Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 7 Summary

Early Voices in America

“… but other powers as great
Fell not, but stand unshaken, from within
Or from without, to all temptations arm’d…”

The years between 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and 1788, the ratification of the Constitution, are critical in the history of the United States government. Any discussion of these important years needs to make reference to the Federalists—supporters of a new Constitution and a new form of government—and the Anti-Federalists opponents of the Constitution and supporters of the Articles of Confederation.  

The Federalists were in favor of a strong, centralized oligarchic form of government and were opposed to democracy. The Anti-Federalists favored decentralized, local governments which provided for the maximum participation of the largest number of citizens. They spoke the language of democracy.

“Trust us with power,” say the Federalists of themselves, “we are virtuous. We wish you no harm. Why would we want to betray you? Anyway, you, the people, have all the power.” The theoretical, rhetorical, granting of power to the people was one of the Federalists chief means of seeking to manipulate the doubters into lining up behind the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists did not trust their would-be rulers. They saw the theorizing and rhetoric for what it was, a bid for power that was self-serving and without limit.

The strong, centralized government sought by men like Madison and Hamilton would produce a certain kind of economy, a certain culture, a certain way of life. It would lead to a strong military establishment and a yearning for empire, a word which is used at least three times in the Federalist Papers. The Anti-Federalists were of a different mentality. They wanted a peaceful, harmonious, unassuming government that would leave the citizenry free to pursue lives of quiet productivity and domestic tranquility.