Federalist 35 – Hamilton

We have finally almost reached the end of the first part of the Federalist Papers.  There are two more essays that deal with the issue of taxation, and in number 35 Hamilton describes how placing a limitation on the federal government’s taxing power would lead to great abuse of that power.

if the jurisdiction of the national government, in the article of revenue, should be restricted to particular objects, it would naturally occasion an undue proportion of the public burdens to fall upon those objects. Two evils would spring from this source: the oppression of particular branches of industry; and an unequal distribution of the taxes, as well among the several States as among the citizens of the same State.

Suppose, as has been contended for, the federal power of taxation were to be confined to duties on imports, it is evident that the government, for want of being able to command other resources, would frequently be tempted to extend these duties to an injurious excess.

If you confine the government’s sources of revenue, then the government will bleed that particular industry dry.  This will lead to the development of a black market, thus only exacerbating the problems.  It is better, therefore, to permit a broader range of tax powers so that the government doesn’t focus its attention too greedily on any one industry.  Perhaps Hamilton did not countenance the government attempting to suck everyone dry.

After discussing the inequalities that would arise to too confined a taxing power, Hamilton totally shifts course and begins talking about representation.  At first it seems he has hit upon a completely different topic, though in the end he ties it back together to the taxation issue.

First, Hamilton tackles some objections to the method of representation specified by the Constitution.

One which, if we may judge from the frequency of its repetition, seems most to be relied on, is, that the House of Representatives is not sufficiently numerous for the reception of all the different classes of citizens, in order to combine the interests and feelings of every part of the community, and to produce a due sympathy between the representative body and its constituents. This argument presents itself under a very specious and seducing form; and is well calculated to lay hold of the prejudices of those to whom it is addressed.

Hamilton counters this objection by pointing out that it is a utopian vision of representation – one that is simply impracticable.

The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people, by persons of each class, is altogether visionary. Unless it were expressly provided in the Constitution, that each different occupation should send one or more members, the thing would never take place in practice.

It is impossible to so ordain the system to ensure that each and every profession is represented.  Rather, people will choose officials that they feel can best represent their interest, regardless of whether they happen to be members of their exact profession.

These considerations, and many others that might be mentioned prove, and experience confirms it, that artisans and manufacturers will commonly be disposed to bestow their votes upon merchants and those whom they recommend. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community

He continues:

It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own number in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be the better understood and attended to. But we have seen that this will never happen under any arrangement that leaves the votes of the people free. Where this is the case, the representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of the government, will be composed of landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions. But where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these three descriptions of men? Will not the landholder know and feel whatever will promote or insure the interest of landed property? And will he not, from his own interest in that species of property, be sufficiently prone to resist every attempt to prejudice or encumber it? Will not the merchant understand and be disposed to cultivate, as far as may be proper, the interests of the mechanic and manufacturing arts, to which his commerce is so nearly allied? Will not the man of the learned profession, who will feel a neutrality to the rivalships between the different branches of industry, be likely to prove an impartial arbiter between them, ready to promote either, so far as it shall appear to him conducive to the general interests of the society?

Long story short, we do no need to Congress into a class Assembly.  People from all walks of life will ably represent their constituents so long as they pay heed to what their constituents desire.

Is it not natural that a man who is a candidate for the favor of the people, and who is dependent on the suffrages of his fellow-citizens for the continuance of his public honors, should take care to inform himself of their dispositions and inclinations, and should be willing to allow them their proper degree of influence upon his conduct? This dependence, and the necessity of being bound himself, and his posterity, by the laws to which he gives his assent, are the true, and they are the strong chords of sympathy between the representative and the constituent.

Hamilton concludes by tying this all in to taxation.  The representative will be imbued with a general sense of his constituents’ interests, and therefore will be qualified to have some say in how the purse strings are controlled.

There can be no doubt that in order to a judicious exercise of the power of taxation, it is necessary that the person in whose hands it should be acquainted with the general genius, habits, and modes of thinking of the people at large, and with the resources of the country. And this is all that can be reasonably meant by a knowledge of the interests and feelings of the people. In any other sense the proposition has either no meaning, or an absurd one. And in that sense let every considerate citizen judge for himself where the requisite qualification is most likely to be found.

Hamilton concludes this series of papers on the taxing power, and on general principles of government, in the next essay.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 35 – Hamilton  
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