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    [If] the foundation of the American polity was laid by the Federalists, the Anti-Federalist reservations echo through American history;
    and it is in this dialogue, not merely in the Federalist victory, that the country's principles are to be discovered.
        -Herbert J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For

In 1977, when he died far too young, Herbert J. Storing was nearing completion of his authoritative seven volume collection of Anti-Federalist writings, The Complete Anti-Federalist.  His former student Murray Dry took over the task of completing the work and bringing it to publication.  This extended essay served as the Introduction to that anthology, but since few of us are likely to plow through that work--they were the losing side after all, so we all read The Federalist Papers in school instead--it has been published separately.

Mr. Storing makes a series of worthwhile points about why we should pay attention to what the Anti-Federalists had to say, both for reasons of historical understanding, and, perhaps surprisingly, because of the continued relevance of their arguments.  As a threshold matter, it's interesting to note, as Mr. Storing does, that the names by which we recognize the contending sides in the constitutional debate are really backwards.  If federalism is understood to emphasize the divided nature of power within a nation, between states on the one hand and a central authority on the other, then it was the Anti-Federalists who, properly speaking, favored such a division.  They were more the defenders of the power of the states.  The Federalists advocated the concentration of greater power in the hands of a central government even at the expense of the states.  Thus, when we hear people who favor states rights today refer to themselves as Federalists and suggest that they are merely returning to the original understanding of the Founders, they are right and wrong, right in that they are small "f" federalists, but wrong about the federalist position prevailing in the Constitution.  The paradox is that when the Federalists won, federalism lost.

Some may wonder what is the use of studying the thought of the losers in this great national debate.  Mr. Storing makes the point that it is the very nature of a political process like the one that produced the Constitution for give and take and compromise to occur.  The Anti-Federalists may not have "won" the debate, but their ideas would still have played an important role in shaping the final text.  In much the way, a negotiation between a Corporation and its unions may be "won" by one side, but it will still not have gotten everything it started out demanding.  Were you to look only at the final agreement and only through the lens of one side having "won", you could deceive yourself into believing that the agreement was solely their product. This is obviously false but it is somewhat the approach that has traditionally been taken to the Constitution.

Mr. Storing does a great service by restoring some sense of the importance of Anti-Federalist thought and by placing them in the context of their times.  In so doing he even reminds us that their critique of the Constitution remains relevant to our times.   As he says :

    [W]e shall also find, at the very heart of the Anti-Federal position, a dilemma or a tension.  This is the critical weakness of Anti-Federalist
    thought and at the same time its strength and even its glory.  For the Anti-Federalists could neither fully reject nor fully accept the leading
    principles of the Constitution.  They were indeed open to Hamilton's charge of trying to reconcile contradictions.  This is the element of truth
    in Cecelia Kenyon's characterization of them as men of little faith.  They did not fail to see the opportunity for American nationhood that the
    Federalists seized so gloriously, but they could not join in the grasping of it.  They doubted; they held back; they urged second thoughts.
    This was not however a mere failure of will or lack of courage.  They had reasons, and the reasons have weight.  They thought--and it can not
    be easily denied--that this great national opportunity was profoundly problematical, that it could be neither grasped nor let alone without risking
    everything.  The Anti-Federalists were committed to both union and the states; to both the great American republic and the small, self-governing
    community; to both commerce and civic virtue; to both private gain and public good.  At its best, Anti-Federal thought explores these tensions
    and points to the need for any significant American political thought to confront them; for they were not resolved by the Constitution but are
    inherent in the principles and traditions of American life.

This tension, which he calls their "glory", made them wrong at the time of the Founding, when it was necessary to create a nation that was strong enough to establish itself in the world and to survive, but also may prove to make them right in the long run.  A loose-knit collection of small republics, as they envisioned, would in all likelihood have been to weak to endure.  Indeed, they were met to write a new constitution precisely because the Articles of Confederation had proven too feeble and unworkable.  A single, coherent, cohesive, and expansive nation-state seems to have been the only way to settle the continent and fend off European interference.  But over the ensuing two hundred plus years we've seen the growth of the very types of problems that they predicted, with the national government becoming too large and too powerful and with a marked decline in the republican virtues that they thought could only be cultivated in smaller polities.  As the Anti-Federalists had to yield at the start, to form a more perfect union, one wonders whether we're not nearly at the point now where it will be necessary to harken back to their ideas in order to save the Republic, to protect liberty from the grasp of central government and to reinvigorate an increasingly disaffected and disinterested citizenry.

If we might be excused the presumption of ending as Mr. Storing does, with a quote from Mercy Warren :

    Notwithstanding the apprehensions which have pervaded the minds of many, America will probably long retain a greater share of freedom
    than can perhaps be found in any other part of the civilized world.  This may be more a result of her local situation, than from her superior
    policy or moderation.  From the general equality of fortune which had formerly reigned among them, it may modestly be asserted, that most
    of the inhabitants of America were too proud for monarchy, yet too poor for nobility, and it is to be feared, too selfish and avaricious for a
    virtuous republic.

At some point the Anti-Federalists are likely to be right and the balance will tilt so far from virtue to avarice as to threaten the Republic, unless we heed their warning.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Herbert Storing Links:
-REVIEW ESSAY: Remembering the Anti-Federalists Rightly (NATHAN COLEMAN, 1/10/20, Law & Liberty)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Book Summary : Toward a More Perfect Union: Writings of Herbert J. Storing Edited by Joseph M. Bessette (AEI)
    -ETEXT : Antifederalist Papers (CNS Library)
    -ETEXT : Anti-Federalist Papers (
    -ETEXT : Letters from the Federal Farmer
    -ETEXT : The Impartial Examiner, Essay I (VIRGINIA INDEPENDENT CHRONICLE, February 1788)
    -ETEXT : Impartial Examiner, no. 2 (28 May 1788)
    -Articles of Confederation (Avalon Project)
    -National Constitution Center Ã�
    -Documents of the Constitutional Convention (Library of Congress)
    -The Constitution of the United States (National Archives and Records Administration)
    -The Founders' Almanac (Heritage Foundation)
    -The Founders' Constitution : Web Edition is a joint venture of the University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund.
    -ESSAY : The Constitutional Thought of the Anti-Federalists (Murray Dry, Middlebury College, APSAnet)
    -ESSAY : What the Anti-Federalists can Teach Us (Stephen Knott, February 1997, On Principle)
    -ESSAY : The Return of States' Rights (Cass Sunstein, 0.0.00, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Rethinking the Articles of Confederation (H.A. Scott Trask, August 18, 2003,
    -ESSAY : Losers: Bush's Ally, the Federalist Society, Resurrects the Views of the Vanquished in the Constitutional Debate -- the Anti-
Federalists (Chris Mooney, 4.25.01, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : The Political Economy Of The Antifederalists (James P. Philbin, Journal of Libertarian Studies)(PDF File)
    -ESSAY : Empire or Liberty: The Antifederalists and Foreign Policy, 1787-1788 (Jonathan Marshall, Journal of Libertarian Studies) (PDF
    -ESSAY : The Anti-Federalist Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Jacob Halbrooks)
    -ESSAY : James Madison on the Relationship Between Democratic Theory and Federalism (John Kearnes, Department of Criminal Justice, Social and Political Science, Armstrong Atlantic State University)
    -ESSAY : Electoral Rotation: Focus of Debate in the Early Constitutional Period (Jonathan Magid)
    -ESSAY : Why the Founding is Back in Fashion (Jean M. Yarborough and Richard E. Morgan, Autumn 1999, City Journal)
    -REVIEW : Gordon S. Wood, The Fundamentalists and the Constitution, The New York Review of Books
        The American Founding: Politics, Statesmanship, and the Constitution edited by Ralph A. Rossum, edited by Gary L. McDowell
        The Complete Anti-Federalist edited by Herbert J. Storing
        "The Constitutional Order, 1787?1987" edited by Irving Kristol, edited by Nathan Glazer
        Constitutionalism and Rights edited by Gary C. Bryner, edited by Noel B. Reynolds
        The Founders' Constitution edited by Philip B. Kurland, edited by Ralph Lerner
        The Framing and Ratification of the Constitution edited by Leonard W. Levy, edited by Dennis J. Mahoney
        The Moral Foundations of the American Republic edited by Robert H. Horwitz
        Saving the Revolution: "The Federalist Papers" and The American Founding edited by Charles R. Kesler
        Taking the Constitution Seriously by Walter Berns
        The Thinking Revolutionary: Principle and Practice in the New Republic by Ralph Lerner
    -REVIEW : of The Letters of Centinel: Attacks on the Constitution, 1787-1788 by Samuel Bryan, edited and introduced by Warren Hope
(Richard M. Gamble, Ideas on Liberty)
    -REVIEW : of Saul Cornell. The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828 (Norman K. Risjord, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of Statesí Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876. By Forrest McDonald (Paul Carrese, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution Written by Melvin E. Bradford (Floyd W. Shackelford)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : EXTENDED REVIEW Ã�: Whose Original Intent? Expanding the Concept of the Founders (Terry Bouton, Law and History Review)

    -ETEXT : The Federalist (
    -The Federalist Post-1989 (R.F. Hassing, Ashbrook Center)
    -Fisher Ames (1758-1808)
    -ESSAY : Constitutional Government and Judicial Power: The Political Science of The Federalist (Thomas L. Krannawitter)
    -REVIEW : of Federalists Reconsidered. Ed. by Doron Ben-Atar and Barbara B. Oberg and   A Republic for the Ages: The United States Capitol and the Political Culture of the Early Republic. Ed. by Donald R. Kennon (William C. Dowling, Journal of American History)
    -REVIEW : of Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson: Joseph Dennie and The Port Folio, 1801?1812. By William C. Dowling (Marc M. Arkin, Journal of American History)
    -REVIEW : of John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court R. Kent Newmyer (RICHARD A. POSNER, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of John Marshall and the Heroic Age (R. Kent Newmyer, Washington Post)

    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Gang of Five Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade by Nina J. Easton
    -Teachers in the tradition of Leo Strauss
    -REVIEW : of Kenneth L. Deutsch and John A. Murley, eds. Ã�Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime (Ken Masugi, Perspectives on Political Science)
    Leo Strauss and the Straussians (Karl Jahn)
    -REVIEW : of Educating the Prince: Essays in Honor of Harvey Mansfield, edited by Mark Blitz and William Kristol (Damon Linker, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Jerusalem and Athens: Reason and Revelation in the Work of Leo Strauss by Susan Orr (Dennis Teti, The Crisis)
    -REVIEW : of Jew and Philosopher: The Return to Maimonides in the Jewish Thought of Leo Strauss by Kenneth Hart Green (Marc D. Guerra, The Crisis)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Returning to the Founders: the debate on the Constitution : a review of On The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification, edited by Bernard Bailyn. (Harvey Mansfield, September 1993, New Criterion)
-ESSAY: On Constitution Day, Celebrate the Anti-Federalists (JOHN C. PINHEIRO • SEPTEMBER 17, 2023, Religion & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Why Not Anarchy?: If the only escape from Leviathan is radical decentralization, will conservatives become Tory anarchists? (Daniel McCarthy, August 31, 2020, Modern Age)