The Anti-Federal Appropriation
There is a perplexing disjunction at the very heart of American politics. Anti-Federalists are most commonly remembered for losing their battle to defeat ratification of the Constitution. Yet an Anti-Federalist interpretation of the Constitution is regularly offered as credible, with deep resonance in American political debate. This is because alleged Federalist ideas are actually Anti-Federalist. This chapter explores the link between the Anti-Federalists’ defeat on the fundamental question of the Constitution and the continued salience of their political project. While Anti-Federalists and Federalists agreed on the type of polity that the Constitution would generate, Anti-Federalists decried these developments as radical and dangerous departures from prevailing practices. To defeat Anti-Federalist opposition, Federalists launched a defense of the proposed Constitution that first sought to reassure the citizenry by minimizing the changes before building a positive case for the very changes they had just denied were being proposed. While this sleight of hand helped to secure ratification, it also licensed the appropriation of defensive Federalist rhetoric and the subversion of the political logic of the Constitution by post-ratification Anti-Federalists and their, sometimes unknowing, political heirs.
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