A brawl between Federalists and anti-Federalists, 1788
A Spotlight on a Primary Source by the Freeman's Journal
In 1787 and 1788, debates over the ratification of the Constitution took place in towns and villages across the country. To gain support, both Federalists and anti-Federalists held meetings and marches that sometimes became violent. In July 1788, Federalists marched through Albany, New York, and were stopped at Green Street by a group of anti-Federalists. According to this newspaper report, “a general battle took place, with swords, bayonets, clubs, stones, &c. which lasted for some time, both parties fighting with the greatest rage, and determined obstinacy, till at last the antifederalists being overpowered by numbers gave way and retreated.”
The New York ratification convention met in mid-June 1788. The Federalists contended that a stronger central government would provide a solid base from which New York could grow and prosper. The anti-Federalists clamored for a bill of rights and fought to preserve the autonomy of the state against federal encroachments. While the debates were contentious, the Federalists were ultimately successful in bringing New York into the nationalist camp. The anti-Federalists, however, managed to attach a list of proposed additions that had to be considered before New York would fully participate in the new government. New York became the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution on July 26, 1788.
It was mortifying to the federalists to observe a party of about 50 antifederalists marching in procession to a vacant lot in the skirts of the town, where, after firing thirteen guns, they burnt the constitution. The federalists . . . began a march through the principal streets of the city . . . A general battle took place, with swords, bayonets, clubs, stones, &c. which lasted for some time, both parties fighting with the greatest rage, and determined obstinacy, till at last the antifederalists being overpowered by numbers gave way and retreated.