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A New York Farmer Outlines His Opposition to the Constitution

The ratification of the United States Constitution was the subject of intense discussion, debate, and dissent during the period 1787-1789. Among those opposed to ratification were many small farmers in the North. As this letter written by "A Countryman from Dutchess County [upstate New York]" indicates, Anti-Federalists were concerned about provisions for the establishment of a "standing army" and the absence of a bill of rights. For many northerners, the Constitution's protection of slavery was another bone of contention. These issues were so vexing that some, like the author of this letter, went so far as to suggest that "we should have been much happier... in our old connexion with Great-Britain."

Should the new constitution be sufficiently corrected by a substantial bill of rights, an equitable representation, chosen annually, or not eligible under two years, the senate chosen triennially, and not eligible in less than three years afterwards, which, apart from it, becoming a more general object to men of learning and genius, might also be a means of preventing monopolies by a few men or families—separating the legislative, judicial and executive departments entirely, and confining the national government to its proper objects; but, by no means admitting a standing army in time of peace, nor a select militia, which last . . . is nothing else but an artful introduction to the other—Nor ought the militia, or any part of it, I think to be marched out of the state, without the consent of the legislature, and then not for more than a certain reasonable time, etc.—leaving the states sovereign and independent with respect to their internal police, and relinquishing ever idea of drenching the bowels of Africa in gore, for the sake of enslaving its free-born innocent inhabitants, I imagine we might become a happy and respectable people. And, the conduct of the later general convention, by the violent effort which it has made to prostrate our invaluable liberties at the feet of power, fully evinces the absolute necessity of the most express stipulations, for all our essential rights.

But, should the constitution be adopted in its present form, without any amendment, I candidly think that we should have been much happier, at least for a number of years, in our old connexion with Great-Britain, than with such an absurd heterogeneal kind of government as the convention have proposed for our implicit adoption. Indeed, at present, there are so many dissentients, and others daily becoming so, in all the states, and with arms in their hands, that I cannot see how it could well be organized, without a force superior to every opposition, and that must, of course, absorb all the resources of ways and means immediately, and would defeat many of its own purposes and promises.

. . . I have no idea of being gladiator to any man or body of men whatever; nor marching 500 or 1000 miles to quell an insurrection of such emigrants as are proposed by the new constitution, to be introduced for one and twenty years. No, nor of butchering the natives, that a few great speculators and landholders may engross all the best soil for a song, and revive the old feudal system, which I know to be the wish of some of the advocates of the new government . . .

Your most obedient and

very humble servant

A Countryman.

Source | Herbert J. Storing, ed., The Complete Anti-Federalist, vol. 6 (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 60-63.
Creator | Anonymous
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Anonymous, “A New York Farmer Outlines His Opposition to the Constitution,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 19, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/714.

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