Other Defects of the Present Confederation
For the Independent Journal.
Wednesday, December 12, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

HAVING in the three last numbers taken a summary review of the principal
circumstances and events which have depicted the genius and fate of
other confederate governments, I shall now proceed in the enumeration of
the most important of those defects which have hitherto disappointed our
hopes from the system established among ourselves. To form a safe and
satisfactory judgment of the proper remedy, it is absolutely necessary
that we should be well acquainted with the extent and malignity of the

The next most palpable defect of the subsisting Confederation, is the
total want of a SANCTION to its laws. The United States, as now
composed, have no powers to exact obedience, or punish disobedience to
their resolutions, either by pecuniary mulcts, by a suspension or
divestiture of privileges, or by any other constitutional mode. There is
no express delegation of authority to them to use force against
delinquent members; and if such a right should be ascribed to the
federal head, as resulting from the nature of the social compact between
the States, it must be by inference and construction, in the face of
that part of the second article, by which it is declared, "that each
State shall retain every power, jurisdiction, and right, not EXPRESSLY
delegated to the United States in Congress assembled." There is,
doubtless, a striking absurdity in supposing that a right of this kind
does not exist, but we are reduced to the dilemma either of embracing
that supposition, preposterous as it may seem, or of contravening or
explaining away a provision, which has been of late a repeated theme of
the eulogies of those who oppose the new Constitution; and the want of
which, in that plan, has been the subject of much plausible
animadversion, and severe criticism. If we are unwilling to impair the
force of this applauded provision, we shall be obliged to conclude, that
the United States afford the extraordinary spectacle of a government
destitute even of the shadow of constitutional power to enforce the
execution of its own laws. It will appear, from the specimens which have
been cited, that the American Confederacy, in this particular, stands
discriminated from every other institution of a similar kind, and
exhibits a new and unexampled phenomenon in the political world.

The want of a mutual guaranty of the State governments is another
capital imperfection in the federal plan. There is nothing of this kind
declared in the articles that compose it; and to imply a tacit guaranty
from considerations of utility, would be a still more flagrant departure
from the clause which has been mentioned, than to imply a tacit power of
coercion from the like considerations. The want of a guaranty, though it
might in its consequences endanger the Union, does not so immediately
attack its existence as the want of a constitutional sanction to its

Without a guaranty the assistance to be derived from the Union in
repelling those domestic dangers which may sometimes threaten the
existence of the State constitutions, must be renounced. Usurpation may
rear its crest in each State, and trample upon the liberties of the
people, while the national government could legally do nothing more than
behold its encroachments with indignation and regret. A successful
faction may erect a tyranny on the ruins of order and law, while no
succor could constitutionally be afforded by the Union to the friends
and supporters of the government. The tempestuous situation from which
Massachusetts has scarcely emerged, evinces that dangers of this kind
are not merely speculative. Who can determine what might have been the
issue of her late convulsions, if the malcontents had been headed by a
Caesar or by a Cromwell? Who can predict what effect a despotism,
established in Massachusetts, would have upon the liberties of New
Hampshire or Rhode Island, of Connecticut or New York?

The inordinate pride of State importance has suggested to some minds an
objection to the principle of a guaranty in the federal government, as
involving an officious interference in the domestic concerns of the
members. A scruple of this kind would deprive us of one of the principal
advantages to be expected from union, and can only flow from a
misapprehension of the nature of the provision itself. It could be no
impediment to reforms of the State constitution by a majority of the
people in a legal and peaceable mode. This right would remain
undiminished. The guaranty could only operate against changes to be
effected by violence. Towards the preventions of calamities of this
kind, too many checks cannot be provided. The peace of society and the
stability of government depend absolutely on the efficacy of the
precautions adopted on this head. Where the whole power of the
government is in the hands of the people, there is the less pretense for
the use of violent remedies in partial or occasional distempers of the
State. The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or
representative constitution, is a change of men. A guaranty by the
national authority would be as much levelled against the usurpations of
rulers as against the ferments and outrages of faction and sedition in
the community.

The principle of regulating the contributions of the States to the
common treasury by QUOTAS is another fundamental error in the
Confederation. Its repugnancy to an adequate supply of the national
exigencies has been already pointed out, and has sufficiently appeared
from the trial which has been made of it. I speak of it now solely with
a view to equality among the States. Those who have been accustomed to
contemplate the circumstances which produce and constitute national
wealth, must be satisfied that there is no common standard or barometer
by which the degrees of it can be ascertained. Neither the value of
lands, nor the numbers of the people, which have been successively
proposed as the rule of State contributions, has any pretension to being
a just representative. If we compare the wealth of the United
Netherlands with that of Russia or Germany, or even of France, and if we
at the same time compare the total value of the lands and the aggregate
population of that contracted district with the total value of the lands
and the aggregate population of the immense regions of either of the
three last-mentioned countries, we shall at once discover that there is
no comparison between the proportion of either of these two objects and
that of the relative wealth of those nations. If the like parallel were
to be run between several of the American States, it would furnish a
like result. Let Virginia be contrasted with North Carolina,
Pennsylvania with Connecticut, or Maryland with New Jersey, and we shall
be convinced that the respective abilities of those States, in relation
to revenue, bear little or no analogy to their comparative stock in
lands or to their comparative population. The position may be equally
illustrated by a similar process between the counties of the same State.
No man who is acquainted with the State of New York will doubt that the
active wealth of King's County bears a much greater proportion to that
of Montgomery than it would appear to be if we should take either the
total value of the lands or the total number of the people as a

The wealth of nations depends upon an infinite variety of causes.
Situation, soil, climate, the nature of the productions, the nature of
the government, the genius of the citizens, the degree of information
they possess, the state of commerce, of arts, of industry, these
circumstances and many more, too complex, minute, or adventitious to
admit of a particular specification, occasion differences hardly
conceivable in the relative opulence and riches of different countries.
The consequence clearly is that there can be no common measure of
national wealth, and, of course, no general or stationary rule by which
the ability of a state to pay taxes can be determined. The attempt,
therefore, to regulate the contributions of the members of a confederacy
by any such rule, cannot fail to be productive of glaring inequality and
extreme oppression.

This inequality would of itself be sufficient in America to work the
eventual destruction of the Union, if any mode of enforcing a compliance
with its requisitions could be devised. The suffering States would not
long consent to remain associated upon a principle which distributes the
public burdens with so unequal a hand, and which was calculated to
impoverish and oppress the citizens of some States, while those of
others would scarcely be conscious of the small proportion of the weight
they were required to sustain. This, however, is an evil inseparable
from the principle of quotas and requisitions.

There is no method of steering clear of this inconvenience, but by
authorizing the national government to raise its own revenues in its own
way. Imposts, excises, and, in general, all duties upon articles of
consumption, may be compared to a fluid, which will, in time, find its
level with the means of paying them. The amount to be contributed by
each citizen will in a degree be at his own option, and can be regulated
by an attention to his resources. The rich may be extravagant, the poor
can be frugal; and private oppression may always be avoided by a
judicious selection of objects proper for such impositions. If
inequalities should arise in some States from duties on particular
objects, these will, in all probability, be counterbalanced by
proportional inequalities in other States, from the duties on other
objects. In the course of time and things, an equilibrium, as far as it
is attainable in so complicated a subject, will be established
everywhere. Or, if inequalities should still exist, they would neither
be so great in their degree, so uniform in their operation, nor so
odious in their appearance, as those which would necessarily spring from
quotas, upon any scale that can possibly be devised.

It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they
contain in their own nature a security against excess. They prescribe
their own limit; which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end
proposed, that is, an extension of the revenue. When applied to this
object, the saying is as just as it is witty, that, "in political
arithmetic, two and two do not always make four." If duties are too
high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the
product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within
proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any
material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is
itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.

Impositions of this kind usually fall under the denomination of indirect
taxes, and must for a long time constitute the chief part of the revenue
raised in this country. Those of the direct kind, which principally
relate to land and buildings, may admit of a rule of apportionment.
Either the value of land, or the number of the people, may serve as a
standard. The state of agriculture and the populousness of a country
have been considered as nearly connected with each other. And, as a
rule, for the purpose intended, numbers, in the view of simplicity and
certainty, are entitled to a preference. In every country it is a
herculean task to obtain a valuation of the land; in a country
imperfectly settled and progressive in improvement, the difficulties are
increased almost to impracticability. The expense of an accurate
valuation is, in all situations, a formidable objection. In a branch of
taxation where no limits to the discretion of the government are to be
found in the nature of things, the establishment of a fixed rule, not
incompatible with the end, may be attended with fewer inconveniences
than to leave that discretion altogether at large.