GED Social Studies Practice Test: Formation of Political Parties- Federalists and Anti-Federalists

Review the Need for the US Constitution

As mentioned earlier, the thirteen American colonies rebelled against England in 1776 in what is known as the American Revolutionary War. The war lasted until 1783. Within that time, the newly formed United States government created a document that would serve as the law of the land. That document was called the Articles of Confederation. However, this document was very ineffective and needed to be replaced. To replace it, the United States government created a new document known as the United States Constitution. The men who created it are known as the founding fathers.

Creating the U.S. Constitution was no easy task. In 1787 the founding fathers set out for Philadelphia, P.A. to attend what became known as the constitutional convention. Their task, however, was not to throw away the Articles of Confederation and replace it with a new law document, but rather their task was to simply fix the Articles so that it could be effective. After attempting to fix the Articles, a grueling task that could not sensibly be achieved to any real measure, the founding fathers decided to just replace it instead. However, the fathers were sent by congress to fix the articles, not to create a new document. They did not have the authority to throw away the Articles, nor did they seek approval. In every sense, what they were doing was dangerous, maybe even rebellious in some eyes. They were attempting to create a new law document for the United States without proper permission or authority. For these reasons, the founding fathers insisted that what was happening within the walls of the constitutional convention be kept a secret until the new document was presented to the country. Guards were placed at the doors, the windows were sealed off, and secrecy was embedded into the minds of all the fathers. Outside of those walls, no one even knew that a new document was being created. If leaked out, the United States government would appear unstable, insecure, and on the brink of collapse. Riots might break out and a new revolution would likely follow. If their new document, unauthorized in its making, was viewed unfavorably by the United States government at large and the American people, the fathers were doomed. They might be labeled as rebels who attempted to overthrow the United States government. However, a reaction in the positive direction might make them heroes from which future generation might give them a special name, such as the “founding fathers.” Finally, after several months of intense work and much debate the new document was finished. It was called the United States Constitution and would serve as the new law of the land. It was know ready to be presented to public.

The Constitutional Convention, 1787

The Constitutional Convention, 1787

What to do with the Articles of Confederation?

What to do with the Articles of Confederation?

With shock, the country was surprised not to find an altered Articles of Confederation. Instead, what they were presented with was a new document called the United States Constitution. Thankfully for the founding fathers, they were not viewed as traitors by the country. Instead, their achievement was met with praise. Although they personally were not attacked, the words within the newly developed U.S. Constitution were. In order for it to officially become the new law of the land, the U.S. Constitution first needed to be ratified by at least nine of the thirteen states within the United States. Ratify means to approve.


The Debate

Although it had many problems, the main problem with the Articles of Confederation was that it did not give the central (federal) government enough power to effectively run the country. Remember that after the American Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States did not want anything that would resemble the strong, all powerful central authority of a king. Therefore, the Articles gave the most power to the individual states. For example, the central government could not collect taxes from the states and didn’t even have an executive (president). That’s right, under the Articles there was no president because the president is an executive just as a king is an executive. In the end, the United States was not a unified country, but rather it was a loose confederation of thirteen individual states who each made their own rules. It was almost like a confederation of thirteen different countries. This was a recipe for disaster and the founding fathers knew it.

In creating the U.S. Constitution the fathers knew that a stronger central/federal government was needed. The future of the country was doomed without it. Therefore, the constitution allowed for a stronger central government. Of course, the constitution also reserved powers for the states and civil liberties for the citizens as discussed earlier.

Not everyone within the United States wanted a stronger central government, though. They feared that it would become just like the old government as before the revolution. Therefore, intense debates erupted throughout the country as one side wanted the U.S. Constitution to be ratified (passed), while the other did not. These two sides became so divided over the politics of the constitution that they formed the first two political parties in the United States: (1) the Federalists and (2) the Anti-Federalists.


1. Federalists

The federalists were made up of people who wanted the U.S. Constitution to be ratified (passed). In general, they wanted a strong central government. Of them, the best known was James Madison. Madison is known as the father of the U.S. Constitution as he was the man who did most of its writing. He was so promoted to the cause that he would travel from state to state in attempt to gain each state’s vote for ratification. In doing this, he used the best means of media of the time: the newspaper. Today, in addition to the newspaper, a politician might use the television, facebook, or twitter to spread their views. However, Madison wasn’t fortunate enough to have these modern resources at his disposal. In the newspapers, he along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, published the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers were a series of articles that promoted passage of the U.S. Constitution. They were widely read and were extremely influential in eventually getting the constitution ratified. While there were over eighty-five of them, one of the most popular was known as Federalist No. 51.

Federalist No. 51.
James Madison
In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others . . . But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others . . . It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself . . .

What does it mean?
The United States of America needs a central government with enough power to control its imperfect citizens. However, since the government is also made up of men with flaws, the government should be limited in its powers. This was a compelling argument as its bases was on providing citizens with effective security from harm, something of which would appeal to almost any household.


2. Anti-Federalists

The Anti-Federalists were the people who opposed the federalists. They did not want a strong central government and therefore did not want the U.S. Constitution to be ratified. They believed in states rights and feared a strong central government would return the country to where it was under the hated King George III. Among them, one of the most popular was Patrick Henry.



Victory for the Federalists

After much debate throughout the country over a two year period, in 1789 the United States Constitution finally became the law of the land. Through an intense struggle, the federalists were finally successful in convincing enough states to vote in favor of the constitution. It, however, did not come without compromise. The anti-federalists within the states needed for ratification were very valuable and were needed to join the federalist camp in order to make the U.S. Constitution a reality. Although they did not technically cross to the other side and become federalists, they were willing to make a compromise in order to resolve the debate once and for all. The compromise came in the form of civil liberties. One big argument make by the anti-federalists in opposition to the constitution was that it did not include any guaranteed civil liberties/freedoms for the citizens. That is, there was nothing in the document that would protect citizens from the abuses of an overpowering, dominating central government. They, of course, feared another central government under King George III and his abuse of the American colonists. Therefore, a compromise was made.


The Compromise

The federalists promised to add a list of civil liberties to U.S. Constitution within a two year period if the anti-federalists would allow it to be ratified (passed).


The anti-federalists agreed to the compromise and the U.S. Constitution became the law of the United States in 1789. As promised, two years later in 1791 the constitution was amended and a list of civil liberties was added. As discussed earlier, those civil liberties are known as the Bill of Rights.


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