• Radical, Influential Anti-Federalist William Petrikin Helped Bring About the Bill of Rights

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    WILLIAM PETRIKIN (1761-1821), born in Scotland, immigrated to Pennsylvania with his wife. He earned his living as a tenant farmer, a mechanic and was, for a while, a tailor.  He best represented the lower class anti-Federalists, leading rural farmers in their opposition to ratifying the U.S. Constitution because they felt it provided unfair advantages to the wealthy over the poor. He attacked the Federalist aristocracy for having family position, not talent. 

    Petrikin and other anti-Federalists were frustrated with not being able to acquire major newspapers and read about the federal government’s activities. Thus, his understanding of the Constitution was largely shaped by what he read in local newspapers and by word of mouth. Petrikin mounted an attack against the Federalists in a biting and satirical pamphlet – The Government of Nature DelineatedFourteen hundred were printed and distributed throughout the nation.

    When Federalists met in Pennsylvania to celebrate ratification of the Constitution, Petrikin and his fellow anti-Federalists charged the group, breaking up the celebration and leaving Petrikin with the permanent reputation of being a radical.

    Those who opposed the Constitution had to offer an alternate vision. Although there was diversity among the anti-Federalists regarding the Constitution, the need for the Bill of Rights soon emerged as a common vision. The Bill of Rights, they felt, would protect individual liberties by restricting government over reach in individual lives.  Founding Father JAMES MADISON wrote the Bill of Rights to respond to calls from people like Petrikin and his fellow anti-Federalists.

    Petrikin, thus, remains one of the most important men to shape and protect individual freedoms for Americans from an over reaching federal government.  The anti-Federalist philosophy has provided important legal arguments for scholars and others seeking to protect individual rights.

    Offering a fragment of an ALS with Petrikin’s signature very much intact, bold and clear.  The fragment carries the date of 1809 and speaks of accountability.  The letter was written when Petrikin was Register and Recorder of Deeds of Centre County, PA, as well as Justice of the Peace.

    While we cannot determine the specifics of Petrikin’s ALS, we can offer that the letter was to GEORGE BYRAN JR. (1767-1838), the first Auditor General for Pennsylvania, who was appointed in 1809, the same year this letter was written.  Bryan was the son of George Bryan, a statesman during the Revolutionary War era, who held, among other offices, that of being the second President of Pennsylvania following the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.


    Folds, even toning. A few small tears reinforced with archival tape.


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