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The Federalist Papers: No. 12

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 12 is published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. Many of them were reprinted in out-of-state newspapers as well. Later, they were bound into a collection and sold that way.


These essays argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states. Alexander Hamilton (a.ka. “Publius”) wrote this particular paper.

In some ways, Federalist Paper No. 12 may sound odd to modern ears. Hamilton speaks of the collection of revenue, but he lived in a time when revenue was collected very differently: Americans did not pay income taxes or property taxes. The main source of revenue was from fees on imports.


Indeed, Hamilton notes in this essay that “it is impracticable to raise any very considerable sums by direct taxation.” Don’t you wish modern politicians agreed?!


Publius’s prior essays had argued that a Union would maximize “commercial prosperity.” Now Publius builds upon that statement. Because a Union maximizes prosperity, it will also maximize revenue: Publius notes that the “prosperity of commerce” is the “most productive source of national wealth.” Other countries, he notes, are less successful commercially and have “but slender revenues.”


Because America is dependent on imposts and excises (as opposed to direct taxation), Publius believes that a Union is best. First, it encourages commercial prosperity in the first place. Second, the “regulations for the collection of the duties” will be “more simple and efficacious” with one government in place. A disunited America would face the challenges of “separate States” getting bogged down by the “frequent evasions of the commercial regulations of each other.” Third, a Union can better defend its borders against the “inroads of the dealers in contraband trade.”


My post with more background on the Federalist Papers and their authorship can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 1 summary (see October 27 history post, here).

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