The Constitution is the cornerstone of the American way of life. This document had shaped American democracy as the rest of the world knows it today. It should be said that the process of its creation and adoption was full of issues and obstacles. Two major powers, the Federalists and Antifederalists, had their considerations regarding the future of the newborn country, and their ideas were rather different. The Bill of Rights is another utterly important document in the political history of the United States. Despite its obvious usefulness, it had opponents, and even today, the issues of liberty and morality are being discussed in the appropriate circles. Considering the historical context, the paper aims at exploring the ideas of the Federalists and Antifederalists, the Bill of Rights and arguments against it, and the tension between such cornerstones of the Bill as liberty and morality.
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Federalists and Antifederalists
The Federalists were proponents of the ratification of the new Constitution for the USA. The most notable representatives of the Federalists were Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, John Jay, James Madison, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. George Washington was not a member of the Federalist Party, but he sympathized with the Federalist program (Foner 235). The Federalists were well-educated and wealthy people who used their influence and power in many states to control the elections. They saw America as a country with a strong and centralized government. A strong government would be able to protect the states in case of foreign invasions as well as domestic disturbances, but at the same time, it would not interfere with the way the states governed themselves. The Federalists wanted to build a strong national economy with a National Bank that would handle the country’s finances. A system of tariffs and taxes was to be created to pay off the debt after the Revolutionary War.
The Antifederalists were the opponents of the ratification of the Constitution. The most notable members of the Antifederalist movement were Thomas Paine, George Mason, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. The Antifederalists, who in their majority were people from lower classes, believed that giving too much power to the central government would be harmful for the nation. They wanted the central government to have limited power, and the majority of power had to stay in the states. They did not ratify the Constitution if it did not have the Bill of Rights. Unlike the Federalists, the Antifederalists were against the creation of a National Bank since it would control the entire financial system of the country (Foner 238). They did not want to give that power to the banks because they would be able to influence the decisions of the Government. They believed that more power had to be given to the legislative branch instead of executive one as the Federalists wanted.
After the Constitution of the United States of America had been ratified, the Antifederalists did not disappear from the political scene. In 1792, they became the Democratic-Republican Party that was founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They were in opposition to the Federalist Party (Foner 247). They expressed the views quite similar to those expressed during the period of ratification of the Constitution.
The Democratic-Republican Party supported republicanism, and they believed that all citizens had inalienable rights that had to be protected. The party was strongly against the creation of the National Bank, and it did not want America to have a national debt. Members of this party believed that the national government should be fiscally responsible. Besides, a strong and large federal government was something that this party did not support. They feared that having a strong government would lead to tyranny. The party split in 1824 into the competing factions and dissolved after that.
The Federalist Party reached its political height when John Adams was elected President of the United States. However, in 1801, the Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson won the election. The Federalist Party lost its leader Alexander Hamilton, who died in a duel in 1804, and after that, it never found a strong leader. The party began to fade away. Since it favored the upper class, it became unpopular with the population of America that did not belong to the upper class. The party truly ceased to exist after the Hartford Convention of 1814 (Foner 250). At this convention, the Federalists of New England wanted to rewrite the Constitution in their favor and curb the rising power of the South. At some point, they even discussed the possibility of seceding from the Union, but they did not go too far with it.
The Bill of Rights and Arguments against It
American politics in the late 18th century witnessed different arguments debating the Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton was an Arch-Federalist, who led a faction in the struggle to get a new United States constitution ratified. Hamilton and his faction opposed the adoption of the Bill of Rights with general and specific reasons against the new constitutional document. He thought that creating a document that was broad enough to list everyone’s rights was “dangerous” as the government would have a “window” to violate the additional rights that were not recorded in the document.
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Today, most people will claim that the Bill of Rights in the Constitution is the basis and foundation of personal protection against oppression by the government. However, in the 18th century, there were several arguments put forward against the Bill of Rights and the first ten changes to the constitution that were reasonable. Some of these points of view are discussed in this paper. At that time, the government was far away from the people, and it had no intimate interest with the people (Eggers 110).
The nation was full of diversity, and the federal government was complex enough to protect the rights of individuals. The government was too remote from the individual to bother about trampling on the people’s rights. The Constitution was sufficient in protecting the rights of the people. The body of the Constitution – before the amendments provided for the protection of specific rights. For instance, habeas corpus rules against ex-post-facto laws and bills of attainder such as passing a law against a specific individual. Another example is the trial by jury in the states where the crime got committed. Individual rights were not necessary for the Constitution – a document that was meant to run the government and not to overprotect the citizens of the nation.
The Constitution allowed the people to remove an official from office if they felt unsatisfied and oppressed by the office. Those officials who violated the rights of the people could be removed from their office. The Bill of Rights was not necessary as people had the right to remove “bad” officials from the office (Eggers 124). The Constitution also gave Congress specific powers, meaning that Congress lacked the power to violate the rights of the common people. There was no need to list rights that could not be violated by Congress while Congress never violated any rights. Listing of rights that cannot be violated was a risky move as the government and people in positions of power can always violate any other right not listed for their miscellaneous interests.
Liberty and Morality: The Tension
First, one must understand liberty and morality in terms of their meaning and the differences between them. Liberty is the circumstance of being free from control and restriction. It is also the power to believe, act, and express oneself in a manner of his or her choosing. Liberty can also be said to be a condition of being legally and physically free from servitude, confinement, or forced labor. It also encompasses the freedom of the people from unjust and undue control by the government (Beecher para. 4). Liberties include the rights to engage in different actions without interference or control by anyone such as the liberties that are protected by the Bill of Rights.
Morality is described as what people ought to do, good and bad, values and virtues, right and wrong as well as justice. Morality is an important aspect of any society. The right, good, just among other accepted actions or virtues are considered moral and get rewarded and praised. Immoral actions normally receive blame and punishment. Some things are accepted as moral in different societies while others are considered moral in one society but immoral in other societies (Beecher para. 10). Not all things can be categorized as morally right or wrong; some things are non-moral and not relevant to morality. Lastly, it is hard to pinpoint what is entirely contained in morality. Whatever is well-mannered or legal is often considered moral although this is not always the case.
Some scholars may argue that there exists a tension between morality and liberty. It is illustrated by the distinction between liberty rights and claim rights. A claim right is the one a person holds against the second person who owes a corresponding duty to the first person (right holder). Liberty rights are those that allow people to perform desired activities. They, therefore, include the actions that the person is not prohibited from performing (Beecher para. 12). The liberty rights allow for a person to do as he or she pleases, yet there are moral standards that one is expected to follow. The tension between morality and liberty arises because liberty allows people to be free, act, and express themselves in a manner of his or her choosing.
Liberties include the right to engage in different actions without interference or control by anyone yet morals stipulate boundaries, categorizing things as good or bad, wrong or right, and other moral standards. Morals allow people to judge the actions of others as morally right, wrong, good, or bad, meaning that the person in question will have to consider how the other people will react (Beecher para. 20). It means that that person will be forced to do what others consider right or face blame or negative feedback from others. Here, this person is not at liberty to do as he wishes without interference and control from anyone as the moral expectations already classify actions as good or bad, wrong or right. In some cases, morality overshadows the liberties, taking away the freedom that is stipulated in liberties.
Summing, the paper explored the ideas of the Federalists and Antifederalists, the Bill of Rights and arguments against it, and the tension between such cornerstones of the Bill as liberty and morality. The reviewed period of American history can be called the time of founding the nation.
Beecher, Henry Ward. “The Moral Theory of Civil Liberty.” Teaching American History. Ashbrook Center, 1869. Web.
Eggers, Peter. Deceit: The Lie of the Law. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2013. Print.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! American History. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print.