The Same Subject Continued
(Concerning the General Power of Taxation)
From the Independent Journal.
Saturday, January 5, 1788.


To the People of the State of New York:

I FLATTER myself it has been clearly shown in my last number that the particular States, under the proposed Constitution,
would have COEQUAL authority with the Union in the article of revenue, except as to duties on imports. As this leaves open
to the States far the greatest part of the resources of the community, there can be no color for the assertion that they would
not possess means as abundant as could be desired for the supply of their own wants, independent of all external control.
That the field is sufficiently wide will more fully appear when we come to advert to the inconsiderable share of the public
expenses for which it will fall to the lot of the State governments to provide.

To argue upon abstract principles that this co-ordinate authority cannot exist, is to set up supposition and theory against fact
and reality. However proper such reasonings might be to show that a thing OUGHT NOT TO EXIST, they are wholly to be
rejected when they are made use of to prove that it does not exist contrary to the evidence of the fact itself. It is well known
that in the Roman republic the legislative authority, in the last resort, resided for ages in two different political bodies not as
branches of the same legislature, but as distinct and independent legislatures, in each of which an opposite interest prevailed:
in one the patrician; in the other, the plebian. Many arguments might have been adduced to prove the unfitness of two such
seemingly contradictory authorities, each having power to ANNUL or REPEAL the acts of the other. But a man would have
been regarded as frantic who should have attempted at Rome to disprove their existence. It will be readily understood that I
allude to the COMITIA CENTURIATA and the COMITIA TRIBUTA. The former, in which the people voted by centuries,
was so arranged as to give a superiority to the patrician interest; in the latter, in which numbers prevailed, the plebian interest
had an entire predominancy. And yet these two legislatures coexisted for ages, and the Roman republic attained to the utmost
height of human greatness.

In the case particularly under consideration, there is no such contradiction as appears in the example cited; there is no power
on either side to annul the acts of the other. And in practice there is little reason to apprehend any inconvenience; because, in
a short course of time, the wants of the States will naturally reduce themselves within A VERY NARROW COMPASS; and
in the interim, the United States will, in all probability, find it convenient to abstain wholly from those objects to which the
particular States would be inclined to resort.

To form a more precise judgment of the true merits of this question, it will be well to advert to the proportion between the
objects that will require a federal provision in respect to revenue, and those which will require a State provision. We shall
discover that the former are altogether unlimited, and that the latter are circumscribed within very moderate bounds. In
pursuing this inquiry, we must bear in mind that we are not to confine our view to the present period, but to look forward to
remote futurity. Constitutions of civil government are not to be framed upon a calculation of existing exigencies, but upon a
combination of these with the probable exigencies of ages, according to the natural and tried course of human affairs.
Nothing, therefore, can be more fallacious than to infer the extent of any power, proper to be lodged in the national
government, from an estimate of its immediate necessities. There ought to be a CAPACITY to provide for future
contingencies as they may happen; and as these are illimitable in their nature, it is impossible safely to limit that capacity. It is
true, perhaps, that a computation might be made with sufficient accuracy to answer the purpose of the quantity of revenue
requisite to discharge the subsisting engagements of the Union, and to maintain those establishments which, for some time to
come, would suffice in time of peace. But would it be wise, or would it not rather be the extreme of folly, to stop at this
point, and to leave the government intrusted with the care of the national defense in a state of absolute incapacity to provide
for the protection of the community against future invasions of the public peace, by foreign war or domestic convulsions?
If, on the contrary, we ought to exceed this point, where can we stop, short of an indefinite power of providing for
emergencies as they may arise? Though it is easy to assert, in general terms, the possibility of forming a rational judgment of
a due provision against probable dangers, yet we may safely challenge those who make the assertion to bring forward their
data, and may affirm that they would be found as vague and uncertain as any that could be produced to establish the
probable duration of the world. Observations confined to the mere prospects of internal attacks can deserve no weight;
though even these will admit of no satisfactory calculation: but if we mean to be a commercial people, it must form a part of
our policy to be able one day to defend that commerce. The support of a navy and of naval wars would involve
contingencies that must baffle all the efforts of political arithmetic.

Admitting that we ought to try the novel and absurd experiment in politics of tying up the hands of government from
offensive war founded upon reasons of state, yet certainly we ought not to disable it from guarding the community against
the ambition or enmity of other nations. A cloud has been for some time hanging over the European world. If it should break
forth into a storm, who can insure us that in its progress a part of its fury would not be spent upon us? No reasonable man
would hastily pronounce that we are entirely out of its reach. Or if the combustible materials that now seem to be collecting
should be dissipated without coming to maturity, or if a flame should be kindled without extending to us, what security can
we have that our tranquillity will long remain undisturbed from some other cause or from some other quarter? Let us
recollect that peace or war will not always be left to our option; that however moderate or unambitious we may be, we
cannot count upon the moderation, or hope to extinguish the ambition of others. Who could have imagined at the conclusion
of the last war that France and Britain, wearied and exhausted as they both were, would so soon have looked with so hostile
an aspect upon each other? To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and
destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent
sentiments of peace; and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquillity, is to calculate on the
weaker springs of the human character.

What are the chief sources of expense in every government? What has occasioned that enormous accumulation of debts
with which several of the European nations are oppressed? The answers plainly is, wars and rebellions; the support of those
institutions which are necessary to guard the body politic against these two most mortal diseases of society. The expenses
arising from those institutions which are relative to the mere domestic police of a state, to the support of its legislative,
executive, and judicial departments, with their different appendages, and to the encouragement of agriculture and
manufactures (which will comprehend almost all the objects of state expenditure), are insignificant in comparison with those
which relate to the national defense.

In the kingdom of Great Britain, where all the ostentatious apparatus of monarchy is to be provided for, not above a fifteenth
part of the annual income of the nation is appropriated to the class of expenses last mentioned; the other fourteen fifteenths
are absorbed in the payment of the interest of debts contracted for carrying on the wars in which that country has been
engaged, and in the maintenance of fleets and armies. If, on the one hand, it should be observed that the expenses incurred in
the prosecution of the ambitious enterprises and vainglorious pursuits of a monarchy are not a proper standard by which to
judge of those which might be necessary in a republic, it ought, on the other hand, to be remarked that there should be as
great a disproportion between the profusion and extravagance of a wealthy kingdom in its domestic administration, and the
frugality and economy which in that particular become the modest simplicity of republican government. If we balance a
proper deduction from one side against that which it is supposed ought to be made from the other, the proportion may still
be considered as holding good.

But let us advert to the large debt which we have ourselves contracted in a single war, and let us only calculate on a common
share of the events which disturb the peace of nations, and we shall instantly perceive, without the aid of any elaborate
illustration, that there must always be an immense disproportion between the objects of federal and state expenditures. It is
true that several of the States, separately, are encumbered with considerable debts, which are an excrescence of the late war.
But this cannot happen again, if the proposed system be adopted; and when these debts are discharged, the only call for
revenue of any consequence, which the State governments will continue to experience, will be for the mere support of their
respective civil list; to which, if we add all contingencies, the total amount in every State
ought to fall considerably short of two hundred thousand pounds.

In framing a government for posterity as well as ourselves, we ought, in those provisions which are designed to be
permanent, to calculate, not on temporary, but on permanent causes of expense. If this principle be a just one our attention
would be directed to a provision in favor of the State governments for an annual sum of about two hundred thousand
pounds; while the exigencies of the Union could be susceptible of no limits, even in imagination. In this view of the subject,
by what logic can it be maintained that the local governments ought to command, in perpetuity, an EXCLUSIVE source of
revenue for any sum beyond the extent of two hundred thousand pounds? To extend its power further, in EXCLUSION of
the authority of the Union, would be to take the resources of the community out of those hands which stood in need of them
for the public welfare, in order to put them into other hands which could have no just or proper occasion for them.

Suppose, then, the convention had been inclined to proceed upon the principle of a repartition of the objects of revenue,
between the Union and its members, in PROPORTION to their comparative necessities; what particular fund could have
been selected for the use of the States, that would not either have been too much or too little too little for their present, too
much for their future wants? As to the line of separation between external and internal taxes, this would leave to the States,
at a rough computation, the command of two thirds of the resources of the community to defray from a tenth to a twentieth
part of its expenses; and to the Union, one third of the resources of the community, to defray from nine tenths to nineteen
twentieths of its expenses. If we desert this boundary and content ourselves with leaving to the States an exclusive power of
taxing houses and lands, there would still be a great disproportion between the MEANS and the END; the possession of one
third of the resources of the community to supply, at most, one tenth of its wants. If any fund could have been selected and
appropriated, equal to and not greater than the object, it would have been inadequate to the discharge of the existing debts of
the particular States, and would have left them dependent on the Union for a provision for this purpose.

The preceding train of observation will justify the position which has been elsewhere laid down, that "A CONCURRENT
JURISDICTION in the article of taxation was the only admissible substitute for an entire subordination, in respect to this
branch of power, of State authority to that of the Union." Any separation of the objects of revenue that could have been
fallen upon, would have amounted to a sacrifice of the great INTERESTS of the Union to the POWER of the individual
States. The convention thought the concurrent jurisdiction preferable to that subordination; and it is evident that it has at least
the merit of reconciling an indefinite constitutional power of taxation in the Federal government with an adequate and
independent power in the States to provide for their own necessities. There remain a few other lights, in which this important
subject of taxation will claim a further consideration.

Text supplied by
Project Gutenberg
The Constitution Society
& The Avalon Project
Philosophy of
Socialism in America

"The struggle of History is not
between the bourgeoisie and the
proletariat; it is between government
and the governed."

Jerry McDaniel
The Illinois Conservative