To the Antifederalists, the separation of powers was far too mild a curb against the threat of government tyranny. As a result states beginning with Massachusetts ratified the Constitution, but called for further protections to be taken up by the new Congress as soon as it met. This loomed on the unresolved political agenda of the national Congress and the adoption of the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) is a legacy of the victory-in-defeat of Antifederalists. Their continued participation in the political process even when they seemed to have lost on the more general issue had immense importance.
Indeed, many political leaders and non-elite citizens believed Jefferson embraced the politics of the masses. “[I]n a government like ours it is the duty of the Chief-magistrate… to unite in himself the confidence of the whole people,” Jefferson wrote in 1810. 8 Nine years later, looking back on his monumental election, Jefferson again linked his triumph to the political engagement of ordinary citizens: “The revolution of 1800…was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 76 was in it’s form,” he wrote, “not effected indeed by the sword…but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage [voting] of the people.” 9 Jefferson desired to convince Americans, and the world, that a government that answered directly to the people would lead to lasting national union, not anarchic division. He wanted to prove that free people could govern themselves democratically.
So I would argue, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, that while The Federalist Papers are among the best essays ever written on representative government, they would not be as good as they are, or as many essays as there are, if it were not for the persistent critique of the Antifederalists who helped define the American conversation over what should government do, which level of government should do it, and which branch of that level of government should do it. Those questions are what the Essential Antifederalists bring to the conversation.