By Allen C. Guelzo, Ph. D., Gettysburg College
Anti-constitutionalists have used pseudonyms to write scathing essays for newspapers. (Image: jcwait / Shutterstock)

George Clinton’s reservations

George Clinton had thwarted the Confederacy’s attempt to levy the 1785 tax because it threatened to dry up New York State’s tariff revenues and who had no longer any reason to like the constitutional reservation the power to tax tariffs to the new Congress. The Clinton faction’s first volley in New York City appeared in the New York Newspaper only a week after the printing of the Constitution by Dunlap and Claypoole, from someone writing under the classic pseudonym Cato.

Pseudonyms were common in print political debates, not so much because the authors feared retaliation, but because conventional wisdom was that influential authors should cover themselves with anonymity so that readers are not intimidated by their reputation and can analyze arguments without passion.

Cato was followed on October 5 in Philadelphia by Centinel in the Independent geographic directory, probably the work of George Bryan, former president of Pennsylvania under its constitution of 1776, or of his son Samuel Bryan, who raised dissent to an outright attack on the Constitution and its drafters . The Constitution, Centinel argued, was the work of “the rich and ambitious, who in every community believe they have a right to rule over their fellow men.”

This is a transcript of the video series America’s Founding Fathers. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The increased flock of attacks

A portrait of George Clinton.
George Clinton influenced people to write against the Constitution. (Image: Ezra Ames / Public domain)

Like George Mason, Centinel was convinced that congressional districts were too large “to impart the requisite information about the needs, local circumstances and sentiments of such a large empire, or to prevent corruption and undue influence.” And like Mason again, Centinel objected that the Constitution made no provision for “freedom of the press, this great palladium of freedom and the scourge of tyrants and it is worth noting that there is no declaration of rights. personal ”.

The damning chorus of Cato and Centinel was joined on October 8 by the Federal Farmer and on October 18 by Brutus, both probably New Yorkers, writing under the direction of George Clinton. The Federal Farmer saw a “strong aristocratic tendency now noticeable in every part of the calculated plan ultimately to make the states a consolidated government.” Of course, one would protest against the fact that the Constitution effectively divided sovereignty between the national government and the states; but it was only to deceive the gullible.

A government and a general legislature alone cannot extend the same benefits to all parts of the United States because the United States was simply too big to be ruled by a single instrument except a club. . Brutus, likewise, was outraged by the implications of the necessary and appropriate clause, which granted “absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial, over every object to which it extends.”

Learn more about Roger Sherman’s compromise.

Six main objections to the new constitution

For the next six months, the newspapers would swarm with a growing crescendo of denunciation. Two months later, pro and anti-Constitution rioters were fighting in the streets of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

These slanders against the Constitution would revolve around six main objections. First, the Constitution did not create a reformed federal government to replace the Articles of Confederation, but a whole new monstrosity of a single, consolidated government. Second, the size of the United States would force this new consolidated government to rule with a heavy hand because its broad oversight responsibilities would require much more power.

Third, the powers conferred on this new consolidated government were expressed in such vague terms – and here the trade clause and the necessary and appropriate clause were pointed out as the main villains – that no one could find a ground on which to stand against them. Fourth, the president and the senate had too much power and were the seeds of a monarchy. Fifth, the new Congress would not have the power to maintain a professional national army. And sixth, there was no bill of rights.

The defense of James Wilson

The first stand-alone counterattack on anti-constitutionalists took place in Philadelphia on October 6, when James Wilson addressed “a very large crowd of people” outside the State House where the Constitution had been signed three weeks earlier. In fact, he didn’t spend much time explaining or elucidating, but immediately moved on to strike back at the arguments of the anti-constitutionalists.

Was there not a bill of rights in the Constitution? No, Wilson said, and there shouldn’t be. The Constitution only gave the national government limited and enumerated powers, and restrictions on fundamental rights, especially those already guaranteed by state constitutions, were not included in those powers.

Learn more about James Wilson’s executive.

Multiple questions about the new constitution

Does the Constitution call for a standing army? What nation in the world “has not found it necessary and useful to maintain the appearance of strength in a season of the most tranquil? Will the Constitution “reduce state governments to mere corporations and end up wiping them out?” How can this happen when the Senate is elected by the state legislatures and the president is to be chosen by an electoral college whose members are “appointed in such a manner as the legislature of each state may order?” ”

Wilson’s speech met with “strong and unanimous evidence of approval,” and printed three days later in the Pennsylvania Herald and General Announcer. But Wilson was immediately overwhelmed by a cascade of rebuttals, including one from Centinel. Something more in-depth and analytical than a speech was going to have to be put together in favor of the Constitution before the ratification conventions began to come together.

Common questions about the arguments of anti-constitutionalists

Q: Who first attacked the anti-constitutionalists in Philadelphia?

October 6, 1787, James wilson spoke to a large group of people outside the State House in Philadelphia. It was the first counterattack against the anti-constitutionalists.

Q: When did the first round of criticism of the new Constitution appear in the newspapers?

The first round of criticism of the new Constitution appeared in New York in the New York Newspaper just a week after the Constitution was printed by Dunlap and Claypoole.

Q: What was the reaction to James Wilson’s pro-Constitution speech?

James wilsonHis speech met with “strong and unanimous testimonials of approval” and was printed three days later in the Pennsylvania Herald and General Announcer.

Keep reading
James Madison and the Annapolis Convention
The Constitution as a guiding principle of the United States
James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton: defense of the Virginia plan


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