The Federalist Papers 7

So while attempting to calm the dark, unfocused fears that perme¬ated the political atmosphere, The Federalist took up the real, palpable threats posed by an enlarged and effective central government.
Would not the federal government overwhelm the states, take over their powers, supersede their laws, and sacrifice their local needs to some abstract “general interest” that would be to no one’s benefit but those who controlled the central power? To this The Federalist replied: how could it? The federal government was designed as a creation of the states; it would depend on the states for its existence, while the states would continue to exist independently of the nation. The states would enact the procedures for presidential elections, they would elect the senators, they would probably collect some of the federal taxes, and they would retain all the rights and powers not specifically delegated to the federal government. The powers assigned the federal government are “few and defined,” the states’ powers “numerous and indefinite … extending] to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the life, liberties, and properties of the people.” And in any case, people are always more attached to, more loyal to, their local, familiar institutions than to a distant, unseen power; and local, state attachments will deter¬mine the actions of the people’s representatives in Congress. The two governments, state and national, would not be adversaries. They would have different powers, of different magnitudes, to serve differ¬ent purposes, which would only occasionally overlap. If, by some turn of events, the federal government did manage to encroach on, assault, the powers of the states, the people in the states would defeat it by refusing to cooperate and by joining together to create proce¬dural roadblocks. And if, beyond even that, it ever came to some kind of military confrontation, the official state militias equipped with their own arms (as the Second Amendment, anticipated by Hamil¬ton, would later guarantee) would overwhelm any “standing army” that the executive could create.
But what would prevent the executive from building up an oppres¬sive army, a “standing army,” to overwhelm the liberties of the peo¬ple? To this profound fear, based on the whole heritage of ancient and modern history, Hamilton, for whom the creation of a national army was a major concern, devoted some of his most closely wrought papers. So long as the Constitution functioned, he wrote—that is, so long as there was no complete overthrow of all civil institutions by a coup d’etat—a military buildup, under the rules of the Constitution, would require “progressive augmentations” of Congressional appro¬priations, and since military appropriations had to be renewed every two years, that would happen only if there were a conspiracy between Congress and the president sustained over successive trans¬formations of House membership. Was it even remotely conceivable, Hamilton asked, that every incoming congressman would instantly “commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country”? And if there ever were such a fantastic plot, how could it be concealed?
But if the states and the nation were not likely to clash in arms, would they not come into conflict in other ways since in some areas they had what seemed to be overlapping jurisdictions? Everyone knew that two or more sovereign governments could not coexist in the same territory: sovereignty in its nature was absolute and exclusive. That famous doctrine had in fact lain at the root of the conflict with Britain; if those two powers, Parliament and the colonial govern¬ments, both of which claimed sovereignty, the one explicitly, the other implicitly, could have existed together cooperatively there would have been no revolution. What difference, it was asked, was there between the Constitution’s “supremacy clause” and Britain’s Declaratory Act, which had declared Parliament to have “full power … to bind … the people of America … in all cases whatsoever”? To this, The Feder¬alist replied that while the ancient doctrine that dual sovereignties could not coexist was undeniable and had correctly applied in the pre-Revolutionary situation, it did not apply in the present case since neither of the governments was a sovereign entity. They were both agencies of the one and only absolute sovereign power, the people, and the people could appoint any combination of governmental agencies they chose to serve their purposes.
But were there not other fatal flaws in the structure of the system? Might not the federal government, as “Brutus” feared, empowered as it was to “lay and collect taxes,” impoverish the nation by endless taxation? For Hamilton, this was a fiscal and administrative question, for Madison a matter of verbal precision. Federal taxation, Hamil¬ton wrote, would be either indirect (tariffs and excises) or direct (taxes on property or polls). If indirect, consumers would defeat excessive taxation by cutting down on the consumption of the targeted goods and so defeat the effort. If direct, first, the modest means of the majority of farmers would yield too little from taxes on land and houses; second, personal property other than real estate is “too pre¬carious and invisible a fund” to tax properly; and third, poll taxes are so universally obnoxious that no sensible government would resort to them except in dire emergencies.

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