The Antifederalist

2.4 The Antifederalist, writing by the opponents of the Constitution, ed Herbert J. Storing, Chicago and London 1981, exerpt: a text of 28. March 1788 by a farmer, p. 265-272

a) Background

The following texts out of the anti-federalist papers are to identify the potential influences of Switzerland and Swiss law and legal culture on the formation of the constitution in 1787 at the time of the American union.

[The Swiss perspective is described in the text 2.2 of Paul Widmer, der Einfluss der Schweiz auf die amerikanische Verfassung von 1787. The subsequent influence of the American constitution on Switzerland and the development up to 1848, as said above, was by far greater than the areas of influence of Switzerland on the American constitution in 1787. Nevertheless, the influence is remarkable and interesting. Two factors played a major role: the writings and the acting of founding father John Adams, the first vice president and second president of the United States, and the incontestable influence of the antifederalists – federalists according to Swiss terminology – in favour of a confederation. Switzerland had a parliamentary entity in the 18th century and a considerable visibility and influence. Whoever was about to draft and adopt a republican, federalist constitution was well advised, to look at the republics in the Alps. In the early United States certain groups diligently  undertook this effort. Three positions had come simultaneously to the founding fathers among the federalists – the centralist according to Swiss terminology; a Madison and Hamilton for instance studied the Swiss confederation in detail.  The antifederalists left the Swiss confederation aside and considered it unusable for a nation like the United States, in particular in view of the size of the territory.  The federalists studied it but were imprecise in their study of the Swiss circumstances. They adored the spirit of the inhabitants of the Alps. They used Switzerland as crown witness against centralisation and advocated the leaving of powers to the individual states. In turn, John Adams,  did not care for Switzerland as a whole. He used the parliamentary organisation of the individual Cantons to find in them arguments for a separation of powers. John Adams, above all, was responsible for the timely introduction of Swiss thinking in to the American constitutional dialogue and discussion among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Among the more penetrating and comprehensive Anti-Federalist essays were those written by A [Maryland] Farmer in the Maryland Gazette during February, March and April of 1788 (for the first time reprinted in the Antifederalists, edited by Herbert J. Storing). According to Storing no direct evidence of authorship has been found. It seems likely though, that “a farmer” was John Francis Mercer, a non-signing member of the Constitutional Convention and an active Maryland Anti-Federalist. Born in Virginia, Mercer was educated at William and Mary, studied law under Thomas Jefferson, performed extensive military service during the Revolutionary War and represented Virginia in Congress. He moved to Maryland, where he was chosen to serve in the Federal Convention in 1787 but left before its work was finished. The text at hand was reprinted in the Maryland Gazette on 28th March 1788.

b) Summary

The discussion begins with “governments of simplicity and equal right,” which have not been dealt with faithfully in theory and practice (V. 5.1.69). For whatever reasons we seem to be tend¬ing toward mixed government with permanent and fixed orders. If this is our direction let us proceed slowly and carefully. Government by repre¬sentation “sets all system at defiance” by inducing constant change (V. 5.1.71). A representative system can only succeed if based on fixed and permanent orders, but the only such order in America is the yeomanry, which is powerless. The Constitution tries to erect a republic on the ruins of a corrupt monarchy. A government for the United States founded on repre¬sentation requires at least an executive for life and a senate also for life appointed by the executive. The problem is to prevent the executive from becoming hereditary, for which reason the vice presidency is important (V. 5.1.72-74). Having considered the dangers of representation and the requirements of a representative system — if that is what the United States must have — A Farmer returns in the conclusion of this essay to the advantages of simple government (V. 5.1.75-82).

The English system, although good for its kind, is undeservedly praised. It is a rational system, but it required the introduc¬tion of a ministerial system and corruption to support it and it does not prevent poverty in the lower orders and disorder. “England may be com¬pared with Switzerland, whose government is simple and in the hands of the people personally, where every citizen is legislator and soldier and where liberty, peace, and prosperity reign. Government should be in the hands of the people, that is, those who hold the property of the soil. With government in the hands of the freeholders, with reasonable sumptuary laws, and with the institution of seminaries of useful learning, the people would cease abusing their governments and would “wade up to their knees in blood” to defend them” (V, 5.1.82).

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:

© Prof. Jens Drolshammer,,

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