Federalist 36 – Hamilton

We have finally reached the end of the first part of the Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton winds down a rather long discourse on the taxing powers in Federalist 36, while also laying down his ideas on what kinds of representatives the new republic will elect.  Generally speaking, he envisions a representative class consisting of “proprietors of land, of merchants, and of members of the learned professions.”  Alas, if he has simply said “lawyers” he’d capture a good chunk of the modern representative class.  He also elaborates on why there is no need to have an overly large number of representatives.

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. (more…)

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 36 – Hamilton  
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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. (more…)

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 35 – Hamilton  
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Federalist 34 – Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton continues his long train of articles on the subject of taxation in Federalist 34.  He trods much of the same ground that he covered earlier, again defending the idea that the states and the federal government have concurrent taxing powers.  He uses an example from Roman times to justify the idea that such a concurrent power can truly exist.

There is one element of this paper that deserves close attention.  An underlying theme of this particular number is the idea that the Constitution is meant to endure.  This is not an inconsequential notion.  There were those – Thomas Jefferson, for instance – who posited that constitutions should be re-formed and redone frequently.   I think that Hamilton’s words merit great attention, because they demonstrate that the Framers did believe that they were penning a constitution meant to endure for quite a long period of time.

Here is the key passage:


Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 1:21 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 34 – Hamilton  
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Federalist 33 – Hamilton

In Federalist 33, Hamilton tackles the issue of the necessary and proper clause.  Before delving into this essay, it’s worth noting that this clause would be the impetus behind the first major debate between the two principle authors of the Federalist Papers.  One of Hamilton’s first proposals as Secretary of the Treasury was the creation of a National Bank, a measure opposed by Madison.  Hamilton’s defense of the Bank revolved principally around a rather generous interpretation of the necessary and proper clause, something to keep in mind while reading this paper.

Hamilton largely dismisses the (in his mind) overwrought criticism of this clause, stating that it is merely declaratory.

They are only declaratory of a truth which would have resulted by necessary and unavoidable implication from the very act of constituting a federal government, and vesting it with certain specified powers. (more…)

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 33 – Hamilton  
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Federalist 32 – Hamilton

On the surface, Federalist 32 is a relatively minor work within the collection of essays written by Hamilton and Madison.  Yet this piece offers readers a very good insight into Alexander Hamilton’s mode of constitutional interpretation.

This essay is largely concerned with the concurrent taxation powers of the federal and state governments.  Hamilton rebuffs the idea that the states would be deprived of most of their taxing power, arguing instead that the Constitution leaves the states with the power tax most anything except where expressly prohibited.

He begins the essay with a subject that would be debated for years by Civil War historians.

An entire consolidation of the States into one complete national sovereignty would imply an entire subordination of the parts; and whatever powers might remain in them, would be altogether dependent on the general will. But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, exclusively delegated to the United States. (more…)

Federalist 31 – Hamilton

Through the first thirty essays that we have covered, there have been plenty of examples of Hamilton’s penetrating logical analysis.  He had an ability to take issues and examine them point-by-point (almost like a modern-day blogger).  He was one of the greatest minds ever produced by America (or nearby islands). There have also been several example of Hamilton’s rhetorical excess.  He had an amazing ability to, in effect, completely dismiss his opponents’ arguments through grandiose rhetorical flourishes.  The reader is bedazzled by the weight of Hamilton’s words, but in the end all he has done is call his opponents stupid or crazy – but in a very elegant fashion.

Federalist 31 would be one of those works of great rhetorical excess, though it has a few moments of keen insight.

The first time I read this essay, I was somewhat befuddled by the opening paragraphs.   Hamilton embarks on a rather wordy philosophical disquisition about geometric and theoretical certainty.    This prologue – which runs to 526 words by my count – essentially serves to set up a zinger.

How else could it happen (if we admit the objectors to be sincere in their opposition), that positions so clear as those which manifest the necessity of a general power of taxation in the government of the Union, should have to encounter any adversaries among men of discernment?

Hamilton took a very long time to baldly assert that the “manifest the necessity of a general power of taxation in the government of the Union” was, in essence, a self-evident truth that only an ignoramus could possibly deny.

As alluded to above, Hamilton would have made an excellent blogger.

There is a bit more to this essay.  Hamilton makes a very sound logical case regarding the necessity of taxation:

A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.

As the duties of superintending the national defense and of securing the public peace against foreign or domestic violence involve a provision for casualties and dangers to which no possible limits can be assigned, the power of making that provision ought to know no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community. As revenue is the essential engine by which the means of answering the national exigencies must be procured, the power of procuring that article in its full extent must necessarily be comprehended in that of providing for those exigencies.

As theory and practice conspire to prove that the power of procuring revenue is unavailing when exercised over the States in their collective capacities, the federal government must of necessity be invested with an unqualified power of taxation in the ordinary modes.

To put it more succinctly: the government needs to have some self-sustaining power to execute its laws, and there must be some method by which the government can draw revenues to sustain the national defense; therefore the government must have “unqualified power of taxation.”

Hamilton proceeds to knock down the counter-argument.  As he has done in previous entries, Hamilton dismisses the fears held by the Anti-Federalists about federal usurpation of state authority.

The moment we launch into conjectures about the usurpations of the federal government, we get into an unfathomable abyss, and fairly put ourselves out of the reach of all reasoning. Imagination may range at pleasure till it gets bewildered amidst the labyrinths of an enchanted castle, and knows not on which side to turn to extricate itself from the perplexities into which it has so rashly adventured. Whatever may be the limits or modifications of the powers of the Union, it is easy to imagine an endless train of possible dangers; and by indulging an excess of jealousy and timidity, we may bring ourselves to a state of absolute scepticism and irresolution.

Long story short: don’t worry your silly heads off.  Everything is going to be all right.

Hamilton then repeats another argument made elsewhere: the federal government has more to fear from the states than vice versa.

It should not be forgotten that a disposition in the State governments to encroach upon the rights of the Union is quite as probable as a disposition in the Union to encroach upon the rights of the State governments. What side would be likely to prevail in such a conflict, must depend on the means which the contending parties could employ toward insuring success. As in republics strength is always on the side of the people, and as there are weighty reasons to induce a belief that the State governments will commonly possess most influence over them, the natural conclusion is that such contests will be most apt to end to the disadvantage of the Union; and that there is greater probability of encroachments by the members upon the federal head, than by the federal head upon the members. But it is evident that all conjectures of this kind must be extremely vague and fallible: and that it is by far the safest course to lay them altogether aside, and to confine our attention wholly to the nature and extent of the powers as they are delineated in the Constitution. Every thing beyond this must be left to the prudence and firmness of the people; who, as they will hold the scales in their own hands, it is to be hoped, will always take care to preserve the constitutional equilibrium between the general and the State governments. Upon this ground, which is evidently the true one, it will not be difficult to obviate the objections which have been made to an indefinite power of taxation in the United States.

Hamilton’s objective over the next few papers is to obviate these objections, and we will examine these shortly.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 31 – Hamilton  

Federalist 30 – Hamilton

Having spent the better part of a half-dozen or so essays discussing matters of national defense,  Alexander Hamilton turns his attention to what should be considered his primary motivation for supporting the proposed Constitution: commerce, and in particular the taxing power.  The confederate government proved completely ineffectual in raising necessary funds to support the government, and the US Constitution largely corrected the deficiencies of the old system.  Here Hamilton defends the taxing power granted to the federal government as a necessary means of keeping the Nation solvent.

Hamilton begins by noting that the spending authority granted to the federal government by the Constitution necessitates the ability to tax in order to support said spending.


Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 30 – Hamilton  

Federalist 29 – Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton continues his series of papers concerning military matters with Federalist 29.  Here he turns his attention to the militia.  It is an essay that demonstrates how Hamilton’s own Revolutionary War experience influenced his thinking on such matters.  Hamilton and Washington frequently expressed their frustration with the military’s disorganization, and as such this is a subject near and dear to Hamilton’s heart.  This background informs Hamilton’s desire to create a centralized command structure, as explained in this first significant paragraph.

It requires no skill in the science of war to discern that uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia would be attended with the most beneficial effects, whenever they were called into service for the public defense. It would enable them to discharge the duties of the camp and of the field with mutual intelligence and concert an advantage of peculiar moment in the operations of an army; and it would fit them much sooner to acquire the degree of proficiency in military functions which would be essential to their usefulness. This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by congress. (more…)

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 2:32 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 29 – Hamilton  

Federalist 28 – Alexander Hamilton

In the 28th Federalist Paper, Alexander Hamilton continues to discourse on national defense and the fears of a standing army.  In this essay Hamilton seems to skirt between two extremes.  He seeks to promote the national government as the surest defender of peace and security, and yet he also wants to assuage fears that it will grow too powerful.  In other words, the government under this system will be strong enough to suppress rebellion, but it won’t be so powerful that it tyrannize the population.

Hamilton begins by observing that disruptions of the public safety are inevitable.  As he writes, “seditions and insurrections are, unhappily, maladies as inseparable from the body politic as tumors and eruptions from the natural body.”  American history is somewhat happy in this regard, though there have always been moments of extreme unrest.  But from the perspective of Alexander Hamilton writing towards the end of the 18th century, it was inconceivable to think that there would be long periods of civil content.  Hamilton suggests that the large body of the public would support the government’s attempts to put down the insurgency so long as the majority had not lost confidence in the government.

The major fear is that a significant outbreak of rebellion could occur, and this would require a different sort of force. (more…)

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 28 – Alexander Hamilton  
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Federalist 27 – Hamilton

In Federalist 27, Alexander Hamilton seeks to answer the charge that the Constitution “cannot operate without the aid of a military force to execute its laws.”  In other words, American citizens will obey the Constitution only at the point of gun.  Hamilton refutes this idea, suggesting along the way that the people of the United States will come to respect the Federal government to such a degree that they will obey the government’s dictates.  As he puts it:

Unless we presume at the same time that the powers of the general government will be worse administered than those of the State government, there seems to be no room for the presumption of ill-will, disaffection, or opposition in the people. I believe it may be laid down as a general rule that their confidence in and obedience to a government will commonly be proportioned to the goodness or badness of its administration.

Loyalty to the government will thus hinge in some fashion on how well-administered it is.  This being a historical blog, I will forgo the ample number of snide comments about current affairs that are crossing my mind at the moment.

Hamilton discusses the likelihood that the “general government will be better administered than the particular governments, and summarizes the arguments in favor of this supposition.  He goes on to say:

It will be sufficient here to remark, that until satisfactory reasons can be assigned to justify an opinion, that the federal government is likely to be administered in such a manner as to render it odious or contemptible to the people, there can be no reasonable foundation for the supposition that the laws of the Union will meet with any greater obstruction from them, or will stand in need of any other methods to enforce their execution, than the laws of the particular members.

Hamilton predicts that as the general government has more day-to-day interactions with the people, it will draw from the masses a greater deal of respect and fealty.

I will, in this place, hazard an observation, which will not be the less just because to some it may appear new; which is, that the more the operations of the national authority are intermingled in the ordinary exercise of government, the more the citizens are accustomed to meet with it in the common occurrences of their political life, the more it is familiarized to their sight and to their feelings, the further it enters into those objects which touch the most sensible chords and put in motion the most active springs of the human heart, the greater will be the probability that it will conciliate the respect and attachment of the community. Man is very much a creature of habit. A thing that rarely strikes his senses will generally have but little influence upon his mind. A government continually at a distance and out of sight can hardly be expected to interest the sensations of the people. The inference is, that the authority of the Union, and the affections of the citizens towards it, will be strengthened, rather than weakened, by its extension to what are called matters of internal concern; and will have less occasion to recur to force, in proportion to the familiarity and comprehensiveness of its agency. The more it circulates through those channls and currents in which the passions of mankind naturally flow, the less will it require the aid of the violent and perilous expedients of compulsion.

No doubt IRS agents will cheerily assent to this characterization.  And after all, who is more loved than a federal bureaucrat?

Finally, the federal government will be able to employ state authorities to carry out its objectives.  This will be yet another inducement to popular attachments.

The plan reported by the convention, by extending the authority of the federal head to the individual citizens of the several States, will enable the government to employ the ordinary magistracy of each, in the execution of its laws. It is easy to perceive that this will tend to destroy, in the common apprehension, all distinction between the sources from which they might proceed; and will give the federal government the same advantage for securing a due obedience to its authority which is enjoyed by the government of each State, in addition to the influence on public opinion which will result from the important consideration of its having power to call to its assistance and support the resources of the whole Union. It merits particular attention in this place, that the laws of the Confederacy, as to the enumerated and legitimate objects of its jurisdiction, will become the supreme law of the land; to the observance of which all officers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in each State, will be bound by the sanctity of an oath. Thus the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends; and will be rendered auxiliary to the enforcement of its laws.

A thoroughly fascinating essay that proves, if nothing else, that even the greatest thinkers sometimes miss very, very badly.

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 27 – Hamilton  
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