The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828

The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828

The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828

The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828


Fear of centralized authority is deeply rooted in American history. The struggle over the U.S. Constitution in 1788 pitted the Federalists, supporters of a stronger central government, against the Anti-Federalists, the champions of a more localist vision of politics. But, argues Saul Cornell, while the Federalists may have won the battle over ratification, it is the ideas of the Anti-Federalists that continue to define the soul of American politics.

While no Anti-Federalist party emerged after ratification, Anti-Federalism continued to help define the limits of legitimate dissent within the American constitutional tradition for decades. Anti-Federalist ideas also exerted an important influence on Jeffersonianism and Jacksonianism. Exploring the full range of Anti-Federalist thought, Cornell illustrates its continuing relevance in the politics of the early Republic.

A new look at the Anti-Federalists is particularly timely given the recent revival of interest in this once neglected group, notes Cornell. Now widely reprinted, Anti-Federalist writings are increasingly quoted by legal scholars and cited in Supreme Court decisions--clear proof that their authors are now counted among the ranks of America's founders.


Suspicion of centralized authority has deep roots in American history. This distrust has generally been counterbalanced by a remarkable faith in the abilities of state and local governments. One of the great ironies of American history is that the Constitution was framed by the Federalists, the proponents of a stronger central government. Their opponents, the Anti-Federalists, were defeated in one of the greatest political struggles in American history. Ratification of the Constitution did not, however, eliminate Anti-Federalist ideas: localism continues to be a powerful force in American life. If the structure of American government was crafted by the Federalists, the spirit of American politics has more often been inspired by the Anti-Federalists. Indeed, the struggle between the Federalist Founders and the dissenting voices of the Anti-Federalists, the Other Founders of the American constitutional tradition, continues to define the nature of political life.

No Anti-Federalist party emerged after the adoption of the Constitution. Yet, Anti-Federalist texts and rhetoric pervaded the expanding pub-

1. The inclusion of Anti-Federalism within the ranks of founders of the American constitutional tradition was greatly facilitated by the work of Herbert J. Storing’s Complete Anti-Federalist. For other efforts to rehabilitate Anti-Federalist ideas, see Michael Lienesch, “In Defence of the Antifederalists,” History of Political Thought, IV (1983), 65–87; Paul Finkelman, “Antifederalists: The Loyal Opposition and the American Constitution, Cornell Law Review, LXX (1984), 182–207. For a general discussion of the Anti-Federalist revival in contemporary scholarship, see Saul A. Cornell, “The Changing Historical Fortunes of the Anti-Federalists,” Northwestern University Law Review, LXXXIV (1989), 39–74.

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