DURING THE DEBATES in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the 29 delegates were heatedly divided into two camps. These were the Federalists, like Alexander Hamilton of New York, who advocated a strongly centralized government, and the anti-Federalists, among the most influential, George Mason of Virginia, who preferred a more decentralized administration, such as had prevailed under the earlier 1777 Articles of Confederation. In terms of the relationship between the new government and its people, no area was of more importance than a Bill of Rights. Such a document was considered essential in protecting the rights of the people from usurpation by their own government. In the debates, Mason was concerned that an unfettered government could become a “monarchy, or a tyrannical aristocracy.” ...

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