On September 14, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention got a little rowdy. Joining a group of elite militiamen who staged a party in honor of George Washington, the 55 men, delegates and militiamen together, drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 50 bottles of “old stock,” and ample amounts of other spirits. The final bill included an additional fee for “breakage.”

They certainly had something to celebrate. In three days they would sign the Constitution. Today is the 226th anniversary of the signing, and it is a good time to reflect on the document and the men who created it.

Yet, if we want to understand that monumental event, we should not reflect on it using the myths that have sprung up around the convention or that have been manufactured by leftist historians. The Constitution’s existence and ratification was not foreordained, and to think so is to eschew a deeper understanding of the times.

In particular, we should remember the Anti-Federalists. Those men, the opponents of the Constitution, are generally demonized by leftist historians who view centralization as synonymous with progress. The resisters to the Constitution are generally regarded as knuckle-dragging philistines who doggedly held onto antiquated ideas and resisted “modernity,” an epithet with which modern conservatives should sympathize.

But the Anti-Federalists were far from obstructionist cavemen. In fact, they offered some of the best and most prophetic critiques of the Constitution. To see why, however, we must remember the context in which the Constitution was written.

By the fall of 1786, when James Madison and others met in Annapolis, Maryland and decided that a convention would be held in Philadelphia beginning in May of the next year, many people believed that the newly formed United States teetered on the edge of anarchy. The Articles of Confederation were unworkable, they believed, and a stronger, more energetic central government was needed.

To understand late-Eighteenth century America and the Articles of Confederation, it is useful to look at Europe. The Articles of Confederation were more a treaty than a constitution. Treaties preserve the sovereignty of every individual member, treat every signatory country as one unit regardless of population, and hold no power over members without their consent. Treaties, such as the Treaty of Rome that created the initial European Economic Community, allow nations to work together for common purpose, but do not turn them into a unified whole.