Anti-Federalists Part 2: Robert Yates, John Lansing, Luther Martin & Edmund Randolph

The second batch of Anti-Federalists I’ll be looking at more dissenting convention members. They hold differing criticisms, so I’ll look at the three works individually.

Robert Yates and John Lansing hail from New York. They were serving at the convention with Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the writers of the Federalist Papers. In their letter to the New York state assembly, they outline their concerns with the new Constitution.

The first, is that the pretense for the constitutional convention was to revise the Articles of Confederation, not to replace it entirely. They feel as if they’ve been hood-winked into a situation they did not expect to, nor want to be in.

Their big issue with the Constitution is they fear it would cause the federal government to consolidate too much power. They discuss, at length, that the United States was ungovernable on such a vast scale. They think that there are too few representatives in the national government for the number they represent. Now they represent 15 times the number Yates and Lansing were concerned about.

They also raise the point that the state legislature doesn’t have the authority to give up their state’s sovereignty, and that that is a right reserved for the people.

The next author, Luther Martin of Mayland wrote a series of letters reporting on the convention to the General Assembly. His primary concern is that Maryland will be marginalized and lack the voice necessary to handle their own affairs.

It should be noted that at the stage Luther Martin was writing, the Senate was a proportional body, just smaller than the House of Representatives.

Luther Martin warned there was a group at the convention who wanted to abolish all of the state governments and institute a continent-wide monarchy. He thought that federalism would guard against a monarchy. Martin separates a federal government from a national government in that a federal government represents states, a national government represents the people within it. I think this concern is well founded, as the imperial presidency has risen with the usurpation of states rights by the so-called federal government.

Like many of the other anti-federalists, Martin was worried about a national government which was trying to govern such far-flung and spread out people. He was even concerned about individual states at the time (e.g. Georgia at the time was Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, minus the Gulf Coast).

The framers of the constitution saw the Senate as a way for the states to hold power over the new government. Luther Martin foresaw that Senators would be gone from their farms and businesses for so long, they’d effectively become residents of the capital city and lose their connections back home out of necessity.

Luther Martin was also concerned about the issue of slavery. While he was generally against the practice, he was not seeking to abolish the practice. He thought the banning of the importation of slaves was a good idea, and the far-out date was the best they could get the Carolina’s and Georgia to agree to. His main concern with slavery seemed to be the worry of a general uprising which would be impossible to contain.

The last convention member who wrote objections to the new constitution was Edmund Randolph of Virginia. He differed from the other objectors in that he liked the new constitution, but had some thoughts that caused him to reject it.

Randolph was very concerned about the ability to raise and pay off collective debt between the states, as it required taxation power from Congress.

The safety and security of the United States was important to him as well. He was concerned that a weak federal government would be unable to effectively conduct war, and that a multiple-state solution would inevitably lead to war between them.

His biggest concern was that he wanted a public period for suggestions to be made, and then to hold another convention for the purposes of incorporating suggestions and forming an even stronger system of governance.

That completes my examination of the first volume of “The Complete Anti-Federalist”, which covered the objections of convention delegates back to their state legislatures. There was a common theme of weariness of a strong national government, and concern about limiting the sovereignty of the individual states. Many of their smaller concerns proved prophetic when viewed through the lens of history.

Next, I will be covering a well-known series of letters from Cato, who’s identity remains unknown to this day, though George Clinton is widely speculated.

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