In 1787, representatives from each state gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. They soon decided that the articles were too flawed to serve as the basis of the U.S. government. A whole new governing document was needed. During the process of drafting and ratifying the U.S. Constitution, two political parties emerged.
One party was called Federalist. Federalists believed that having a strong central government was key to making the United States a success. For Federalists, class distinctions mattered. They thought it was better for the country if the wealthiest and most educated people were in charge. Federalists supported ratifying the new U.S. Constitution. John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were famous Federalists.
The second party was called Anti-Federalist. Anti-Federalists worried that a strong central government would threaten the freedom of individuals. Anti-Federalists opposed the new U.S. Constitution because it did not have enough protections for individual citizens. Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams were famous Anti-Federalists.
Federalists won the ratification debate when the new Constitution became the official governing document in the United States in 1788. But their victory was not complete. Anti-Federalists rallied to ratify the Bill of Rights in 1791. Those 10 amendments to the Constitution protected individual liberties. Federalists and Anti-Federalists continued to fight over the future of the U.S. government throughout the Federal period.
Many women took sides in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates. Women who took an interest in politics were nicknamed “politicians.” Women politicians wore accessories supporting their political parties and enthusiastically debated with friends and family. But they had to be careful. If a woman was too outspoken about her beliefs, she was accused of forgetting her place in the social hierarchy.
Mercy Otis Warren and Judith Sargent Murray were two of the most published women writers of the Federal period. They both supported the American Revolution, but they had different ideas about how the new government should work. They both used their writing to rally support for their causes.
Mercy Otis Warren’s essay “Observations on the New Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions” was Anti-Federalist. She first published the piece under the name of Elbridge Gerry, who was a well-known opponent of a strong central government. By using his name, Mercy made certain readers took her essay seriously. In this excerpt, Mercy argues that the new Constitution is dangerous because it does not guarantee individual liberties. This popular Anti-Federalist claim led to the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
Judith Sargent Murray’s essay No. 87 from her series The Gleaner demonstrates how Federalist and Anti-Federalist partisanship continued long after the ratification of the Constitution. In this excerpt, she argues that too much personal liberty is dangerous for the country. She thought it would be best if every person stayed within their social class and respected the hierarchy. This was a common concern among Federalists, who worried that the Anti-Federalist emphasis on personal liberty would result in mob rule.