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The Anti-Federalist Papers: Federal Farmer I

On this day in 1787, an early contribution is made to the Anti-Federalist Papers. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written in defense of the newly proposed Constitution as the states considered whether to ratify it? The Anti-Federalist Papers took the opposing viewpoint.


The Federalist Papers were written in an organized fashion, under one pseudonym, “Publius.” By contrast, the Anti-Federalist Papers were not at all organized. Various authors took an assortment of pseudonyms, such as “Cato,” “Brutus,” and the “Federal Farmer.” The essays were scattered, written more or less at the whim of their authors. Both sets of essays, however, were published in newspapers across the country.

On October 8, the “Federal Farmer” wrote one such essay. It was the first of 18 contributions that he would make to the Anti-Federalist Papers. Can you believe that the identity of the Federal Farmer is still unknown? Many historians have argued that it was Richard Henry Lee, former President of the Continental Congress. Others believe it was another delegate to the Congress, Melancton Smith. Or perhaps it was someone else entirely!


The Federal Farmer’s arguments take the form of letters written to “The Republican” (probably Governor George Clinton of New York). The initial letters were written in October. They were published in pamphlet form in early November. The letters continued to appear and were published in a variety of locations through January 1788. A final pamphlet was printed in May 1788.


In this paper, the Federal Farmer agreed that the old system was problematic, particularly when it came to matters of trade and commerce. “A federal government of some sort is necessary,” he acknowledged. On the other hand, he wondered what the rush was! Aren’t individuals—and not the government—responsible for their own happiness? “[W]hether we adopt a change, three or nine months hence,” he noted, “can make but little odds with the private circumstances of individuals; their happiness and prosperity, after all, depend principally upon their own exertions.”


The Federal Farmer has one big concern: He believes that the Constitution will ultimately consolidate the thirteen states into one whole. “The plan of government now proposed is evidently calculated totally to change, in time, our condition as a people. Instead of being thirteen republics, under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government.”


“[A] free elective government cannot be extended over large territories,” the Federal Farmer concluded. “Different laws, customs, and opinions exist in the different states, which by a uniform system of laws would be unreasonably invaded.”


In short? The people of the United States are a diverse people. One-size-fits-all legislation will inevitably (and unnecessarily) trample freedom.


The country is, if anything, even bigger and more diverse than it was in 1787. Yet, for some reason, one-size-fits-all national solutions have become more and more expected.


Leaves you wondering what the Federal Farmer would say now, doesn’t it?

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