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Anti-Federalist Traditions until the Civil War

  • History of Liberty Seminar 2001

Tags U.S. HistoryWar and Foreign PolicyPolitical Theory

03/01/2004Luigi Marco Bassani

Jeffersonian States Rights Doctrine until the Civil War was grounded in three freedom documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and The Treaty of Paris of 1783. Those documents emphasized independent states, not a single nation or union.

Many people in America thought that authority still derived from the King. Others understood that authority was vested in the people of the state. It took five years for the Articles to be unanimously approved. In 1786-87 there was no popular demand for a strong and energetic government. Very secretly a constitution was created through compromise. Hamilton inveigled the world into federalism.

The anti-federalists were mostly independent land owners. They never had a book of their views like the federalists. They liked the Articles. They believed that a weak federal government was the source of liberty. They thought the Philadelphia creation would end up a dictatorship. They feared federal bureaucracy. The federalists gave the anti-federalists The Bill of Rights as a compromise. Thomas Jefferson shared most of the anti-federalists’ views.

The 1798 Kentucky Resolutions defined "States Rights". They were the basis of nullification. There was no common judge. This became the standard view of federal-state relations in the South. The theory of sovereignty did not come up. The rise of Lincoln reduced the southern states into a minority position.

Authentic federalism is a States Rights interpretation of the Constitution.


From the 2001 History of Liberty seminar.


Luigi Marco Bassani

Marco Bassani is professor of history of political theory at the University of Milan.

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