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


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

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.][E1]

[I have now gone through the examination of those powers proposed to be
conferred upon the federal government which relate more peculiarly to
its energy, and to its efficiency for answering the great and primary
objects of union. There are others which, though omitted here, will, in
order to render the view of the subject more complete, be taken notice
of under the next head of our inquiries. I flatter myself the progress
already made will have sufficed to satisfy the candid and judicious part
of the community that some of the objections which have been most
strenuously urged against the Constitution, and which were most
formidable in their first appearance, are not only destitute of
substance, but if they had operated in the formation of the plan, would
have rendered it incompetent to the great ends of public happiness and
national prosperity. I equally flatter myself that a further and more
critical investigation of the system will serve to recommend it still
more to every sincere and disinterested advocate for good government and
will leave no doubt with men of this character of the propriety and
expediency of adopting it. Happy will it be for ourselves, and more
honorable for human nature, if we have wisdom and virtue enough to set
so glorious an example to mankind!][E1]


1. The New England States.

E1. Two versions of this paragraph appear in different editions.