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Empire or Liberty: The Anti-federalists and Foreign Policy, 1787-1788

The Journal of Libertarian Studies

Tags U.S. HistoryWar and Foreign PolicyPolitical Theory

07/30/2014Jonathan Marshall

Historians increasingly recognize the important role that considerations of foreign policy played in shaping the Constitution.' Leading Federalists, many of whom had had experience abroad negotiating treaties or procuring foreign loans, were acutely sensitive to the demands of power politics and were determined to see the states united under a strong, "energetic" government that could command the respect of all potential enemies. The Constitution met that need: It gave Congress the power to regulate commerce and to raise armies and the taxes to supply them, and it established a court system to bring the states into compliance with national foreign policy. The powers of treaty and war-making it put under the central direction of the President. But before these provisions could be enacted, the Constitution had to be ratified by the states. In the ensuing debates, opponents of the Constitution — the "Antifederalists" — bitterly fought its centralizing provisions. Historians have largely ignored the Antifederalists' contribution to the debate over foreign policy, and have thus lost some of the richness of the confrontation between rival political theories that characterized the ratification controversy. For the Antifederalist world view was profoundly shaped by their abhorrence of "empire"-that is to say, the rule of a vast territory by a strong, consolidated government. In rejecting the Federalist dream of a glorious American empire, they challenged the notion that the confederated states had to mimic European empires to safeguard their in- dependence. Ultimately, the Antifederalists insisted, empire could he achieved only at the expense of their most cherished and hard-won prize: liberty.

Volume 4, Number 3 (1980)


Jonathan Marshall

Jonathan Marshall taught in the history department, Cornell University.

Cite This Article

Marshall, Jonathan. "Empire or Liberty: The Anti-federalists and Foreign Policy, 1787-1788." Journal of Libertarian Studies 4, No.3 (1980): 233-254.