The Utility of the Union In Respect to Revenue
From the New York Packet.
Tuesday, November 27, 1787.


To the People of the State of New York:

THE effects of Union upon the commercial prosperity of the States have
been sufficiently delineated. Its tendency to promote the interests of
revenue will be the subject of our present inquiry.

The prosperity of commerce is now perceived and acknowledged by all
enlightened statesmen to be the most useful as well as the most
productive source of national wealth, and has accordingly become a
primary object of their political cares. By multipying the means of
gratification, by promoting the introduction and circulation of the
precious metals, those darling objects of human avarice and enterprise,
it serves to vivify and invigorate the channels of industry, and to make
them flow with greater activity and copiousness. The assiduous merchant,
the laborious husbandman, the active mechanic, and the industrious
manufacturer, -- all orders of men, look forward with eager expectation
and growing alacrity to this pleasing reward of their toils. The
often-agitated question between agriculture and commerce has, from
indubitable experience, received a decision which has silenced the
rivalship that once subsisted between them, and has proved, to the
satisfaction of their friends, that their interests are intimately
blended and interwoven. It has been found in various countries that, in
proportion as commerce has flourished, land has risen in value. And how
could it have happened otherwise? Could that which procures a freer vent
for the products of the earth, which furnishes new incitements to the
cultivation of land, which is the most powerful instrument in increasing
the quantity of money in a state -- could that, in fine, which is the
faithful handmaid of labor and industry, in every shape, fail to augment
that article, which is the prolific parent of far the greatest part of
the objects upon which they are exerted? It is astonishing that so
simple a truth should ever have had an adversary; and it is one, among a
multitude of proofs, how apt a spirit of ill-informed jealousy, or of
too great abstraction and refinement, is to lead men astray from the
plainest truths of reason and conviction.

The ability of a country to pay taxes must always be proportioned, in a
great degree, to the quantity of money in circulation, and to the
celerity with which it circulates. Commerce, contributing to both these
objects, must of necessity render the payment of taxes easier, and
facilitate the requisite supplies to the treasury. The hereditary
dominions of the Emperor of Germany contain a great extent of fertile,
cultivated, and populous territory, a large proportion of which is
situated in mild and luxuriant climates. In some parts of this territory
are to be found the best gold and silver mines in Europe. And yet, from
the want of the fostering influence of commerce, that monarch can boast
but slender revenues. He has several times been compelled to owe
obligations to the pecuniary succors of other nations for the
preservation of his essential interests, and is unable, upon the
strength of his own resources, to sustain a long or continued war.

But it is not in this aspect of the subject alone that Union will be
seen to conduce to the purpose of revenue. There are other points of
view, in which its influence will appear more immediate and decisive. It
is evident from the state of the country, from the habits of the people,
from the experience we have had on the point itself, that it is
impracticable to raise any very considerable sums by direct taxation.
Tax laws have in vain been multiplied; new methods to enforce the
collection have in vain been tried; the public expectation has been
uniformly disappointed, and the treasuries of the States have remained
empty. The popular system of administration inherent in the nature of
popular government, coinciding with the real scarcity of money incident
to a languid and mutilated state of trade, has hitherto defeated every
experiment for extensive collections, and has at length taught the
different legislatures the folly of attempting them.

No person acquainted with what happens in other countries will be
surprised at this circumstance. In so opulent a nation as that of
Britain, where direct taxes from superior wealth must be much more
tolerable, and, from the vigor of the government, much more practicable,
than in America, far the greatest part of the national revenue is
derived from taxes of the indirect kind, from imposts, and from excises.
Duties on imported articles form a large branch of this latter

In America, it is evident that we must a long time depend for the means
of revenue chiefly on such duties. In most parts of it, excises must be
confined within a narrow compass. The genius of the people will ill
brook the inquisitive and peremptory spirit of excise laws. The pockets
of the farmers, on the other hand, will reluctantly yield but scanty
supplies, in the unwelcome shape of impositions on their houses and
lands; and personal property is too precarious and invisible a fund to
be laid hold of in any other way than by the inperceptible agency of
taxes on consumption.

If these remarks have any foundation, that state of things which will
best enable us to improve and extend so valuable a resource must be best
adapted to our political welfare. And it cannot admit of a serious
doubt, that this state of things must rest on the basis of a general
Union. As far as this would be conducive to the interests of commerce,
so far it must tend to the extension of the revenue to be drawn from
that source. As far as it would contribute to rendering regulations for
the collection of the duties more simple and efficacious, so far it must
serve to answer the purposes of making the same rate of duties more
productive, and of putting it into the power of the government to
increase the rate without prejudice to trade.

The relative situation of these States; the number of rivers with which
they are intersected, and of bays that wash there shores; the facility
of communication in every direction; the affinity of language and
manners; the familiar habits of intercourse; -- all these are
circumstances that would conspire to render an illicit trade between
them a matter of little difficulty, and would insure frequent evasions
of the commercial regulations of each other. The separate States or
confederacies would be necessitated by mutual jealousy to avoid the
temptations to that kind of trade by the lowness of their duties. The
temper of our governments, for a long time to come, would not permit
those rigorous precautions by which the European nations guard the
avenues into their respective countries, as well by land as by water;
and which, even there, are found insufficient obstacles to the
adventurous stratagems of avarice.

In France, there is an army of patrols (as they are called) constantly
employed to secure their fiscal regulations against the inroads of the
dealers in contraband trade. Mr. Neckar computes the number of these
patrols at upwards of twenty thousand. This shows the immense difficulty
in preventing that species of traffic, where there is an inland
communication, and places in a strong light the disadvantages with which
the collection of duties in this country would be encumbered, if by
disunion the States should be placed in a situation, with respect to
each other, resembling that of France with respect to her neighbors. The
arbitrary and vexatious powers with which the patrols are necessarily
armed, would be intolerable in a free country.

If, on the contrary, there be but one government pervading all the
States, there will be, as to the principal part of our commerce, but ONE
SIDE to guard -- the ATLANTIC COAST. Vessels arriving directly from
foreign countries, laden with valuable cargoes, would rarely choose to
hazard themselves to the complicated and critical perils which would
attend attempts to unlade prior to their coming into port. They would
have to dread both the dangers of the coast, and of detection, as well
after as before their arrival at the places of their final destination.
An ordinary degree of vigilance would be competent to the prevention of
any material infractions upon the rights of the revenue. A few armed
vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a
small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws. And the government
having the same interest to provide against violations everywhere, the
co-operation of its measures in each State would have a powerful
tendency to render them effectual. Here also we should preserve by
Union, an advantage which nature holds out to us, and which would be
relinquished by separation. The United States lie at a great distance
from Europe, and at a considerable distance from all other places with
which they would have extensive connections of foreign trade. The
passage from them to us, in a few hours, or in a single night, as
between the coasts of France and Britain, and of other neighboring
nations, would be impracticable. This is a prodigious security against a
direct contraband with foreign countries; but a circuitous contraband to
one State, through the medium of another, would be both easy and safe.
The difference between a direct importation from abroad, and an indirect
importation through the channel of a neighboring State, in small
parcels, according to time and opportunity, with the additional
facilities of inland communication, must be palpable to every man of

It is therefore evident, that one national government would be able, at
much less expense, to extend the duties on imports, beyond comparison,
further than would be practicable to the States separately, or to any
partial confederacies. Hitherto, I believe, it may safely be asserted,
that these duties have not upon an average exceeded in any State three
per cent. In France they are estimated to be about fifteen per cent.,
and in Britain they exceed this proportion.[1] There seems to be nothing
to hinder their being increased in this country to at least treble their
present amount. The single article of ardent spirits, under federal
regulation, might be made to furnish a considerable revenue. Upon a
ratio to the importation into this State, the whole quantity imported
into the United States may be estimated at four millions of gallons;
which, at a shilling per gallon, would produce two hundred thousand
pounds. That article would well bear this rate of duty; and if it should
tend to diminish the consumption of it, such an effect would be equally
favorable to the agriculture, to the economy, to the morals, and to the
health of the society. There is, perhaps, nothing so much a subject of
national extravagance as these spirits.

What will be the consequence, if we are not able to avail ourselves of
the resource in question in its full extent? A nation cannot long exist
without revenues. Destitute of this essential support, it must resign
its independence, and sink into the degraded condition of a province.
This is an extremity to which no government will of choice accede.
Revenue, therefore, must be had at all events. In this country, if the
principal part be not drawn from commerce, it must fall with oppressive
weight upon land. It has been already intimated that excises, in their
true signification, are too little in unison with the feelings of the
people, to admit of great use being made of that mode of taxation; nor,
indeed, in the States where almost the sole employment is agriculture,
are the objects proper for excise sufficiently numerous to permit very
ample collections in that way. Personal estate (as has been before
remarked), from the difficulty in tracing it, cannot be subjected to
large contributions, by any other means than by taxes on consumption. In
populous cities, it may be enough the subject of conjecture, to occasion
the oppression of individuals, without much aggregate benefit to the
State; but beyond these circles, it must, in a great measure, escape the
eye and the hand of the tax-gatherer. As the necessities of the State,
nevertheless, must be satisfied in some mode or other, the defect of
other resources must throw the principal weight of public burdens on the
possessors of land. And as, on the other hand, the wants of the
government can never obtain an adequate supply, unless all the sources
of revenue are open to its demands, the finances of the community, under
such embarrassments, cannot be put into a situation consistent with its
respectability or its security. Thus we shall not even have the
consolations of a full treasury, to atone for the oppression of that
valuable class of the citizens who are employed in the cultivation of
the soil. But public and private distress will keep pace with each other
in gloomy concert; and unite in deploring the infatuation of those
counsels which led to disunion.


1. If my memory be right they amount to twenty per cent.