Federalists, Anti-Federalists, and State Sovereignty

by Joe Wolverton II, for The New American

“What a dreadful Spirit that Man possesses, who can put a private Appetite in balance against the universal Good of his Country, and of Mankind.”
— Cato

As tensions with England intensified in the years leading up to 1776, the United States became a “laboratory of proposals and revised forms of union and confederated government.” One of the concoctions brewed in this laboratory was the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles of Confederation were an attempt by America’s titans of political thought to protect the rights the new nation had earned by fighting and winning the War for Independence. They proclaimed to all the world that these rights were “unalienable” and the new government formed by the Articles of Confederation would be the nation’s first endeavor at empowering a national government with the authority to do formally what the Continental Congress had done on an ad hoc basis since 1775.

Congress approved the Articles of Confederation in 1777, and they were finally ratified by the states in 1781. Weaknesses in the Articles quickly became noticeable to the political theorists determined to combine education, theory, ancient examples, and Yankee pragmatism into successful statecraft. Madison, Washington, and others realized that this first American constitution did not provide sufficient infrastructure to support the supernal “city on a hill” that they had toiled to construct. Great Britain, France, Spain, and other European powers would not respect the sovereignty and natural rights of the United States if she had no united voice in matters as fundamentally “national” as treaty making, commercial pacts, and defense; and under the present compact (the Articles of Confederation), she was indeed mute on such matters.