The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates

Edited by Ralph Ketcham

Synopsis: This book contains the Constitutional Convention debates at the beginning of the book, to give the reader insight on the genesis of the Constitution. Afterward it gives the most notable selections of the Anti-Federalists’ writings, who were opposed to the ratification of the Constitution on the grounds that they did not feel it would do an adequate job of protecting freedom. It also contains the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution as appendices.

Strong Points: This book gives the reader a good education of the major issues of the Constitutional Convention, and the major writings of the Anti-Federalists. Excellent chapter headings/explanations are placed before each reading, which provide some context for the reader, to help them appreciate the text more fully. A person gained a strong sense of appreciation both for the delegates to the Convention and the Anti-Federalists, for their fervor and concern for preserving freedom. With how America has departed so far from the original intent of the Constitution, perhaps it would have been wise to have taken the Anti-Federalists’ objections as suggestions with which to augment the text of the Constitution.

Weak Points: The book is very adequate, although it is not comprehensive. It contains only the most notable of the Anti-Federalists’ essays and does not contain every word written regarding the Convention debates.

Interesting: 2.5/5

Must Read: 2.9/5

Overall: 3/5

Selected Quote: “That there are certain natural rights, of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

(Additions Proposed by the Virginia Convention, p. 222-223).

“In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government, but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and believe further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For, when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded, like those of the builders of Babel; and that our states are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.”

(Benjamin Franklin, p. 172-173).

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