Tag: Federalist Papers

Taxes, Contributions, and Impositions

Taxes, Contributions, and Impositions


It has been established that the federal government of the United States, as presently constituted, cannot act on its own but must rely on the States to carry out its every measure. And if these states are unwilling to do as the government directs them, the federal authority must compel them by force. Furthermore, to use force against the disobedient State, the government, powerless in itself, must enlist the other States to align against the delinquent and make war against one of their own.

The most ordinary and necessary decrees may be flouted and they can only be put through by resorting to civil war. The offending State may plead that they can’t comply or that they shouldn’t. They can insist that the demand is beyond their means and there is nothing they can do. They can stand on their rights and claim that they’re protecting the liberties of their own citizens and that the exactions of the federal government are unconstitutional. They will seek to paint these decrees as unfair or unjust and they will win a great deal of sympathy from their fellow States.

The other States won’t be eager to enforce demands to which they themselves are equally liable. Every disobedient or delinquent State will find others just as impatient of these unpopular measures and ready to support them in throwing off the yoke. If the federal authority is persuasive or lucky enough to find other States willing to assist them in enforcing their prerogatives, those States aligned with them may very well be outnumbered by the resisting combination.

If the recalcitrant State can’t find support among her sisters, she may appeal to foreign powers. Nations are always willing to sow dissension and turmoil within their rivals. How many claimants and pretenders has the French crown hosted over the centuries. The French didn’t stint to pay for a court in exile and to maintain these useful nuisances in the sumptuous lifestyle in keeping with royalty so long as it unsettled the English throne. Hostile powers will be just as ready to come to the aid of rebellious members of a confederacy that, if firm and united would pose a grave challenge to their own pretensions, but, if divided and weak, may also furnish a fertile ground for their ambitions.

The main point of contention between the federal and subordinate governments will always be taxation. Consider how difficult it is for a merchant, a bank, or even a government to dun a solitary debtor. They must obtain the right to pry into the debtor’s wages and holdings, and they must bring an action against him to garnish his wages or confiscate his property. It is already troublesome to shake down one puny individual, and how much more daunting must it be to collect from a sovereign state? Nations reserve the right to repudiate their debts and their creditors must usually entreat rather than compel them to repay what they owe.

When several States stand by and witness one of their own refusing to comply with a measure they themselves believe to be onerous or harmful, they will hardly be willing to attack and invade their fellow to make them obey. Instead they will be sure to quickly follow such a tempting example. If all are guilty, there is none left to compel and punish. States who don’t want to fulfill the duties imposed on them or to pay the taxes levied by a federal government don’t need to incite rebellion. Instead of fire and blood, fury and frenzy, they can take far cooler and milder courses of passive resistance. They can plead poverty. They can make excuses, temporize, delay, and befuddle. It is far easier to confuse, whither, and obfuscate than to snarl in open rebellion. And how harsh and unjust it will seem for the federal authority to prey on members who profess themselves perfectly willing but, sadly, find themselves too poor and weak to comply.

The plausibility of this objection will vanish the moment we advert to the essential difference between a mere NON COMPLIANCE and a DIRECT and ACTIVE RESISTANCE. If the interposition of the State-Legislatures be necessary to give effect to a measure of the Union, they have only, NOT TO ACT or TO ACT EVASIVELY, and the measure is defeated. The neglect of duty may be disguised under affected but unsubstantial provisions, so as not to appear, and of course not to excite the alarm in the people for the safety of the constitution. The State leaders may even make a merit of their surreptitious invasions of it, on the ground of some temporary convenience, exemption, or advantage.

But if the execution of the laws of the national government, should not require the intervention of the State Legislatures; if they were to pass into immediate operation upon the citizens themselves, the particular government could not interrupt their progress without an open and violent exertion of an unconstitutional power. No omissions, or evasions, would answer the end. They would be obliged to act, and in such a manner, as would leave no doubt but that they had encroached on the national rights.


As Hamilton foresaw, when certain States sought to champion those among their subjects who held slaves, against a federal government they perceived to be abolitionists, it was they who were called upon to be the initiators and aggressors. They invaded and occupied federal installations. They attacked and appropriated federal arsenals. They laid siege to Fort Sumter and in the anxious days that followed, it was the national government that out-waited the States. The Army offered no violence and only attempted to provision their own garrison and it was the rebels fired on them.

When they tried to find allies among the envious, greedy, and hostile powers across the sea, they sought in vain. These nations would have liked nothing more than to disable or dismember the powerful and rapidly growing republic, but the suppliants had drawn their sword against their own countrymen. They were nothing more than rebels in defiance of the law, and in service to an institution odious to the whole world.

Alliances, Confederations, and Republics

Alliances, Confederations, and Republics


Hamilton begins by reviewing the weakness of the American nation and the inconveniences and insults that follow from that weakness. He blames the Articles of Confederation but he doesn’t find fault with them, seeing provisions that are not as they should be and may be altered for the better. He holds out no hopes for improving or fixing the Articles of Confederation because they aren’t inadequate in certain particulars but they are inadequate by their very principle:

The great and radical vice in the construction of the existing Confederation is in the principle of LEGISLATION for STATES or GOVERNMENTS, in their CORPORATE or COLLECTIVE CAPACITIES and as contradistinguished from the INDIVIDUALS of whom they consist. Though this principle doesn’t run through all the powers delegated to the Union; yet it pervades and governs those, on which the efficacy of the rest depends. Except as to the rule of apportionment, the United States have an indefinite discretion to make requisitions for men or money: but they have no authority to raise either by regulations extending to the individual citizens of America. The consequence of this is, that though in theory their resolutions concerning these objects are laws, constitutionally binding on members of the Union, yet in practice they are mere recommendations, which the States observe or disregard at their discretion.

He find the present arrangement so unsatisfactory that an alliance between the several States may be no less pernicious and would at least be consistent and practicable. A man who defaults on his debts and breaks faith becomes generally distrusted and there are none who will loan him money or join with him in any enterprise. Yet countries will betray their allies and make a separate peace against the most solemn and binding assurances and they will be spurned and shunned for a period but eventually they will find other countries willing to treat with them. Before long they will be ardently courted. Why is this? Perhaps the number of nations is so few compared with the millions upon millions of men, and that there are too few for any one to be shut out in perpetuity. Perhaps an entire country will have resources and commodities that far outstrip even the wealthiest banker or industrialist.

This is true but it isn’t the reason. Nations may disavow the ministers who broke these treaties and in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world they are thus exonerated and completely innocent of any perfidy. What is more, the ministers who brought their country into dishonor are attainted as traitors. They brought disgrace upon their nation for the benefit of a few greedy souls, but their crimes are not passed down to future generations. The nation is something over and above its servants or officials.

The animate is distinguished from the inanimate because living things move themselves while inanimate bodies are moved only by forces from without. In their motions. Living things never depart from the laws of mechanics and in their obedience they are indistinguishable from the inanimate bodies around them. Yet somehow they are different and in their origins, their movements are more various and mysterious.

Similarly, the simplest organisms respond only to sensation. They come upon organic material and they absorb it to sustain their own metabolism. They act upon what they sense. Higher organisms form models of their environment and retain them, basing their behavior on these models. They don’t need to sense in order to act. They think. They can anticipate. A leopard will carry the body of an antelope he’s killed upon into a tree and wedge it between in a fork. Later it will return to that same tree. It may not be able to smell the antelope and view of the body may be obstructed by leaves. But the leopard is looking forward to enjoying a fine meal with no effort needed.

Yet because the animal is working from a model that accurately represents his environment, that model may be inaccurate. The animal may be wrong. Another leopard may have found the kill and taken it. The leopard springs up into the tree and finds nothing. He’d thought to find his dinner awaiting him but he was in error. The leopard is perplexed and disappointed by this reverse. Paramecia can never be perplexed or disappointed but leopards can be.


In comparison to adult humans, even intelligent animals and children are considered not quite fully rational. Their reason is imperfect or undeveloped. Men and women punish their pets and their children at their own discretion. The offender is being chastised by a wiser and more powerful being. But an adult holds the status of being fully rational and any punishment is a matter of law. The citizen is a rational member of the body politic and thereby has obligations and rights. Any punishment is a legal act.

When the accused stands before a judge, the judge may be wiser and more powerful, and this is often the case, but that is adventitious. The judge is the representative of the state itself. The accused must be shown to have transgressed the law and, if found guilty, will face a legal penalty.

Individuals when acting by themselves are animate and rational but acting in a collective or corporate capacities they are something more. When men and women bind themselves under law to form a state, in their collective body they become something over and above what they were as individuals. They are now the officers or citizens of a state and they are different from mere men and women just as the animate is different from the inanimate and the rational from the irrational. Their actions become policy.

A government can’t command an outside or a subordinate government as it can command a citizen. When the state commands an individual it is coercion of the magistries while to command another government it is coercion by arms. Coercion by the magistries is more than simple coercion, the domination of the weaker by the stronger, it is legitimate coercion. For a government to attempt to compel a subordinate government it must do so by force of arms. A body of many individuals will have much greater powers of resistance than one single individual but that isn’t the distinction. It isn’t that they’re a gang of malefactors and in the place of the two constables needed to arrest one miscreant, a posse of two thousand is required to round up a thousand. Rather their resistance is legitimate and it is far more forceful than the desperate and furtive resistance of the criminal.

Injudicious attempts to refer to wars as police actions have been met with ridicule and indignation. Wars are something far graver, hotter, and bloodier:

The gentle Archbishop of York is up with well-appointed powers: he is a man who with double surety binds his followers. My lord your son had only but the corpse, but shadows and the shadows of men to fight: for that same word, rebellion, did divide the actions of their bodies from their souls; and they did fight with queasiness, constrained as men drink potions; but their weapons only seem’d on our side, but their spirits and souls, this word, rebellion, it had froze them up, as fish are in a pond. But now the archbishops turns insurrection to religion:

The federal government cannot tax or compel State governments as it does individuals. If they attempt to do so the respective members on the state level will undertake to judge of the propriety of those measures. They will either consent or refuse boldly, overtly, and in good conscience. The federal government and any subordinate levels of government which it happens to comprehend must both rule in their constitutionally allotted spheres, separately and independently. In their rule, they will deal with the citizens directly without any intermediary and in so ruling, they will be answered with the obedience subjects render to their lawful government. The Governors of Florida and Illinois pay federal taxes just like everyone else, but the States of Florida and Illinois do not. All government, whether on the national level stretching from sea to sea or the most local falling well within the boundaries of a single county, is the give and take of the citizens with the government they’ve appointed to rule over them.




Sea Power and Mercantilism

Sea Power and Mercantilism


Nearly all of what Hamilton had written in the previous papers about the thirteen States on the Atlantic seaboard of the North American continent applied with an equal force to all nations on every continent. This paper shows the benefits that come from one powerful navy maintained by the states united in one nation, and how this one navy may contend with the fleets of the great naval powers of Europe. Up to this point, he’d attempted to show that, in general, extensive confederate republics are more stable, more prosperous, and more formidable than the puny democracies of the ancient world. Here, he’ll attempt to show that one confederate republic in particular, strung along the eastern coast of one particular continent, can defend its own ports and control its own waters. Properties specific to the geography of these American States: their great distance from their foes, their long coastline, their several great harbors, will allow them to defy the fleets of richer, more populous, and more experienced nations who will seek to stifle her commerce and dominate her markets.

It was principally Great Britain that Hamilton had in mind, the mother the American States had defied when she’d previously tried to control their trade, the country they’d fought to win their independence, the country that dominated the fleets of Europe. Geography favored the naval power of the British isles. The Dutch could reach the Atlantic only by squeezing through the English channel or by sailing far north into polar waters and going around Scotland. The North Sea became so shallow near their coasts that they couldn’t harbort the huge battleships that made up the Royal Navy. Any fleet that made its home in the Baltic could be bottled up in the Straits of Denmark. The French fleet in the Mediterranean was far too dependent on the one harbor at Toulon.

If the American States were separate and tried to take on the Royal Navy alone, they would suffer the same drawback. Few of the States had a deep-water port and none had more than one. If any of these States fought the Royal Navy alone, the British could use their whole strength to blockade that one port. Together the States had Boston, New York, Chesapeake Bay, and Charleston, along with many smaller, shallower inlets. Not even the Royal Navy could covert so many openings so widely separated.

Moreover, the whole eastern coast fronted open ocean. There were no straits that any enemy fleet can turn into bottlenecks. Ships leaving port can head north, south, or any point in between. And these ships can from harbors separated by hundreds of miles, an expanse so enormous that no fleet can ever track them.

If the British want to strike at the American mainland, they must cross the Atlantic Ocean, a long and wearing voyage that will foul their hulls, rot their sails, dishearten and enfeeble their crews. So far from their own shores, they can be resupplied and reinforced only with great effort and after long delay.

It may seem that Hamilton is unreasonably belligerent, or is at least unreasonably afraid of the belligerence of the maritime powers of Europe. But in this age, most of the trade of the world was carried by ship, and it was the commercial policy of most of these great maritime powers to gain a balance of trade favorable to themselves. If this balance of trade was inequitable and must be brought about by force, they were quite willing for the guns of their battleships to open markets to their own trade, close it to those of their rivals, and wring concessions from unwilling partners.

States united and guarded by a powerful navy may impose their own terms:

By prohibitory regulations, extending at the same time throughout the States, we may oblige foreign countries to bid against each other, for the privileges of our markets. This assertion will not appear chimerical to those who are able to appreciate the importance of the markets of three millions of people-increasing in rapid progression, for the most part exclusively addicted to agriculture, and likely from local circumstances to remain so-to any manufacturing nation; and the immense difference there would be to the trade and navigation of such a nation, between a direct communication in its own ships, and an indirect conveyance of its products and returns, to and from America, in the ships of another country. Suppose, for instance, we had a government in America, capable of excluding Great Britain (with whom at present we have no treaty of commerce) from all our ports, what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics? Would it not enable us to negotiate with the fairest prospect for success for commercial privileges of the most valuable and extensive kind in the dominions of that kingdom?

The American States are fortunate in their size and their situation and together they may extract terms that are fair and maybe advantageous from the parasitic maritime powers of Europe. If they drift apart and confront these same powers separately, they will be overpowered, the terms of their own commerce dictated to them, their markets preyed upon by mercantilist exploitation, and their wealth siphoned off to another hemisphere.

Faction and the Talent Pool

Faction and the Talent Pool


Faction has ever been the bane of popular governments. The spirit of faction can never be extinguished but can only be curbed. Yet if faction cannot be banished entirely, its pernicious effects can be mitigated. Madison specifies the disease and the remedies:

By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods for curing the mischiefs of factions: the one by removing the causes, the other byu controlling the effects.

There are again two methods for removing the causes of factions: the one by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It doesn’t take Madison long to dispense with these two methods for removing the causes of factions. To destroy liberty is unthinkable and to give every citizen the same opinions, passions, and interests is clearly impossible.

He moves on to controlling the effects, and he contends that the very size of a large republic will control the effects of faction. In a great republic, a large number of electors will select a small number of representatives. Out of a wide field they can pick the wisest and most virtuous among them all to rule on their behalf.

It is true that a huge pool of talent will more often yield one individual who’s singularly gifted than a much smaller one. This is why huge nations with enormous populations take so many of the medals at the Olympic Games. Out of their hundreds of millions of citizens there will be a handful who’re superbly gifted. In a country with over a billions inhabitants there will be one who can run faster than anybody else, swim faster than anybody else, or jump higher than anybody else. Yet speed and height are clear and straightforward, matters of measurement and not of judgment. It takes a measuring tape and a stopwatch to gauge an athletic but to evaluate a lawmaker or a leader is far more difficult. The same leader will be seen by some as stalwart and by others as belligerent. Some will think a man wise and forbearing while others despair of him as weak.

Madison next claims that because the representative is chosen by a greater citizens, it will be harder for the unworthy to practice the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried. He doesn’t elaborate on what these vicious arts might be and we can only speculate on what he had in mind. In his era there were two chief ways that a small constituency might be secured by an unworthy and unscrupulous candidate. In very small and usually rural constituencies called pocket boroughs, a powerful landowner exerted his influence to have his tenants vote for the candidate of his choosing. Candidates also held rowdy gatherings at local farms where he’d feed his supporters and ply them with large doses of cider and whiskey.

Strong-arming farmers and hosting barbecues will work best in small villages and Madison hoped that increasing the size of the constituency would render them extinct. These pocket boroughs and boisterous, drunken barbecues are relics of the past but the vicious arts have changed to carry on in the modern era.

Nowadays, big city mayors seem the most astute, sober, and responsible of all our public leaders. Our national leaders indulge in wild and dangerous talk, spread lies, spout nonsense, and carry on in the most deplorable manner. This is nothing new and the rulers of previous ages were just as bad. What is strange is that humble municipal leaders show so much wisdom and discretion. Why are we served with such diligent, conscientious leadership at the local level while we must suffer such lunacy at the very top?

Cities, no matter how large, don’t field armies. They have police forces but these are public services designed to deal with criminals, individual miscreants, and they aren’t fighting forces. Our modern republics boast large populations and many huge cities, but unlike the scrappy and rapacious city-states of Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, they don’t make war on each other.

These municipal leaders have nothing to do with warfare and fighting. The deal with matters of utility and expense. An unsightly interstate cuts through what used to be one vital neighborhood and there’s a plan to cover it with a huge swath of green parkland. There will be great benefits, the mangled neighborhood will be reborn, and the urban oasis at the end will be beautiful but it will also be hugely expensive and lead to traffic nightmares for decades. A huge corporation is hinting it may want to move its headquarters and sizable operations into town but it wants a staggering package of incentives and tax abatements. The mayor wants to make one lane on a busy downtown street into exclusive bike lanes but the businesses along the street point out that traffic is already heavy, and nobody is riding bicycles, and there is no need whatsoever for bike lanes. In all these matters, costs are weighed against benefits and there will be disagreement, sometimes shrill and acrimonious disagreement.

Yet in none of these cases, do the citizens fear for their lives. Money is at stake but not blood. We’re a violent species and when we’re scared or furious, our wisdom vanishes. National leaders most deal with hostile states, terrorists, reluctant and undependable allies and avowed enemies. It is our curse that when our lives are threatened we can never be calm and deliberate. We can no longer weigh and measure: world leaders are either fiends or heroes, our fate either doom or conquest.


Madison felt sure that hundreds of millions of voters spread across an entire continent will group themselves into many different parties. Such a huge electorate must give rise to a correspondingly large number of competing parties. This has not been the case. For all its gigantic size, the United States has put forward two principal parties and has done so for nearly two centuries. Much smaller nations teem with minor parties, some of them quite outlandish. A large number of voters does not always result in a large number of parties.

The principal reason for this is that the executive branch is elected apart from the legislative. In some systems, the party holding most of the seats in the legislature is thereby entitled to form the executive arm as well. But to garner support wide enough to form a government, they must often form a coalition with much smaller parties. By holding a part of the legislature a minor party may be given a minor hold over the executive. But a presidential election is either won or lost. It’s a binary state, all or nothing.

The victorious party has won the executive and it has won it for a set period. The opposition parties may thwart the sitting government but they can’t bring it to an end before its term expires. The constitution does contain a provision for impeachment but that perilous and damaging expedient isn’t a practicable means to retake the executive. The losing party must score some points against the ruling party, hone its rhetoric, prepare its case, and wait for its next chance. Huge nations may support only a tiny number of parties and small nations may swarm with a legion of parties, many dedicated to regional or particular interests.