerabilities were eventually fixed with the creation of the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution wasn’t the only topic of debate in the Anti-Federalist Papers. Other issues of concern were those pertaining to more general politics. For instance, Anti-Federalists proposed the idea of slavery being hypocritical in a nation that prided itself on granting its citizens freedom. Another Anti-Federalist concern was whether or not the government should be elected by a direct vote of its people.

The Anti-Federalist Papers are broken down in 85 chapters, and present arguments for discussion on everything from the presidential term of office, the re-eligibility of the president, and the electoral college. While these papers may have been written centuries ago, the issues they discuss are still relevant today.

Anti-Federalist Example in the Exercise of Judicial Review

Perhaps the best example of Anti-Federalist ideals being brought before the Supreme Court can be found in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison (1803). In this case, William Marbury was named the Justice of the Peace for the District of Columbia. This was one of many last-minute appointments that President John Adams made before his presidential term was up.

The new incoming President, Thomas Jefferson, opted not to honor the appointments that Adams had made, because formal commissions for these appointments had not been made. This meant that Adams had not actually made official the granting of these titles before his term was over.

In response, Marbury petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for an Order to force the Jefferson Administration – specifically James Madison, the new Secretary of State – to grant him the Justice of the Peace appointment he was promised, by delivering the necessary documents. The question then became whether or not Marbury had the right to this appointment and, if so, was his right violated, and was he owed a remedy?

The case made history by defining the boundary that exists between the executive and judicial branches of the United States government. The Court found that Madison’s refusal to deliver the commission was illegal – that Marbury did have the right to the commission. However, the Court also noted that it did not have the authority to force President Madison to hand over the commission. Instead, the Court found that a power that is granted to the President is to be exercised by the President at his own discretion, and the Courts have no say in how he exercises that power.

The Court also found that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which allowed Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court in the first place, was unconstitutional. The Court ruled this way because the Act, by its very existence, tried to extend the Court’s jurisdiction beyond that boundary which had previously been established in Article III of the Constitution.

The reason why this was a win for Anti-Federalists in particular, was because their fear that the federal courts would be given too much power was proven unfounded by the Court itself. When the Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to decide the matter, and that the power to act according to his constitutional responsibilities was left up to the President.

In this ruling, the Court enforced the fact that each branch of government – here, the judicial and executive branches – enjoyed their own, divided powers. This system of checks and balances keeps any one branch of government from becoming too powerful, and it keeps the central government from becoming too controlling as a whole.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Articles of Confederation – The original constitution of the United States, ratified in 1781.
  • Persecution – Hostile and ill treatment, especially over one’s race, religion, or political beliefs.
  • Pseudonym – A fictional name, especially one taken by an author.
  • Tyrannical – Exercising one’s power in a brutal and oppressive way.