interpret the laws. This description of the executive power will
enable us the more readily to distinguish the legislative ; which
in general may be denned the power of prescribing rules for the
The United States are authorized to require from the several
States as much money as they judge necessary for the general
356 HAMILTON'S WORKS. [JEn. 30.
purposes of the Union, and to limit the time within which it is
to be raised : to call for such a number of troops as they deem
requisite for the common defence in time of war to establish
rules in all cases of capture by sea or land to regulate the alloy
and value of coin, the standard of weights and measures, and to
make all laws for the government of the army and navy of the
Union. All these are powers of the legislative kind, and are
declared by the Confederation to be binding upon all the States.
The first is nothing less than a power of taxing the States in
gross, though not in detail ; and the last is the power of dispos
ing of the liberty and lives of the citizens of this State, when
in arms for the common defence. That the powers enumerated
are all, or most of them, of a legislative nature, will not be de
nied by the law members on the other side of the question. If
the Constitution forbids the grant of legislative power to the
UNION, all those authorities are illegal and unconstitutional, and
ought to be resumed.
If, on the contrary, those authorities were properly granted,
then it follows that the CONSTITUTION does not forbid the grant
of legislative power, and the objection falls to the ground ; for
there is nothing in the Constitution permitting the grant of one
kind of legislative authority, and forbidding that of another.
The degree or nature of the powers of legislation which it might
be proper to confer upon the Federal Government, would in this
case be a mere question of prudence and expediency, to be de
termined by general considerations of utility and safety.
The principle of the objection under consideration would not
only subvert the foundation of the UNION as now established
would not only render it impossible that any Federal Govern
ment could exist ; but would defeat some of the provisions of
the Constitution itself. This last idea deserves particular atten
The nineteenth clause makes it the duty of the Governor " to
correspond with the Continental Congress." The twentieth pro
vides "that the judges and chancellor shall hold no other office
than delegate to the GENERAL CONGRESS;" and the thirtieth
directs " that delegates to represent this State in the General Con-
jET.30.] NEW-YORK LEGISLATURE. 357
gress of the United States of America shall be annually ap
JSTow, sir, I ask, if Congress were to have neither executive
nor legislative authority, to what purpose were they to exist ?
To what purpose were delegates to be annually appointed to that
body ? To what purpose were these delegates to represent this
State ? Or how could they be said to represent it at all ?
Is not the plain import of this part of the Constitution, that
they were to represent this State in the General Assembly of the
UNITED STATES, for the purpose of managing the common con
cerns of the Union ? And does not this necessarily imply that
they were to be clothed with such powers as should be found
essential to that object ? Does it amount to a constitutional war
rant to the Legislature to confer those powers, of whatever kind
they might be ?
To answer these questions in the negative, would be to charge
the Constitution with the absurdity of proposing to itself an end,
and yet prohibiting the means of accomplishing that end.
The words " to represent this State " are of great latitude,
and are of themselves sufficient to convey any power necessary
to the conduct and direction of its affairs in connection with the
other parts of the Confederacy.
In the interpretation of laws it is admitted to be a good rule
to resort to the coexisting circumstances, and collect from thence
the intention of the framers of the law. Let us apply this rule
to the present case.
In the commencement of the Eevolution delegates were sent
to meet in Congress with large discretionary powers. In short,
generally speaking, with full power " to take care of the repub
lic." In the whole of this transaction the idea of an UNION of
the colonies was carefully held up. It pervaded all our pub
In the Declaration of Independence we find it continued and
confirmed. That declaration, after setting forth its motives and
causes, proceeds thus : " We, therefore, the representatives of the
United States of America in general Congress assembled, appeal
ing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our in-
358 HAMILTON'S WORKS. ^T. 30.
tentions, do in the name and by the authority of the good people
of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United
Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent
states ; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British
Crown, and that all political connection between them and the
State of Great Britian is, and ought to be, totally dissolved ; and
that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy
war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and
do all other acts and things that independent states may of
Hence we see that the UNION and INDEPENDENCE of these
STATES are blended and incorporated in one and the same act ;
which, taken together, clearly imports that the United States had
in their origin full power to do all acts and things which independ
ent states may of right do ; or, in other words, full power of
Accordingly, we find that upon the authority of that act only
approved by the several States, they did levy war, contract alli
ances, and exercise other high powers of sovereignty, even to
the appointment of a dictator, prior to the present confederation.
In this situation, and with this plenitude of power, our Con
stitution knows and acknowledges the United States in Congress
assembled, and provides for the annual appointment of delegates
to represent this State in that body ; which, in substance, amounts
to a constitutional recognition of the UNION, with complete sov
A government may exist without any formal organization or
precise definition of its powers. However improper it might
have been, that the Federal Government should have continued
to exist with such absolute and undefined authority, this does
not militate against the position that it did possess such authority.
It only proves the propriety of a more regular formation to ascer
tain its limits. This was the object of the present Confederation,
which is, in fact, an abridgment of the original sovereignty of
It may be said, (for it has been said upon other occasions,)
that, though the Constitution did consider the United States in
JET.30.] NEW-YORK LEGISLATURE. 359
the light I have described, and left the legislature at liberty in
the first instance to have organized the Federal Government in
such a manner as they thought proper, yet that liberty ceased
with the establishment of the present Confederacy. The discre
tion of the legislature was then determined.
This, upon the face of it, is a subtilty, uncountenanced by a
single principle of government, or a single expression of the Con
stitution. It is saying that a general authority given to the
legislature for the permanent preservation and good of the com
munity, has been exhausted and spent by the exercise of a part
of that authority. The position is the more destitute of color,
because the Confederation, by the express terms of the compact,
preserves and continues this power. The last clause of it autho
rizes Congress to propose, and the States to agree to such altera
tions as might be afterwards found necessary or expedient.
We see, therefore, that the Constitution knows and acknow
ledges the United States in Congress ; that it provides for the
annual appointment of delegates to represent this State in that
body without prescribing the objects or limits of that representa
tion ; that at the time our Constitution was framed, the Union
existed with full sovereignty; and that therefore the idea of
sovereignty in the Union is not incompatible with it. We see,
further, that the doctrine contained in the objection against grant
ing legislative power, would equally operate against granting
executive power, would prove that the powers already vested in
the Union are illegal and unconstitutional, would render a con
federacy of the States in any form impracticable, and would defeat
all those provisions of our own Constitution which relate to the
United States. I submit it to the committee, whether a doctrine
pregnant with such consequences can be true ; whether it is not
as opposite to our Constitution as to the principles of national
safety and prosperity ; and whether it would not be lamentable
if the zeal of opposition to a particular measure should carry us
to the extreme of imposing upon the Constitution a sense foreign
to it ; which must embarrass the national councils upon future
occasions, when all might agree in the utility and necessity of a
360 HAMILTON'S WORKS. [^Ei. 30.
If the arguments I have used under this head are not well-
founded, let gentlemen come forward and show their fallacy. Let
the subject have a fair and full examination, and let truth, on
whatever side it may be, prevail !
Flattering myself it will appear to the committee that the
Constitution, at least, offers us no impediment, I shall proceed to
other topics of objection. The next that presents itself, is a
supposed danger to liberty from granting legislative power to
But, before I enter upon this subject, to remove the asper
sions thrown upon that body, I shall give a short history of some
material facts relating to the origin and progress of the business.
To excite the jealousies of the people, it has been industriously
represented as an undue attempt to acquire an increase of power.
It has been forgotten, or intentionally overlooked, that, consider
ing it in the strongest light as a proposal to alter the Confedera
tion, it is only exercising a power which the Confederation has
in direct terms reposed in Congress, who, as before observed,
are, by the 13th article, expressly authorized to propose al
But so far was the measure from originating in improper
views of that body, that, if I am rightly informed, it did not
originate there at all. It was first suggested by a convention of
the four Eastern States, and New- York, at Hartford, and, I be
lieve, was proposed there by the deputies of this State. A gen
tleman on our bench, unconnected with Congress, who now
hears me (I mean Judge Hobart), was one of them. It was dic
tated by a principle which Utter experience then taught us, and
which, in peace or war, will always be found true that adequate
supplies to the federal treasury, can never flow from any system
which requires the intervention of thirteen deliberatives between
the call and the execution.
Congress agreed to the measure, and recommended it. This
State complied without hesitation. All parts of the government
Senate, Assembly, and Council of Kevision concurred ; neither
the Constitution nor the public liberty presented any obstacle.
The difficulties from these sources are a recent discovery.
-ffii. 30.] NEW-YORK LEGISLATURE. 861
So late as the first session of the legislature, after the evacua
tion of this city, the Governor of the State, in his speech to both
Houses, gave a decided countenance to the measure. This he
does, though not in express terms, yet by implications not to be
The leading opponents of the impost, of the present day, have
all of them, at other times, either concurred in the measure, in
its most exceptionable form, and without the qualifications an
nexed to it by the proposed bill, or have, by other instances of
conduct, contradicted their own hypothesis on the Constitution,
which professedly forms the main prop of their opposition.
The honorable member in my eye ( ), at the last
session, brought in a bill for granting to the United States the
power of regulating the trade of the Union. This surely in
cludes more ample legislative authority than is comprehended in
the mere power of levying a particular duty. It indeed goes to
a prodigious extent, much farther than, on a superficial view,
can be imagined. Can we believe that the constitutional ob
jection, if well founded, would so long have passed undiscovered
and unnoticed? Or, is it fair to impute to Congress criminal
motives for proposing a measure which was first recommended
to them by five States, or from persisting in that measure, after
the unequivocal experience they have had of the total inefficacy
of the mode provided in the Confederation for supplying the
treasury of the Union ?
I leave the answer to these questions to the good sense and
candor of the committee, and shall return to the examination of
the question, how far the power proposed to be conferred upon
Congress would be dangerous to the liberty of the people. And
here I ask
Whence can this danger arise ? The members of Congress
are annually chosen by the members of the several legislatures.
They come together with different habits, prejudices, and in
terests. They are, in fact, continually changing. How is it
possible for a body so composed to be formidable to the liberties
of States several of which are large empires in themselves ?
The subversion of the liberty of these States could not be the
362 HAMILTON'S WORKS. [-fflr. 80.
business of a day. It would at least require time, premeditation,
and concert. Can it be supposed, that the members of a body
so constituted, would be unanimous in a scheme of usurpation ?
If they were not, would it not be discovered and disclosed ? If
we could even suppose this unanimity among one set of men,
can we believe that all the new members who are yearly sent
from one State or another, would instantly enter into the same
views ? Would there not be found one honest man to warn his
country of the danger ?
Suppose the worst suppose the combination entered into and
continued. The execution would at least announce the design ;
and the means of defence would be easy. Consider the separate
power of several of these States, and the situation of all. Con
sider the extent, populousness, and resources of Massachusetts,
Virginia, Pennsylvania ; I might add, of New- York, Connecti
cut, and other States. Where could Congress find means suf
ficient to subvert the government and liberties of either of these
States ? or, rather, where find means sufficient to effect the con
quest at all? If an attempt was made upon one, the others,
from a sense of common danger, would make common cause;
and they could immediately unite and provide for their joint
There is one consideration, of immense force in this question,
not sufficiently attended to. It is this that each State possesses
in itself the full powers of government, and can at once, in a
regular and constitutional way, take measures for the preserva
tion of its rights. In a single kingdom or state, if the rulers at
tempt to establish a tyranny, the people can only defend them
selves by a tumultuary insurrection; they must run to arms
without concert or plan; while the usurpers, clothed with the
forms of legal authority, can employ the forces of the State to
suppress them in embryo, and before they can have time or op
portunity to give system to their opposition. With us, the case
is widely different. Each State has a government, completely
organized in itself, and can at once enter into a regular plan of
defence ; with the forces of the community at its command, it
can immediately form connections with its neighbors, or even
with foreign powers, if necessary.
jET.30.] NEW-YORK LEGISLATURE. 363
In a contest of this kind, the body of the people will always
be on the side of the State governments. This will not only re
sult from their love of liberty, and regard to their own safety,
but from other strong principles of human nature. The State
governments operate upon those immediate familiar personal
concerns to which the sensibility of individuals is awake. The
distribution of private justice belonging to them, they must al
ways appear to the senses of the people as the immediate guardi
ans of their rights. They will, of course, have the strongest
hold on their attachment, respect, and obedience. Another cir
cumstance will contribute to the same end : Far the greatest num
ber of offices and employments are in the gift of the States sepa
rately ; the weight of official influence will therefore be in favor
of the State governments ; and, with all these advantages, they
cannot fail to carry the people along with them in every contest
with the General Government in which they are not palpably in
the wrong, and often when they are. What is to be feared from
the efforts of Congress to establish a tyranny, with the great body
of the people, under the direction of their State governments,
combined in opposition to their views ? Must not their attempts
recoil upon themselves, and terminate in their own ruin and dis
grace ? or, rather, would not these considerations, if they were
insensible to other motives, for ever restrain them from making
The causes taken notice of, as securing the attachment of the
people to their local governments, present us with another im
portant truth the natural imbecility of Federal governments, and
the danger that they will never be able to exercise power enough
to manage the general affairs of the Union ; though the States
will have a common interest, yet they will also have a particular
interest. For example : as a part of the Union, it will be the
interest of every State to pay as little itself, and to let its neigh
bors pay as much, as possible. Particular interests have always
more influence upon men than general. The Federal States,
therefore, consulting their immediate advantage, may be con
sidered as so many eccentric powers, tending in a contrary di
rection to the government of the UNION; and as they will gene-
364 HAMILTON'S WORKS. [fc. 30.
rally carry the people along with them, the CONFEDERACY will
be in continual danger of dissolution. This, Mr. Chairman, is
the real rock upon which the happiness of this country is likely to
split. This is the point to which our fears and cares should be
directed to guard against this, and not to terrify ourselves with
imaginary dangers from the spectre of power in Congress, will
be our true wisdom.
But let us examine a little more closely the measure under
consideration. What does the bill before us require us to do ?
Merely to grant duties on imposts to the United States, for the
short period of twenty-five years ; to be applied to the discharge
of the principal and interest of the debts contracted for the sup
port of the late war; the collection of which duties is to be
made by officers appointed by the State, but accountable to Con
gress, according to such general regulations as the United States
shall establish, subject to these important checks, that no citizen
shall be carried out of the State for trial ; that all prosecutions
shall be in our own courts ; that no excessive fines or penalties
shall be imposed ; and that a yearly account of the proceeds and
application of the revenue shall be rendered to the legislature,
on failure of which it reserves to itself a right of repealing its
Is it possible for any measure to be better guarded ? or is it
possible that a grant for such precise objects, and with so many
checks, can be dangerous to the public liberty ?
Having now, as I trust, satisfactorily shown, that the Consti
tution offers no obstacle to the measure ; and that the liberty of
the people cannot be endangered by it, it remains only to con
sider it in the view of revenue.
The sole question left for discussion is, Whether it be an
eligible mode of supplying the Federal treasury or not?
The better to answer this question, it will be of use to ex
amine how far the mode by quotas and requisitions has been
found competent to the public exigencies.
The universal delinquency of the States during the war, shall
be passed over with the bare mention of it. The public embar
rassments were a plausible apology for that delinquency ; and it
5T.30.] NEW-YORK LEGISLATURE. 365
was hoped the peace would have produced greater punctuality.
The experiment has disappointed that hope, to a degree which
confounds the least sanguine. A comparative view of the com
pliances of the several States, for the five last years, will furnish
a striking result.
During that period, as appears by a statement on our files,
New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia,
have paid nothing. I say nothing, because the only actual pay
ment, is the trifling sum of about 7000 dollars by New Hamp
shire. South Carolina indeed has credits, but these are merely
by way of discount, on the supplies furnished by her during the
war, in consideration of her peculiar sufferings and exertions
while the immediate theatre of it.
Connecticut and Delaware have paid about one third of their
requisitions. Massachusetts, Khode Island, and Maryland, about
one half; Virginia about three fifths, Pennsylvania nearly the
whole, and New- York more than her quota.
These proportions are taken on the specie requisitions, the
indents have been very partially paid, and in their present state
are of little account.
The payments into the Federal treasury have declined ra
pidly each year. The whole amount, for three years past, in
specie, has not exceeded 1,400,000 dollars, of which New-York
has paid 100 per cent, more than her proportion. This sum,
little more than 400,000 dollars a year, it will readily be con
ceived, has been exhausted in the support of the civil estab
lishments of the Union, and the necessary guards and garrisons
of public arsenals, and on the frontiers ; without any surplus
for paying any part of the debt, foreign or domestic, principal
Things are continually growing worse ; the last year in parti
cular produced less than two hundred thousand dollars, and that
from only two or three States. Several of the States have been
so long unaccustomed to pay, that they seem no longer con
cerned even about the appearances of compliance.
Connecticut and Jersey have almost formally declined paying
any longer. The ostensible motive is the non-concurrence of
HAMILTON'S WORKS. [^E T . 30.
this State in the impost system. The real one must be conjec
tured from the fact.
Pennsylvania, if I understand the scope of some late reso
lutions, means to discount the interest she pays upon her
assumption to her own citizens ; in which case there will be
little coming from her to the United States. This seems to be
bringing matters to a crisis.
The pecuniary support of the Federal Government has of
late devolved almost entirely upon Pennsylvania and New- York.
If Pennsylvania refuses to continue her aid, what will be the sit
uation of New- York ? Are we willing to be the Atlas of the
Union ? or are we willing to see it perish ?
This seems to be the alternative. Is there not a species of
political knight-errantry in adhering pertinaciously to a system
which throws the whole weight of the Confederation upon this
State, or upon one or two more ? Is it not our interest, on mere
calculations of State policy, to promote a measure, which, ope
rating under the same regulations in every State, must pro
duce an equal, or nearly equal, effect every where, and oblige
all the States to share the common burthen ?
If the impost is granted to the United States, with the
power of levying it, it must have a proportionate effect in all
the States, for the same mode of collection every where will
have nearly the same return every where.
What must be the final issue of the present state of things ?
Will the few States that now contribute, be willing to contri
bute much longer? Shall we ourselves be long content with
bearing the burthen singly ? Will not our zeal for a particular
system, soon give way to the pressure of so unequal a weight ?
And if all the States cease to pay, what is to become of the
UNION ? It is sometimes asked, Why do not Congress oblige the
States. to do their duty? But where are the means? Where are
the fleets and armies, where the Federal treasury to support