The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation
From the New York Packet.
Tuesday, January 8, 1788.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

WE HAVE seen that the result of the observations, to which the foregoing number has been principally devoted, is, that from the natural operation of the different interests and views of the various classes of the community, whether the representation of the people be more or less numerous, it will consist almost entirely of proprietors of land, of merchants, and of members of the learned professions, who will truly represent all those different interests and views. If it should be objected that we have seen other descriptions of men in the local legislatures, I answer that it is admitted there are exceptions to the rule, but not in sufficient number to influence the general complexion or character of the government. There are strong minds in every walk of life that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit, not only from the classes to which they particularly belong, but from the society in general. The door ought to be equally open to all; and I trust, for the credit of human nature, that we shall see examples of such vigorous plants flourishing in the soil of federal as well as of State legislation; but occasional instances of this sort will not render the reasoning founded upon the general course of things, less conclusive.

The subject might be placed in several other lights that would all lead to the same result; and in particular it might be asked, What greater affinity or relation of interest can be conceived between the carpenter and blacksmith, and the linen manufacturer or stocking weaver, than between the merchant and either of them? It is notorious that there are often as great rivalships between different branches of the mechanic or manufacturing arts as there are between any of the departments of labor and industry; so that, unless the representative body were to be far more numerous than would be consistent with any idea of regularity or wisdom in its deliberations, it is impossible that what seems to be the spirit of the objection we have been considering should ever be realized in practice. But I forbear to dwell any longer on a matter which has hitherto worn too loose a garb to admit even of an accurate inspection of its real shape or tendency.

There is another objection of a somewhat more precise nature that claims our attention. It has been asserted that a power of internal taxation in the national legislature could never be exercised with advantage, as well from the want of a sufficient knowledge of local circumstances, as from an interference between the revenue laws of the Union and of the particular States. The supposition of a want of proper knowledge seems to be entirely destitute of foundation. If any question is depending in a State legislature respecting one of the counties, which demands a knowledge of local details, how is it acquired? No doubt from the information of the members of the county. Cannot the like knowledge be obtained in the national legislature from the representatives of each State? And is it not to be presumed that the men who will generally be sent there will be possessed of the necessary degree of intelligence to be able to communicate that information? Is the knowledge of local circumstances, as applied to taxation, a minute topographical acquaintance with all the mountains, rivers, streams, highways, and bypaths in each State; or is it a general acquaintance with its situation and resources, with the state of its agriculture, commerce, manufactures, with the nature of its products and consumptions, with the different degrees and kinds of its wealth, property, and industry?

Nations in general, even under governments of the more popular kind, usually commit the administration of their finances to single men or to boards composed of a few individuals, who digest and prepare, in the first instance, the plans of taxation, which are afterwards passed into laws by the authority of the sovereign or legislature.

Inquisitive and enlightened statesmen are deemed everywhere best qualified to make a judicious selection of the objects proper for revenue; which is a clear indication, as far as the sense of mankind can have weight in the question, of the species of knowledge of local circumstances requisite to the purposes of taxation.

The taxes intended to be comprised under the general denomination of internal taxes may be subdivided into those of the DIRECT and those of the INDIRECT kind. Though the objection be made to both, yet the reasoning upon it seems to be confined to the former branch. And indeed, as to the latter, by which must be understood duties and excises on articles of consumption, one is at a loss to conceive what can be the nature of the difficulties apprehended. The knowledge relating to them must evidently be of a kind that will either be suggested by the nature of the article itself, or can easily be procured from any well-informed man, especially of the mercantile class. The circumstances that may distinguish its situation in one State from its situation in another must be few, simple, and easy to be comprehended. The principal thing to be attended to, would be to avoid those articles which had been previously appropriated to the use of a particular State; and there could be no difficulty in ascertaining the revenue system of each. This could always be known from the respective codes of laws, as well as from the information of the members from the several States.

The objection, when applied to real property or to houses and lands, appears to have, at first sight, more foundation, but even in this view it will not bear a close examination. Land taxes are co monly laid in one of two modes, either by ACTUAL valuations, permanent or periodical, or by OCCASIONAL assessments, at the discretion, or according to the best judgment, of certain officers whose duty it is to make them. In either case, the EXECUTION of the business, which alone requires the knowledge of local details, must be devolved upon discreet persons in the character of commissioners or assessors, elected by the people or appointed by the government for the purpose. All that the law can do must be to name the persons or to prescribe the manner of their election or appointment, to fix their numbers and qualifications and to draw the general outlines of their powers and duties. And what is there in all this that cannot as well be performed by the national legislature as by a State legislature? The attention of either can only reach to general principles; local details, as already observed, must be referred to those who are to execute the plan.

But there is a simple point of view in which this matter may be placed that must be altogether satisfactory. The national legislature can make use of the SYSTEM OF EACH STATE WITHIN THAT STATE. The method of laying and collecting this species of taxes in each State can, in all its parts, be adopted and employed by the federal government.

Let it be recollected that the proportion of these taxes is not to be left to the discretion of the national legislature, but is to be determined by the numbers of each State, as described in the second section of the first article. An actual census or enumeration of the people must furnish the rule, a circumstance which effectually shuts the door to partiality or oppression. The abuse of this power of taxation seems to have been provided against with guarded circumspection. In addition to the precaution just mentioned, there is a provision that “all duties, imposts, and excises shall be UNIFORM throughout the United States.”

It has been very properly observed by different speakers and writers on the side of the Constitution, that if the exercise of the power of internal taxation by the Union should be discovered on experiment to be really inconvenient, the federal government may then forbear the use of it, and have recourse to requisitions in its stead. By way of answer to this, it has been triumphantly asked, Why not in the first instance omit that ambiguous power, and rely upon the latter resource? Two solid answers may be given. The first is, that the exercise of that power, if convenient, will be preferable, because it will be more effectual; and it is impossible to prove in theory, or otherwise than by the experiment, that it cannot be advantageously exercised. The contrary, indeed, appears most probable. The second answer is, that the existence of such a power in the Constitution will have a strong influence in giving efficacy to requisitions. When the States know that the Union can apply itself without their agency, it will be a powerful motive for exertion on their part.

As to the interference of the revenue laws of the Union, and of its members, we have already seen that there can be no clashing or repugnancy of authority. The laws cannot, therefore, in a legal sense, interfere with each other; and it is far from impossible to avoid an interference even in the policy of their different systems. An effectual expedient for this purpose will be, mutually, to abstain from those objects which either side may have first had recourse to. As neither can CONTROL the other, each will have an obvious and sensible interest in this reciprocal forbearance. And where there is an IMMEDIATE common interest, we may safely count upon its operation. When the particular debts of the States are done away, and their expenses come to be limited within their natural compass, the possibility almost of interference will vanish. A small land tax will answer the purpose of the States, and will be their most simple and most fit resource.

Many spectres have been raised out of this power of internal taxation, to excite the apprehensions of the people: double sets of revenue officers, a duplication of their burdens by double taxations, and the frightful forms of odious and oppressive poll-taxes, have been played off with all the ingenious dexterity of political legerdemain.

As to the first point, there are two cases in which there can be no room for double sets of officers: one, where the right of imposing the tax is exclusively vested in the Union, which applies to the duties on imports; the other, where the object has not fallen under any State regulation or provision, which may be applicable to a variety of objects. In other cases, the probability is that the United States will either wholly abstain from the objects preoccupied for local purposes, or will make use of the State officers and State regulations for collecting the additional imposition. This will best answer the views of revenue, because it will save expense in the collection, and will best avoid any occasion of disgust to the State governments and to the people. At all events, here is a practicable expedient for avoiding such an inconvenience; and nothing more can be required than to show that evils predicted to not necessarily result from the plan.

As to any argument derived from a supposed system of influence, it is a sufficient answer to say that it ought not to be presumed; but the supposition is susceptible of a more precise answer. If such a spirit should infest the councils of the Union, the most certain road to the accomplishment of its aim would be to employ the State officers as much as possible, and to attach them to the Union by an accumulation of their emoluments. This would serve to turn the tide of State influence into the channels of the national government, instead of making federal influence flow in an opposite and adverse current. But all suppositions of this kind are invidious, and ought to be banished from the consideration of the great question before the people. They can answer no other end than to cast a mist over the truth.

As to the suggestion of double taxation, the answer is plain. The wants of the Union are to be supplied in one way or another; if to be done by the authority of the federal government, it will not be to be done by that of the State government. The quantity of taxes to be paid by the community must be the same in either case; with this advantage, if the provision is to be made by the Union that the capital resource of commercial imposts, which is the most convenient branch of revenue, can be prudently improved to a much greater extent under federal than under State regulation, and of course will render it less necessary to recur to more inconvenient methods; and with this further advantage, that as far as there may be any real difficulty in the exercise of the power of internal taxation, it will impose a disposition to greater care in the choice and arrangement of the means; and must naturally tend to make it a fixed point of policy in the national administration to go as far as may be practicable in making the luxury of the rich tributary to the public treasury, in order to diminish the necessity of those impositions which might create dissatisfaction in the poorer and most numerous classes of the society. Happy it is when the interest which the government has in the preservation of its own power, coincides with a proper distribution of the public burdens, and tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from oppression!

As to poll taxes, I, without scruple, confess my disapprobation of them; and though they have prevailed from an early period in those States [1] which have uniformly been the most tenacious of their rights, I should lament to see them introduced into practice under the national government. But does it follow because there is a power to lay them that they will actually be laid? Every State in the Union has power to impose taxes of this kind; and yet in several of them they are unknown in practice. Are the State governments to be stigmatized as tyrannies, because they possess this power? If they are not, with what propriety can the like power justify such a charge against the national government, or even be urged as an obstacle to its adoption? As little friendly as I am to the species of imposition, I still feel a thorough conviction that the power of having recourse to it ought to exist in the federal government. There are certain emergencies of nations, in which expedients, that in the ordinary state of things ought to be forborne, become essential to the public weal. And the government, from the possibility of such emergencies, ought ever to have the option of making use of them. The real scarcity of objects in this country, which may be considered as productive sources of revenue, is a reason peculiar to itself, for not abridging the discretion of the national councils in this respect. There may exist certain critical and tempestuous conjunctures of the State, in which a poll tax may become an inestimable resource. And as I know nothing to exempt this portion of the globe from the common calamities that have befallen other parts of it, I acknowledge my aversion to every project that is calculated to disarm the government of a single weapon, which in any possible contingency might be usefully employed for the general defense and security.

I have now gone through the examination of such of the powers proposed to be vested in the United States, which may be considered as having an immediate relation to the energy of the government; and have endeavored to answer the principal objections which have been made to them. I have passed over in silence those minor authorities, which are either too inconsiderable to have been thought worthy of the hostilities of the opponents of the Constitution, or of too manifest propriety to admit of controversy. The mass of judiciary power, however, might have claimed an investigation under this head, had it not been for the consideration that its organization and its extent may be more advantageously considered in connection. This has determined me to refer it to the branch of our inquiries upon which we shall next enter.


Another great day for Constituting America as Janine and Juliette continue their Constituting America East Coast Tour!

Today I had the privilege of joining Janine at the DC FOX Studios, where she taped an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday.  Janine will be featured as Power Player of the Week this Sunday, June 20. Click here to check your local listings for airtime!

I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.  As founder and Co-Chair of Constituting America, Janine has put her visionary idea into action, and is making a difference at the most fundamental level of our political system.  She is reminding us of our roots, inspiring us to learn about the Constitution, and the founding principles of our government.   I am honored to serve as co-chair of this effort with her, and am looking forward to seeing her as Power Player of the Week this Sunday!

Regarding tonight’s Federalist Paper No. 36:

Barrels of ink in the Federalist Papers were devoted to taxes – a sensitive subject for our forefathers.  Taxation without representation had been one of the causes of the American Revolution, and Publius obviously saw taxation as an issue that could derail ratification if not sufficiently understood.

Taxes are no less sensitive an issue for the public today.  Many a candidate has lost an election after being accused of raising taxes, wanting to raise taxes, or not paying his taxes!

In Federalist 36, Hamilton closes out a seven part series of explaining the federal and the states’ role in taxation, as well as defends the Constitution and the structure and powers set out for taxation.  Again and again through this seven part series it is evident that Hamilton could not have predicted the size and scope of today’s federal government, and the tax burden it puts on the American people.

Hamilton had envisioned minimal state taxes:

“When the particular debts of the States are done away, and their expenses come to be limited within their natural compass, the possibility almost of interference will vanish. A small land tax will answer the purpose of the States, and will be their most simple and most fit resource.”

However, states tax much more than land these days!  Only nine states don’t have a state income tax!  What happened?  One contributing factor to the ever increasing taxes at the state level are unfunded federal mandates, another way the federal government has crept slowly across Constitutional boundaries. As I was doing a bit of research for tonight’s essay, I stumbled upon a fascinating website:

The National Conference of State Legislators, Standing Committee on Budgets and Review has a section on their website called Mandate Monitor .  Unfunded federal mandates are tracked and catalogued on this site.  The most recent edition of the unfunded federal mandates list can be downloaded on this link:

Check out this weblink and list to see how much and what kind of burden our federal government is putting on the states!

As Jesse reminded us tonight, and as Janine likes to say: “Knowledge is power!”

Please continue to spread the word about Constituting America, our 90 in 90: History Holds the Key to the Future Blog, and the We The People 9.17 Contest for Kids! Please invite your friends to join us in our educational journey!

Thank you to all who are participating with us on the 90 in 90 Blog! Your voice is important, and we thank you for your gift of time, and your well thought out contributions.

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Howdy from Washington, D.C. and Mt. Vernon! Cathy, Juliette and I had another busy day Constituting America. We meet with some grassroots groups to get the word out about our Constitution and then we traveled to Fox News to tape a segment for Fox News Sunday! So be sure to set your Tivo to Fox News Sunday. It will air on local Fox and the Fox News Channel this Sunday!

I know that Federalist Papers N0. 35 and 36 are primarily dealing with taxes but I am rather intrigued with some other statements that are made by Alexander Hamilton about the prerequisites of a Congressional representative. I am struck by the lack of bias in his predetermination of the qualities of a representative.

“But even if we could suppose a distinction of interest between the opulent landowner, and the middling farmer, what reason is there to conclude, that the first would stand a better chance of being deputed to the national legislature than the last.”

“Where the qualifications of the electors are the same, whether they have to choose a small or large number,
their votes will fall upon those in whom they have the most confidence; whether these happen to be men of large fortunes or of moderate property or of no property at all.”

“There are strong minds in every walk of life, that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit, not only from the classes to which they particularly belong, but from the society in general. The door ought to be equally open to all.”

This paragraphs, and especially the last, best represents the greatness of America – that in America any person of a strong mind may rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and command the tribute due to their merit.
This, of course, was the personal journey of Alexander Hamilton. (I wrote about his mother in my book, “Holding Her Head High.) This was, also, the promise for the American people from a new nation in its embryonic stage. This was the promise that had germinated in the minds of our forefathers, men who, in their own right, deserve merit and study. They were men who had the brilliant insights, the reverence for Divine Providence and the fortitude to bring both the awareness of inalienable rights and the freedom to dream to fruition.

It is hard for us, who experience our freedoms daily with an ease that parallels the involuntary rhythm of breathing, to fathom the journey our ancestors bridged into the age of enlightenment. We have to stand back and really absorb their air to truly comprehend the magnitude and genius of their visions.

It is an honor to read our United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers. It is a door equally open to all, as are opportunities of every genre.

Let’s keep it that way.

God Bless,

Janine Turner

June 16, 2010

Guest Essayist: Attorney Janice R. Brenman

Federalist 36: A Final Word on Taxes

The Federalist Papers contains seven entries specifically addressing how our fledgling nation was to handle the delicate and potentially volatile issue of taxation.  Having touched upon Essay #30 dealing with taxation previously, let’s bookend the topic with a brief synopsis of #36  it is focusing specifically with the central government’s power of taxation: “The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation.”

The challenge of taxing a wide number of people fairly lies in the ability to ascertain who and how much to tax.  Hamilton stressed the need for a non-oppressive tax code; one which reflects the interests of diverse individuals, ranging from merchants to carpenters to blacksmiths to lawyers.  It was his hope that each individual would see the need to contribute a portion of their resources to insure continued economic growth, keeping safe a nation poised to give them the privilege of practicing trades as they saw fit and that they would be therefore more willing to comply with the taxing authority.

As Hamilton has observed, a government can be potentially be too efficient when it comes to preserving the power it has by attempting to take more power.  A heavy handed taxing authority would be an example of this. Therefore, it would be preferred to collect monies from a wide swath of workers, while simultaneously shielding the “least wealthy part of the community from oppression.”  As the nation was deemed to be a representative republic, congressional representatives selected locally should represent each district to the national government.  Ideally areas with more residents would contribute a bigger share of taxes than those which were more rural.

Hamilton vehemently opposed poll taxes whereby a “head tax” was equally levied on every adult in the community.  Though poll taxes can raise large sums of money, Hamilton criticized them as unfair burdens and would “lament to see them introduced into practice under the national government.”   Poll taxes survived in the Deep South many years until deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court when they were used to limit the franchise.

The taxation issue and related debates have been around for a while.  Disputes involving taxation upon the populace have existed between democratic governments as well as despotic ones.  It is Hamilton’s view that a central taxing authority was necessary for economic growth of the Nation as a whole and for the new government to be able to effectively carry out its duties.

For a country that has gone through so many economic cycles, through boom and bust, one can only wonder how Hamilton would have kept our budgets balanced today, since our government has taken on so many more responsibilities and duties than he ever would have imagined.  The size and scope of government today not only contributes to the present recession, it approaches a near crisis level of debt.   Maybe it seems simplistic, but limited government focusing on specific tasks specially authorized in the Constitution would put our nation in a much stronger financial position and ensure individual liberty for all American.

Ms. Janice R. Brenman is a former prosecutor now in private practice in Los Angeles. She has commented in major legal publications on the subject of legal reform and celebrity influence on the legal system. She has also appeared in medical malpractice, products liability and complex civil litigation, and is well versed in all forms of discovery.  From 1999 to 2000, Ms. Brenman was a City Prosecutor and Community Preservationist. She clerked for the Honorable Rupert J. Groh, Jr., of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Ms. Brenman also worked researching, writing and editing under a Nobel Prize winning laureate.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010