The Elusive Meaning of the Debate over Ratification

Max. M Edling

in A Revolution in Favor of Government

Published in print October 2003 | ISBN: 9780195148701
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835096 | DOI:
The Elusive Meaning of the Debate over Ratification

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The first two sections of this chapter discuss the two main approaches to the analysis of the ratification debate over the US Constitution. Until the late 1960s, the predominant interpretation described the debate over ratification as a conflict between “aristocratic” and “democratic” ideals and interests, but at about that time, scholars began to shift to a second approach that used the terms “liberalism” and “classical republicanism” to account for ideological differences during the revolutionary era; this shift was also accompanied by a change in the interpreters’ concerns away from social struggle toward the study of the development of political ideas. The argument presented here is that the terminology so far favored by historians and political scientists has obscured important aspects of the ideological differences between the Federalists and their opponents because it has drawn attention away from the actual issues debated during the ratification struggle. This claim can be supported in different ways, but the approach used here is to look closely at what prominent interpreters say about the limits of their own interpretation, even though this it risks being unfair to the perspectives reviewed. The last two sections of the chapter present an approach that promises better to capture the essence of the ideological disagreement between the Federalists and the Antifederalists as presented in the debate over ratification, and suggest that the debate is best seen as neither about democracy nor about liberalism, but about state formation.

Keywords: Antifederalism; aristocracy; classical republicanism; debate; democracy; development of political ideas; Federalism; ideological differences; interpretation; liberalism; public debate; ratification; social struggle; state formation; US Constitution; USA

Chapter.  7572 words. 

Subjects: US Politics

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