The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 34–36 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 34: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning the General Power of Taxation)

Hamilton recapitulates his claim that the national government and the particular states will possess "co-equal authority" in the area of taxation. Skeptics who doubt this is possible would do well to contemplate the arrangements of the ancient Roman Republic, Hamilton says, in which two different elected assemblies—each with the power to veto or annul the other's actions—acted in tandem for centuries. These were the Comitia Centuriata, which represented patrician (aristocratic) interests, and the Comitia Tributa, which represented the interests of the plebeians, or commoners.

Hamilton goes on to observe that the scale of federal revenue and the extent of state revenue will be entirely different. Taxation by the states is likely to constitute a minor fraction of the entire revenues of the country. There will always be an "immense disproportion" between federal and state expenditures. Hamilton repeats that state authority will not be entirely subordinated to the Union. On the contrary the federal government and the state governments will share concurrent jurisdiction.

Essay 35: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning the General Power of Taxation)

In this paper, Hamilton tackles the thorny issue of the distribution of taxes, both among the states and among various citizens of the same state. He warns that "all extremes are pernicious in various ways." There is no reason, Hamilton argues, to suppose that governments will unfairly focus on any particular target for taxation—for example, excessive duties on imports. The functionality of the tax system itself will serve as a built-in correction factor against such imbalance.

In parallel with this issue, Hamilton discusses potential criticisms of proportion in the makeup of the House of Representatives. Certain skeptics, he says, have repeatedly claimed the membership of the House will not be sufficiently large to include all the different classes of citizens. Hamilton rejects such criticism as impractical. He predicts the majority of the House will consist of landholders, merchants, and professional men. Such representatives will, in all probability, feel obliged to represent the interests of many different classes of people, rather than confine themselves to their own narrow interests.

Essay 36: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning the General Power of Taxation)

Hamilton continues the argument of the previous essay, repeating that elected representatives will be sensitive to various different interests and views. He affirms representatives will be reliably and accurately informed about the needs and condition of their local constituents.

Hamilton proceeds to discuss various categories of taxes: for example, direct and indirect taxes, as well as land taxes and the valuations on which these are calculated. He points out the federal government can employ the methods of tax collection that are used in each state.

Hamilton then addresses the objection that duplication of taxes may occur. He downplays such a misgiving. He also reaffirms his opposition to any project "calculated to disarm" the national government in its taxing power.

Analysis

Coordinate authority and concurrent jurisdiction are concepts that loom large in these essays, as Hamilton endeavors to bolster his case for unrestrained federal scope in the sphere of taxation, accompanied by the parallel ability of individual states to tax citizens. To illustrate such an arrangement, Hamilton alludes to what might seem today an archaic analogy: the coexistence in the ancient Roman Republic of two coequal legislative bodies, the patrician assembly and the plebeian assembly. Both these bodies had strikingly different interests, and they could both annul each other's actions. Yet the Roman Republic prospered under such an arrangement, to the extent of "the utmost height of human greatness."

That Hamilton would include such an example in his argument illustrates the importance of the history, culture, and political structure of ancient Rome for the Founding Fathers. It is hard to imagine all of Hamilton's readers were familiar with the Comitia Centuriata or the Comitia Tributa or even were acquainted with the correct pronunciation of these names. But a sufficient part of Hamilton's audience revered the institutions and culture of the ancient world. The very terms president, congress, senate, and judiciary come from Latin roots. The architecture of the national capital, once it took shape over the following two decades, was modeled on Roman buildings. Even Publius, the pen name used by the authors of The Federalist Papers, referred to an ancient Roman statesman who was a founder of the Roman Republic in 509 BCE.

Midway through Essay 34, Hamilton makes effective use of metaphor to underline the dangers that threaten the new nation. He writes of a "cloud" hanging over the European world, and also of "combustible materials" that may pose a danger to American security. He points out that wars and rebellions are invariably the chief sources of expense for all governments. Hamilton ends the essay by emphasizing anew the advantages of "concurrent jurisdiction" in taxation.

In Essay 35, where Hamilton discusses the difficult issue of the distribution of members in the House of Representatives, his writing verges on what today might be termed sociology. Wisely, Hamilton refuses to commit himself to a rigid system that would bind the legislative branch to specific quotas or proportions in its membership. He does predict, however, members of the House will probably fall into three broad classifications: merchants, landholders, and professionals. Hamilton voices his trust that elected legislators will take a wide-ranging, informed, and intelligent view of their constituents' interests, and he speaks of the "strong chords of sympathy between the representative and the constituent."

Hamilton brings his series of papers on taxation to an exclamatory close at the end of Essay 36. Normally not given to ringing praise (his tone is often dark with foreboding), he exults, "Happy will it be for ourselves, and more honorable for human nature, if we have wisdom and virtue enough to set as glorious an example to mankind!"

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