Everybody reads the Federalist Papers. (I hope!) Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, they are generally regarded as the most profound collection of political theory ever written in America. And since they deeply inform our understanding of our fundamental law, they are essential to understanding the American version of limited, constitutional government. But the ratification of the Constitution was a close thing in 1787–89, and the Anti‐Federalists (who said that actually they were the federalists, while their opponents were nationalists) also had some insightful things to say about liberty and limited government.
Now the invaluable Liberty Fund has made available a collection of anti‐federalist writings, The Anti‐Federalist Writings of the Melancton Smith Circle. The publisher says:
The Anti‐Federalist Writings of the Melancton Smith Circle makes available for the first time a one‐volume collection of Anti‐Federalist writings that are commensurate in scope, significance, political brilliance, and depth with those in The Federalist. Included in this volume as an appendix is a computational and contextual analysis that addresses the question of the authorship of two of the most well‐known pseudonymous Anti‐Federalist writings, namely, Essays of a Federal Farmer and Essays of Brutus. Also included are the records of Smith’s important speeches at the New York Ratifying Convention, some shorter writings of Smith’s from the ratification debate, and a set of private letters Smith wrote on constitutional subjects at the time of the ratification struggle.
One reason it’s important to study the ideas of the Anti‐Federalists was offered by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism:
Most of the Amendments comprising the Bill of Rights restricted the national government’s direct authority over its citizens. Only one section dealt with the relationship between the state and central governments; the 10th Amendment “reserved” to the states or the people all powers not “delegated to the United States by the Constitution.” Nothing better illustrates that, whereas the Anti‐Federalists had lost on the ratification issue, they had won on the question of how the Constitution would operate. The Constitution had not established a consolidated national system of government as most Federalists had at first intended, but a truly federal system, which is what the Anti‐Federalists had wanted. In simpler terms, the Federalists got their Constitution, but the Anti‐Federalists determined how it would be interpreted.
In a world where it’s easy to find a “Dirty Dozen” of Supreme Court decisions that have expanded government and eroded freedom, that may be hard to believe. But it’s important to read both halves of early American debate over the Constitution in order to understand the foundations of our system.