The Federalist and Anti-federalist Debates on Diversity and the Extended Republic

Diagram of the US Federal Government and American Union, 1862.
Photo caption

Diagram of the US Federal Government and American Union, 1862.

In September of 1787, the delegates to the Convention in Philadelphia presented their work to the American public for ratification. The proposed Constitution marked a clear departure from the Articles of Confederation, which had essentially established a federal “league of friendship” between thirteen sovereign and largely independent states. Under the newly proposed plan of government, the union between the states would be strengthened under a national government that derived its authority—at least in part—directly from the American people rather than purely from the state legislatures. And under the new Constitution, the people would be represented equally in the House, regardless of the state in which they lived—unlike the Articles of Confederation, according to which the Continental Congress equally represented the states. In other words, the proposed Constitution would make the United States a nation of one people rather than a loose confederation of states.

In this unit, students will examine the arguments of Anti-federalists and Federalists to learn what their compromises would mean for the extended republic that would result from the new Constitution. They will become familiar with some of the greatest thinkers on both sides of the argument and their reasons for opposing or supporting the Constitution. They will learn why Anti-federalists believed that a large nation could not long preserve liberty and self-government. They will also learn why Federalists such as James Madison believed that a large nation was vital to promote justice and the security of rights for all citizens, majority and minority alike. Finally, students will see the seriousness of the question as one that both sides believed would determine the happiness, liberty, and safety of future generations of Americans.

Guiding Questions

What are the merits of the Anti-federalist argument that an extended republic will lead to the destruction of liberty and self-government?


Was James Madison correct when he claimed that a republican government over an extended territory was necessary to both preserve the Union and secure the rights of citizens?

Learning Objectives

Understand what Anti-federalists meant by the terms “extended republic” or “consolidated republic.”

Articulate the problems the Anti-federalists believed would arise from extending the republic over a vast territory.

Evaluate the nature and purpose of representation and the competing arguments regarding the short and long-term outcomes of these decisions. 

Evaluate the argument that a large republic would result in an abuse of power by those holding elected office. 

Evaluate the merits of a “pure democracy” and a representative republic. 

Construct an argument as to which perspective regarding the size of a government and republic has proved true in the U.S. today.