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The Federalist Papers: Nos. 34 and 35

On this day in 1788, Federalist Papers No. 34 and 35 are published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. They argued for the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.

I am so sorry to tell you that Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) is still discussing the national government’s power of taxation! He felt an extended discussion was needed. Remember that Americans had just won their freedom from a British government that inappropriately taxed them. (“No taxation without representation”) Naturally, the founding generation felt strongly about not giving a new national government too many taxation powers.

And, of course, Hamilton’s position remains unpopular with many of us today. He is very insistent on giving the national government unlimited power to tax us. Let’s take a second, though, to look at the world through his eyes. It might help. One paragraph in Paper No. 34 pretty much sums up the difference between his world view and what we know to be true today:

Hamilton asks: “What are the chief sources of expense in every government?” The answer, to him, is obvious: “wars and rebellions” and all the expenses associated with them. All other domestic expenses, he concludes, “are insignificant in comparison with those which relate to the national defense.”

So, in short: (1) He was not at all worried about an inordinate tax burden resulting from domestic expenses. He was not envisioning—could not imagine—the bureaucratic federal nightmare that we face. (2) He is very concerned about the harm to America if defense needs are not properly funded. Thus, quite naturally, he believes that an unlimited power of taxation is necessary and proper so that the country’s defense might be adequately funded. He is simply not worried about abuse: He believes the states will keep the national government within its constitutional bounds.

Today, of course, we know that he made some bad assumptions. Domestic expenses can and have spiraled out of control. If only Hamilton could have had a little more imagination about this one particular aspect of government.

Paper 35, also published on this day, continues briefly with the taxation question before turning to a new question: Is the House of Representatives “sufficiently numerous” that “all the different classes of citizens” will be represented? The question was not directly on point, but would definitely have been relevant to a country that just fought a war over the question of “taxation without representation.”

Hamilton notes that the “idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people, by persons of each class, is altogether visionary.” How can such a guarantee be made “under any arrangement that leaves the votes of the people free”? Instead, Hamilton expresses confidence that the combination of “landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions” who will be elected will understand the “interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens.” Indeed, won’t an elected official naturally “take care to inform himself of [voters’] dispositions and inclinations”?

A few logistical publication notes for those who care:

As with previous papers, you’ll see conflicting dates about when these papers were published. I took the dates from the National Archives website. Federalist No. 34 was published in multiple papers on January 5. Federalist No. 35 was published in The [New York] Independent Journal on January 5, but in several other papers on January 7, 8, and 9.