If you landed on this article you are likely searching for the similarities between the Federalists and anti-Federalists.
A vast majority of the historical literature of the late 1780s focuses on the many differences between Federalists and anti-Federalists. One might think the two groups were polar opposites in their aims and goals; however the differing factions were far more similar than many believe.
This article will dive deeper into just how similar the Federalists were to the anti-Federalists and how these commonalities ultimately shaped the new Constitution.
4 Similarities Between Federalists and Anti-Federalists
Four similarities between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists include their shared belief in individual rights and liberties, concerns over tyranny, a common aim to create a stable and effective government, and the goal to create a government for the people and common good.
These similarities, not differences, ultimately led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. All delegates could agree that the existing Articles of Confederation were unsuitable for national unity and prosperity.
While educators highlight the differences between the Federalists and anti-Federalists most often, the similarities between the two groups went on to form the backbone of the new Constitution.
Belief in Individual Rights and Liberties
The shared belief in individual rights and liberties comprised an essential component of any discussion for a new government in 1787.
Both Federalists and anti-Federalists shared the belief that individual rights and liberties for American citizens should be a priority. It should not be glossed over that at the time these rights primarily only applied to white men, not women or men of color.
However, individual rights and liberties became a major discussion point at the Constitutional Convention. The two parties had drastically different visions and preferred methods of preserving those rights for citizens.
Anti-Federalists argued that the new Constitution would create an oligarchy that could eventually trample upon individual liberties. Concentrating power with the wealthy was bound to come at the expense of ordinary Americans.1
The anti-Federalists therefore proposed that a separate Bill of Rights be added as amendments to the new Constitution to preserve such liberties.
Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists believed that a Bill of Rights was simply unnecessary as the Constitution itself existed as a Bill of Rights to protect the people. The Federalists firmly believed in the protection of individual rights, just simply that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary and redundant.
James Madison himself thought it unnecessary as he outlined in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in October 1788. However, he eventually relented in his opposition particularly if adding the Bill of Rights persuaded enough states to ratify the new Constitution.1
The shared belief in individual rights and liberties formed the basis of the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
Concerns over Tyranny in Federal Government
Both Federalists and anti-Federalists were deeply concerned over the potential for tyranny within the federal government.
The Americans had just fought a war to gain independence from the highly centralized British monarchy. Any return to such a centralized government that could potentially turn to tyranny over citizens gave American leaders pause.
Federalists believed that the design of the new Constitution would guard against the federal government. The series of checks and balances provided the right leverage to prevent one branch of government exercising tyranny over the others and subsequently over the American people.
Anti-Federalists did not believe that the guard rails in the Constitution were sufficient to protect American liberties from tyranny. The office of the presidency particularly worried anti-Federalists as it served as a pressing reminder of the British monarchy and the authoritarian powers it recently wielded over the colonies.2
Despite their differing opinions on how to best counter potential tyranny, both Federalists and anti-Federalists expressed grave concerns over the issue.
Aimed to Create a Stable and Effective Government
Another similarity between Federalists and anti-Federalists lay in how they both aimed to create a stable and effective government.
At the time, both groups knew that the existing government under the Articles of Confederation could not be relied upon to maintain the Union.
The government’s lackluster response during the 1785 Shays’ Rebellion displayed just how weak and powerless it was to even stop an internal rebellion. The fragmented nature of the federal government also limited commercial growth as each state negotiated their own trade agreements and regulations.
The two groups recognized the issue and agreed to meet for the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The purpose was to create a republican-style government that improved upon the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation.3
European Enlightenment philosophers heavily influenced the republican-styled government that Federalists and anti-Federalists aimed to create. The ideas of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Montesquieu, and John Milton all contributed greatly towards creating the Constitution.
The fact that both Federalists and anti-Federalists aimed to create a stable and effective government is what ultimately spurred the Constitutional Convention in the first place.
A Government for the People and Common Good
A last similarity between Federalists and anti-Federalists included their shared goal of a government for the people and common good.
A large portion of the Constitutional Convention included philosophical debate. The founders aimed to identify and define the essential beliefs and ideals that would become the bedrock of the nation.
What key principles and virtues did the founders hope would define the nation? And what was the role of the government in preserving these values and liberties?
Both groups agreed in their beliefs regarding true human nature and the purpose of government which were all rooted in classical liberalism. The duty of government ultimately lies in protecting the freedoms and liberties of the populace.3
When political parties later formed in the 1790s, influential leaders coalesced around Thomas Jefferson as a defender of republican principles and the common good. Jeffersonian ideals eventually played a major role in shaping the nation as it expanded throughout the 19th century.
To recap, four similarities between Federalists and anti-Federalists included:
- The belief in individual rights and liberties
- Concerns over tyranny in the federal government
- Aimed to create a stable and effective government
- Goal to form a government for the people and common good
These similarities are the primary reason that the delegates met at the Constitutional convention in 1787. While the limitations of the Articles of Confederation also played a major role, if these men did not at minimum share the same goals and foundational principles for the nation, any agreement would have been impossible.
While in agreement over the fundamental principles of government and sharing in their desire to great a great nation, the two groups had drastically different visions for how to implement such an effective government.
But despite their differences, through the spirit of compromise the new Constitution emerged and has guided the nation ever since.
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Gotchy, Joseph R. “Federalists and Anti-Federalists: Is a Bill of Rights Essential to a Free Society?” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 8, no. 4, 1994, pp. 45–48. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25162986.
2) McDonald, Forrest. “The Anti-Federalists, 1781-1789.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 46, no. 3, 1963, pp. 206–14. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4633851.
3) Wrabley, Raymond B. “Anti-Federalism and the Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, 1991, pp. 459–70. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550766.