Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress, 1789-1791 | Next Page
Amendments to the Constitution
Debate in the House of Representatives
Debate in the House of Representatives,
August 15, 21, 22, 1789
(Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Madison introduced his proposed amendments on June 8, 1789. Most were related to civil liberties rather than the structure of the government. Antifederalists believed Madison's proposals to be a far cry from the Amendments they desired. Federalists, including James Jackson of Georgia, argued that amendments were premature, that bills of rights had dangerous implications, and that a long debate would prevent Congress from considering more important subjects. Largely because of the respect most of his colleagues held for Madison, the House agreed to debate the subject of amendments.


Madison's proposals were finally taken up on 13 August. Antifederalists introduced amendments changing the structure of the federal government or protecting the rights of the states from encroachment. The debate was violent by comparison with that on the issues which had preceded it. Reproduced here is a sample of the debate from the Congressional Register. Particularly interesting is Gerry's comment that: "Their names then ought not to have been distinguished by federalists and antifederalists, but as rats and antirats."

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