Archive for Hamilton

Mini-Federalist #30 – Concerning the General Power of Taxation

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #30, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_30.html

Originally published December 28, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We already discussed how the Federal government should provide for the military including raising troops, building a navy, and anything else that might be needed for defense. Of course, this isn’t the only thing that the government should be able to collect tax money for. The Federal government needs to be able to pay off national debts, and pay for other things that have a national scope. Clearly, the proposed Constitution must give the Federal government a general power to collect taxes.

It’s obvious that any government needs money, so it follows that the government ought to be allowed to regularly collect enough of it to do its work. If mechanisms for this collection aren’t in-place, then either the people are going to be hit up for money whenever there’s a crisis, or the government will quickly go bankrupt.

As an example, think of the Ottoman Empire – the Sultan has no power to impose a tax on his citizens. Instead, the governors of the individual provinces are allowed to rob their citizens so that the Emperor has the money he needs for his own (as well as the government’s) use. We face the other problem here: our government has been allowed to whither down to almost nothing. Wouldn’t it be better for both countries to have a well-established, regular tax system?

Our current system was supposed to give the Federal government the means to collect all the funds it needed, but the design is flawed. Congress is allowed to figure out what it needs and ask the States (who are legally obliged to comply) to provide it. The States aren’t supposed to get a say in the matter – except in how they collect the necessary funds – but in practice, they drag their feet if they disagree with Congress’ demand. Things will always be like this as long as Congress is dependent upon the States for funding. Even people who don’t care about politics know that this is going on, and we’ve already talked about it at length in these papers. This is the main reason that our government is a mess, and it is a bad thing for us, and a good thing for our would-be enemies.

How can we fix this other than by changing the whole system? We can’t rely on quotas imposed on the States anymore. We have to allow the Federal government to collect its own taxes. Even smart people can disagree about this at first, but there’s no other solution to keep us from going bankrupt.

Some of our smarter opponents will admit that our solution has merit, but they suggest that we limit the Federal government to so-called “external” taxes, like duties on imported goods, while leaving the “internal” taxes – those against the citizens directly – to the States. This idea doesn’t make any sense. The Federal government would still be depended on the States for funding. We can’t possibly bring in enough money to meet our current needs with these purely “external” taxes. And that is to say nothing of our future needs! We need our government to have maximum flexibility in collecting funds.

These opponents go on to say that any lack of Federal funding can be made up by the States. On the one hand, this admits that we can’t really rely on their solution, but that we ought to for any needs we have above a certain amount. Anyone who has really thought through this problem (or read my other papers) will be horrified at the idea of entrusting our national interests to this system. This proposal would make our country weaker, and lay the groundwork for conflict between the States. What makes us think that the same problems won’t crop up just because the Federal government will theoretically be asking for less money from the States? As if there is some point at which the States could decide that the Federal government doesn’t really need any more money. How could any government operate in a state of constant neediness like this? It can’t possibly have stability or establish credit – either at home or abroad. It can’t address anything but short-term issues, and always in “crisis mode”. There can be no long-term planning to advance the greater good.

What would happen if we’re ever drawn into a war? Let’s assume for the moment that the “external” taxes are enough to handle our day-to-day needs during peacetime. How would the Federal government handle an unexpected attack against us? We already know from experience that we can’t rely on the States to provide the Federal government with money – even during a time of great danger. So the Federal government would be forced to divert funds from normal operations (like paying off our debt) to cover the cost of the military. I can’t imagine any other way. And if that happened, our credit would be ruined at a time when we may need it most. Even countries that are richer than ours need to borrow money when they get involved in a war, and if we can’t be trusted to pay our debts, the amounts and terms of the loans we’ll be able to secure will be far from ideal.

You might argue that even with the Federal government having a full power to tax as it needs to, that we may still find ourselves in a position where we have to divert funds from normal operations like debt repayment during a war. There are still two advantages to the system where the Federal government has its own tax power: 1) we know that all the resources possible will be acquired and used, and 2) it will be easier to get loans to cover any gaps.

If the Federal government has the power to tax as much as it needs to, there will be no problem getting loans from either foreign or domestic sources. But if the Federal government is fully dependent upon the whims of 13 other State governments in order to pay it’s own bills, no creditor is going to loan to it.

These may seem like small concerns to people who imagine that we are building some kind of utopia here in this country. But those of us who know the problems and crises that have been experienced by other countries don’t expect that we’ll be able to completely avoid them. These matters deserve our serious consideration.

Mini-Federalist #29 – Concerning the Militia

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #29, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_29.html

Originally published January 9, 1788 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Control of the militia is clearly a natural part of providing for the common defense, and protecting peace at home.

It doesn’t take a military genius to realize that having a well-trained and uniform militia is a good thing. A militia with this kind of experience is best equipped to help if an emergency arises, and that type of consistent training can only be provided by the national government. That’s why Congress is given this power under the proposed Constitution (leaving the selection of the officers and the implementation of the national standard training to the States).

Even though this arrangement makes a lot of sense, the opponents of the Constitution have still attacked it. Think about it – if the militia is our best national defense, it should be under the control of the government that is responsible for the national defense. And shouldn’t the government’s control of the militia ease the temptation to create a dangerous standing army? Without some force to use in providing for the common defense, the Federal government may resort to using standing armies more often. Isn’t the most effective defense against a standing army, the removal of the need for one?

In order to make the militia powers look bad, there are those who argue that the proposed Constitution doesn’t allow for the executive to call for the citizens to help enforce the laws. They imply that the use of military force is his only legal option. Of course, we know that they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths. You can’t simultaneously claim that the Federal government is too powerful, but that it is powerless to even call for the citizens’ help. Of course we know that the Federal government has all powers necessary and proper to carry out its responsibilities. It’s completely clear that the power to call forth the citizens is part of that. It’s nonsense to assume that just because the Federal government can use the military, that it is the only option available to it. What kind of people make this argument?

Those people have even gone so far as to suggest to us that the militia is to be feared. They suggest that special units (comprised of the young and impressionable) could be formed for nefarious purposes. Of course, we don’t know what the actual regulations will be on the militia. Let me tell you what I would want if we ratified the Constitution:

Keeping the whole population organized in a militia is a huge task. It takes more than a couple days to really master the skills you need to be successful in the military – we’d need almost constant drilling for everyone. If the people themselves don’t outright object to that inconvenience, our State budgets surely will. All we could really do is make sure the people have proper weapons and equipment, and maybe get them together once or twice a year.

What seems like a better idea is to have a small core of people that will be more highly-trained. This militia can serve in an emergency (maybe well enough that we wouldn’t need an army) and can act as a check against the power of an army if one is ever needed. This is probably our best available option.

I arrive at a very different conclusion than the opponents of the Constitution, even though we’re talking about the same document. I see safeguards where they imagine danger. But we do have to keep in mind, none of us really knows how the militia will actually be regulated.

The whole idea that the militia could be a threat to liberty is so insane that I don’t really know how to respond. Is it just some kind of rhetorical exercise? A kind of trick to get people against the proposed Constitution? Or the product of a fanatical mind? If we can’t even trust our friends and neighbors, we’re in serious trouble. What possible danger can exist from the people in our own community, living and struggling side-by-side with us? If the States are the only ones who can appoint the militia’s officers, what do we have to fear from Federal control of the militia? That fact alone should be enough to allay any fears – the States will always hold the upper hand.

When you look at what these opponents of the Constitution write, their objections read like a trashy novel; full of lies and so many made-up boogiemen.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the examples they bring up about the militia. They assert that men will be sent all over the country, and even used as mercenaries to pay off foreign creditors. At the same time, we are told there will be a massive army destroying our liberties, we’re also going to have militia men sent hundreds of miles from their homes to threaten the people of other States. Do they really think we’ll believe this stuff?

Think about it: if the government can raise an army to use against the people, why would they need the militia for that purpose? Even if they tried to use the militia – to send them far from home, and force them to fight against their countrymen – isn’t it more likely that the militia will turn their fight against that corrupt government instead? Would such a government ever stand a chance if they tried to use the militia like this? It would only raise the alarm among the people. So, is it more likely that the opponents of the Constitution who are raising these objections have actual concerns, or that they’re just trying to foment hate of the Constitution? Even if a tyrant came to power eventually, they wouldn’t be this stupid.

Naturally, if there’s a crisis of some kind, the militia from one State may come to the aid of its neighbor. This happened a lot during the Revolution, and it’s one of the reasons we have a Union in the first place. If the Federal government controls this process, it’s far more likely that help will be there when it’s needed (and before it’s too late).

Mini-Federalist #28 – The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #28, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_28.html

Originally published December 26, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

It’s always possible that governments will have to use force. We know this from world history as well as our own experience. It’s totally natural that there will be revolts from time to time. No government can avoid that and rely only on the rule of law.

In such a case, all the government can do is resort to force. Now, of course the response must be proportional – if only a small rebellion is underway, then only a small force should oppose it – but some force is still needed. Any rebellion would eventually threaten everyone if not stopped in time, so it is within the power of the Federal government to step in if needed.

If an insurrection overtakes an entire State, the militia may not be enough – troops may need to be raised. Some States (like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) have already considered this in specific cases. Since the Federal government faces the same threats as the States, shouldn’t it have the same power to counter them? I don’t know how anyone that is pro-Union can think it would be bad for the Union to defend itself.

Even for people that favor the plan of 3 or 4 confederacies, wouldn’t the same problem exist for those confederacies as for our proposed Federal government? You have to admit that this same objection would apply just as much to that scenario. Even if we remain as 13 individual, separate States, a time may come when the militia just isn’t enough to keep the peace.

Setting aside all other arguments, isn’t it really enough of an answer to say that in our plan, the power to raise troops is under the direct control of Congress, which is under the control of the people. This is really the best security for individual rights that can be had.

Even if Congress goes out of control, the people can resort to defending themselves with their own weapons. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this would be easier to do against the Federal government than against a State. For one thing, there are not enough organized subdivisions within one State to provide for effective raising of troops. It would be every man for himself. The tyrannical forces in government would be able to take them down piecemeal – perhaps even using the legal system to do it. It would be extremely difficult for any kind of citizen resistance.

The larger the scope of the government, the harder it will be for tyrannical elements to take it over (especially if the people are aware of and protective of their rights). A larger group of citizens would also be more effective against such a government. The other advantage of our particular arrangement will be that the States will always want to defend their power from Federal encroachments (and vice versa). That will serve as a natural defense against tyranny, and if the people throw their weight on one side or the other, they will tip the balance of power. The people hold the deciding vote at all times.

But the State governments will be able to see these problems coming – the people won’t need to be involved too often. There will be smart, engaged people running the States, and if the Federal government becomes tyrannical, they can take action to stop it (at the very least, they can raise the alarm and coordinate actions with other States).

The sheer size of our country will also be a bulwark against a tyrannical military power. Think of how much trouble the British had maintaining military control here. Even if one part of the country is quelled, the others can come to its rescue.

And remember, of course, that we have to be able to pay for an army. With the state of our economy, we won’t be able to afford a huge military force for quite some time. Even if the Federal government gets richer, so will the States and the people. Will there ever be a time that the freedom of the people can be overpowered in this way? I doubt it. Anyone who thinks this is a serious threat obviously isn’t thinking clearly.

Mini-Federalist #27 – The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #27, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_27.html

Originally published December 25, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Some people are saying that the government proposed in the Constitution can’t survive without military force. Like most of their arguments though, this is just an assumption, with no real evidence to support it. I don’t really understand it, but I think they assume that the people won’t listen to the Federal government on domestic issues. Now, we know there is no distinction in the document itself between foreign and domestic matters, but let’s try to figure out if there’s any merit to this idea nonetheless. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think the people would hate the Federal government any more than they hate their State governments (unless the Feds end up screwing up everything they try to do). Loyalty from the people is derived from how well a government runs. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but they’re exceptions. We have to look at these things in the way that they normally work.

I’ve outlined a lot of reasons why the Federal government will probably work better than the States’: the candidate base for the Federal government is the entire country; the Senate will be composed of quality men (since the State legislatures pick them); we’ll thus end up with smarter men who won’t be swayed by petty or local special interest groups to “do something” that might harm the people. You’ll also be able to see a lot more reasons once we start looking at the details of the structure of the proposed Federal government. Suffice it to say, that until the opponents of the Constitution can show that their fears have any basis, you have to assume that the people will treat the Federal government no different than they do the governments of the States.

If people think they can get away with ignoring a government, they will. If the government is strong, the people will listen to it. Isn’t it more likely that the people would follow the rules of a government that can marshal the resources of all the States, instead of just one? A small special interest group may be able to have influence in one State, but it can’t hope to influence all of them. If this is true, then there’s less danger with the Federal government than with the individual States.

Let me propose an idea (even if it is new to some of you): the more the people get used to the Federal government working in their lives – seeing it make things better and run properly – the more loyalty they will naturally feel toward it. We’re all creatures of habit. “Out of sight, out of mind”, right? If the people never have to interact with the Federal government, of course they won’t have any feelings about it! The strength and influence of the government with the people can only be increased with more interaction, and the more the people trust the government, the less it needs to resort to violence to get its way.

One thing is obvious: the proposed Constitution creates a government that is much less likely to need the threat of force than the weak confederacy of States that our opponents have in mind. We explained already that a system that has to deal only with States (who likely will ignore its provisions – as we’ve seen with our own experiment there) must resort to force sooner or later.

This Constitution, since it gives the Federal government the power to touch individual citizens (as opposed to just the States), will make it much easier for the Federal government to enforce its laws. Clearly, this arrangement will lead people to hold the Federal government in higher esteem and will mitigate the threat of rebellion against the government. We should also remember that under this plan, the powers specifically given to the Federal government are the supreme law of the land, and all of the States (and their officers and courts) have to follow the laws made by the Federal government. As long as the Federal government is well-run, there’s no reason to think that it will be ignored by the people. Of course we can assume that it will be horribly mismanaged, but can you show me any government that would survive in that case? Even if our opponents insist on thinking that we’d have terrible, nefarious leaders, how would those leaders ultimately benefit from their bad behavior in a system that is run by the people?

Mini-Federalist #26 – The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #26, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_26.html

Originally published December 22, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

It was a surprise when the revolution ended up bringing us to a place right between POWER and PRIVILEGE, trying to keep our rights while giving the government some power. We didn’t get it quite right though, and that has been the source of our trouble. This mistake should be corrected, or else our future attempts to fix it won’t really change anything at all.

Removing government power over the military sounds like a better idea than it actually is. Even though we seem to have invented the concept, we aren’t really employing it ourselves – only Pennsylvania and North Carolina have – everyone else refuses to consider it, and really they are right. You have to trust someone, and it’s a better idea to take the risk of abuse-of-power, than to leave us in a state where the government can’t protect us. Those who oppose the Constitution are at odds with the majority in this regard, and rather than moderating their own views, they want to drive us deeper into extremes. They recommend a solution that has been flatly rejected before, and frankly, they’d make this country ungovernable. It’s a good thing that won’t happen – the people are too smart for that. We know how important a sufficiently powerful government is. I’m sure of that.

But where does this idea come from? You might think it came about because history teaches us about the tendency for military encroachments on freedom. It actually comes from England.

Their King had almost total power for centuries. Over time, that power was eroded away by the aristocracy and the people to the point that there’s no real danger left. Eventually, the English Glorious Revolution secured this arrangement permanently. Various monarchs had kept troops – in increasing numbers – for their own purposes over the years. The Bill of Rights made it illegal for standing armies to exist without Parliament’s permission.

Even at the height of awareness of liberty in England, they had the good sense to not restrict the power of the legislature over the military. They understood that troops were necessary for emergencies that might come up, and they knew that the legislature was the safest place for the military power to be held.

Since we come from England, we’ve grown up in this same fear of standing armies. We got so caught up in the Revolution that we’ve gone too far in a few instances (like Pennsylvania and North Carolina did above). We mistakenly extended our fears from the King to the legislature, and put unnecessary provisions in some of our State constitutions. Of course the power to raise armies should belong only to the legislature – it goes without saying! The constitution of New York (clearly one of the greatest) says absolutely nothing about the subject.

Even in the two States that seem to fix the problem, they only say that standing armies shouldn’t be kept in time of peace, not that they can’t be kept. In using this wording, it’s obvious that the authors realized that a total prohibition would be a dangerous thing.

And of course, isn’t it true that any prohibition would be read as merely a suggestion if a crisis came up? What use would any of this language be if it was simply ignored when “necessary”?

So how is the situation different with the proposed Constitution? In the government it creates we do have a limit (though a perfectly reasonable one) that Congress can only set aside money for an army for a 2-year period. Since this isn’t anywhere near as extreme as a total prohibition on standing armies, it is more likely to be followed and have the desired effect.

This rule basically forces the Congress to discuss and vote on whether we need to have an army at least once every 2 years. They aren’t allowed to give the President a blank check for the military (even if they’re dumb enough to want to). This also forces the majority party to be open about what it is doing with both the people and the States. It would be hard to continue a tyranny for very long under this system.

In order to have a military build-up strong enough to threaten the people’s freedom, it would take a long time and require the constant cooperation of both the Congress and the President. It’s unlikely that such a coalition would survive for long with elections in Congress every 2 years. Would every new member of Congress instantly play along with the conspiracy and not raise the alarm? If you’re afraid of that, we can’t have any kind of federal system at all.

Even if a conspiracy like this began, it wouldn’t remain hidden. It would become obvious when the size of the army is being increased every 2 years. As soon as people know what is going on, the scheme will be finished.

Some people will argue that the President wouldn’t need the support of Congress once he has a sizable army – he can merely raid the countryside for supplies. But of course, how would he get an army that big in the first place? They’ll tell you that an army raised to counter a threat may stick around and be used against the people, but aren’t they really arguing that we shouldn’t ever have an army to defend ourselves? If we legitimately need a huge army to counter a specific threat, there’s really no way to prevent it from being used to attack freedom. No government can totally stop that.

But this isn’t really a concern for us as a united country. I can’t imagine a situation where the entire country was under attack at once, and we therefore needed a massive army (that would also threaten our freedom) to protect us. Especially when you consider that we’ll still have a militia. If we don’t go for a Union though, it’s almost inevitable that our liberty would constantly be threatened by the military (as we discussed before).

Mini-Federalist #25 – The Same Subject Continued: The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #25, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_25.html

Originally published December 21, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Some people might suggest that the States (while taking direction from the Federal government) should have responsibility for the common defense. The problem with this idea is that it throws the whole system on its head. Not only is it potentially dangerous and burdensome for the States to handle this task, it defeats the purpose of having a Union in the first place.

We are surrounded by foreign nations – it’s not like only specific States are on the borders. All the States face the same danger, so why not have a common government to deal with them? There are some States that face a slightly higher danger and therefore have more responsibility to defend their neighbors (like New York because of its long border with Canada) – this burden isn’t fair to New York, though. And if New York isn’t up to the task of defending that whole border by itself (which it isn’t) that puts every other State in jeopardy, too. Even if New York was up to the task, wouldn’t it be trouble for one State to have such an over-powering military all to itself? Wouldn’t its neighbors be nervous enough that they might build larger military forces than they actually need to counter the threat from other States? It isn’t hard to see how this could lead to friction amongst ourselves. There are a lot of things that are bad about this idea.

We’ve already discussed that the States will be fighting for power with the Federal government regularly. In any such conflict, the local government will probably win out. If those governments also control their own militaries, they would certainly have too much power against the Federal government. It’s also going to be worse for the freedom of the people. It’s better to have the military be under the control of the Federal government (which the people are more likely to be skeptical of) than under the individual States. History teaches us that the most dangerous people are the ones that we trust.

With the understanding that heavily-armed States would be dangerous to the Union, the framers of the Articles of Confederation restricted the States from having armies and navies. In reality, this rule is effectively ignored just like the quota system for revenue.

There are other issues with this idea, too. What proponents of it are trying to do is prevent standing armies during peacetime. But does this prohibit raising armies as well as maintaining them? If it applies to maintaining, how is that going to be determined? Are they only allowed to be maintained for a brief period, or until the crisis is over? Under such a system, couldn’t armies exist in times of peace, and if so, wouldn’t that go against the literal words of the prohibition? Who is going to be the judge of what “time of peace” means? Obviously the Federal government would have to be the judge of this, so how much of a restriction would this be really, if it can be circumvented so easily?

The only thing this is defending against, in reality, is the unlikely event that the legislature and the executive co-operate to make trouble. And if that happened, it would be extremely easy to come up with phantom threats that we need to defend against. The Native-American tribes (incited by Britain or Spain) will be a ready scapegoat. Such a diabolical government may even nudge those foreign powers into making the first attack.

We could restrict the Federal government from raising an army during peacetime, but then, we’d just be creating a country that can’t even prepare to defend itself against an imminent invasion. Formal declarations of war aren’t always issued. We may not know that we’re at war until we’re invaded, and we may not legally be able to even prepare to act until it’s too late. All the preventative and preparatory measures that other countries use would be illegal for ours. Our homes and freedoms would be at the mercy of any foreign nation – and all because we don’t trust the people we chose to run our own country!

People might counter that the militia should be the rightful, able, and ready defenders of the country. But we know from our experience in the Revolution that this isn’t true – we needed an army for our defense then, and we’d be stupid to give credence to that argument now. A militia is no match against a well-trained and well-equipped army. An army would be cheaper, too. During the Revolution, the militia performed great service, but they know that they couldn’t have done it alone. War can best be won by veteran soldiers who know what they’re doing.

Any policy of violence (because they just don’t work) will ultimately fail. Think of Pennsylvania – its constitution prevents it from having standing armies in peacetime, but it has raised one anyway because of small rebellions in a few of its counties. Or what about Massachusetts? it raised a force (that it has kept around to date) in order to deal with a similar insurrection without getting Congressional approval first like the Articles of Confederation require. This just goes to show, we may actually need a military force during peacetime – we shouldn’t absolutely prevent the legislature from having that option. And think of the lesson here – a weak Federal government isn’t going to be respected, and rules on paper aren’t going to mean anything if the people think they need something else.

Returning to history, it was an important aspect of the Lacedaemonian commonwealth that no one could be Admiral twice. But when the Peloponnesians had been beaten by the Athenians in a naval battle, they called for Lysander (who had led them to victory years before) to be given that title a second time. In order to get around the restriction, he was given the Admiral’s powers, but under the title Vice Admiral. This perfectly illustrates the point above – the rules will be broken if society thinks it should break them. If we’re smart, we won’t make rules that we know will be broken, because it will only lead to further infringements on the other laws whenever a politician claims that it is “necessary”.

Mini-Federalist #24 – The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #24, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_24.html

Originally published December 19, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

There is only one argument that I’ve heard against the military powers granted to the Federal government in the proposed Constitution, and that is that there doesn’t seem to be enough protection against the creation of standing armies. Let me speak to that point.

This objection is only vaguely asserted, with no real facts to back it up. It goes against the historical evidence of every other free nation, and against the general will of our citizens. It seems like what these people want is for us to limit the power of the legislature when it comes to military affairs. With the exception of a few State constitutions, this idea is almost unheard of, and nearly universally rejected.

If you were learning about our political system for the first time by reading the current newspapers, you’d think that either the proposed Constitution explicitly requires us to have a standing army, or that the power to decide whether we have one lies with the President – while Congress has no say in the matter.

Of course, if the same person read the actual proposed Constitution, he’d see how wrong this initial impression is. Congress (a body that is partly elected by the people themselves) has the power to raise armies, not the President. Congress’ power even has a caveat: that no appropriation of money can be made for the army for greater than a 2-year term. When you really look at it, this is a solid protection against an unnecessary standing army.

With this in mind, our hypothetical political neophyte might then assume that the fury of these objections is based on the fact that our citizens are so worried about their freedom, that their current (or previous) governments’ charters must have included very specific and explicit limitations on the formation of standing armies. The fact that those traditional, explicit limits have somehow been left out of this proposed Constitution is what all the fuss is about.

Naturally, he’d be led to look at the States’ constitutions for evidence to support his assumption. What he’d find is that only 2 of those charters put an explicit limitation on standing armies. The rest either don’t mention the subject at all, or explicitly allow them.

Even after all this, he might think, “Well there must be some reason for all this panic!” He wouldn’t be able to bring himself to think that this is all just political wrangling on the part of people who are opposed to the new Constitution. “The answer must be held in the Articles of Confederation”, he may say, “surely the specific prohibition of standing armies that is lacking in the proposed Constitution has to be contained there!”

Imagine his surprise to discover that while the Articles restricted the States in that capacity, they make no mention of preventing the Federal government from forming standing armies. At this point, it would become absolutely clear to him that this objection is rooted in nothing more than political show-boating and fear-mongering. If anything, this proposed Constitution provides better security against the danger, and it at least deserves a fair and honest hearing based on the facts. This hypothetical observer would have to conclude that it looks like the opponents of the proposed Constitution are more interested in misleading people with emotional appeals, rather than convincing them with rational arguments.

Even if there is no historical or popular support for our opponents’ point of view, it is still worth taking a closer look at. If we did put a more explicit limitation on the formation of standing armies, it would probably end up being harmful (if not outright ignored).

It’s true that we’re far from Europe, but even on this continent, we’ve got British territories to the north and Spanish ones to the south. Both have islands in the Caribbean. We have sometimes-aggressive Native-American tribes to our west who are likely to ally with the British or Spanish against us. Improvements in shipping and communication will in effect make the world smaller. These facts, combined with the knowledge that Britain and Spain have two of the best navies in the world, and that it isn’t totally improbable that an alliance may form between them in the future, you can see that critical danger may arise at any time.

We’ve had to keep a guard on our western border ever since the Revolution. Obviously we need to keep this up as a defense against the native tribes. How are we going to man those forts? Either with militia who are sent to the frontier – away from their homes, families and jobs (which would be at least impractical and expensive, if not outright dangerous) – or with a small standing army. We should leave these options open to the wisdom of the legislature, and not force them to go with the much more troublesome militia-only route.

As we become a stronger nation, Britain and Spain will probably start keeping more troops on the continent to look out for their own interests. It would be wise for us to have enough men available in our frontier forts to counter that threat. Some key places – either because of their military or commercial importance – should definitely be strongly occupied at all times in order to prevent them from being taken by our rivals.

If our economy continues to rely on trade – or even if we just want to protect our shores – we need to have a navy. With a navy comes a need for port facilities and seacoast forts. Eventually, once we get a stronger naval presence, we may be able to get rid of the coastal forts, but at the start they will be necessary to protect us.

Mini-Federalist #23 – The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #23, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_23.html

Originally published December 18, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Let’s talk about why we need a government with at least as much power as the one the proposed Constitution sets up.

This is most easily presented in three parts (we’ll deal with how to organize and distribute its power later):

  1. What should the government do for us?
  2. What amount of power does it need to do those things?
  3. Who is the “us” in the first question?

So, what are things that the federal government should do? Provide for the common defense – protecting us from foreign threats as well as domestic rebels; regulate interstate, as well as international trade; and finally, oversee all our diplomatic relations with other countries.

Our government can only provide for the common defense if it can also raise armies and maintain a navy, all the while providing material support, and control over them both. Because it is impossible to know exactly what kinds of military emergencies might come up, THERE SHOULD BE NO LIMITATIONS ON THIS POWER. If there are infinite types of danger, there should be infinite powers to meet them.

This truth is so obvious as to be self-evident, but if someone is expected to do a thing, he must be given enough power to actually accomplish it. I can’t make it any simpler than that.

Whether we should have a federal government to protect us at all is a fair question, but as soon as we decide that would should have one, it must be given enough power to actually be able to do its job. And unless the dangers to public safety can be defined as only being within certain limits, it is necessary for there to be no limit to the power of the federal government to create, control, and support the military.

As bad as the Articles of Confederation are, at least they acknowledge this fact (even though they didn’t really flesh it out fully). Congress was given the power to ask the States for men and money in support of an army, and to control that army. And given that the States are legally obligated to comply (even if they ignored that requirement much of the time), you can figure out that the intention was for the federal government to have any resources it needed to defend the individual States. You would think that the States would act in their own best interests and comply with those requests.

In practice, it obviously didn’t work out that way, and it should be clear to everyone that we need to totally re-think this system. If we’re serious about giving the federal government the power to defend us, we have to stop thinking about it as interacting only with the States – we have to give the federal government power over the individual citizens living within those States. The quotas are stupid and unfair, and we should get rid of them. In the end, the federal government needs to have total authority to raise armies and navies, and support them with taxes – the way all other governments do.

If we’re going to have a confederacy – rather than one national government – then we need to figure out how to divide up the powers between the States and federal governments. Is the federal government responsible for defense? Are armies and navies necessary for defense? If so, the federal government must control those. The same argument applies with commerce. It’s as simple as that. Should disputes between a State’s citizens be handled by that State? If so, the States need to have enough power to do that. If you don’t give the respective governments the power to do their jobs, you are unnecessarily handicapping them.

So who is best-equipped to provide for that defense? Isn’t it the government that is able to see, understand, and control the whole picture, and will be most likely to forcefully look out for everyone’s interests? It is madness to give the federal government the responsibility for defense, but leave the States with all the power needed to carry it out. Doesn’t this end with us sitting around wishing that the States would cooperate more? Leaving things how they are will only make us weaker, and our military less efficient, and the burden of it unfair. Isn’t this what we just got done dealing with during the Revolution?

The more we think about it, we have to admit that the federal government needs this power. Of course, it will be up to the people to ensure that this power isn’t abused, but any plan to fix our government that doesn’t include this power should be immediately rejected. If you can’t trust a government to do the fundamental thing that it should do, then you probably shouldn’t be installing that government in the first place. If you trust them to look out for you, you should be able to trust them with the power to do so. The opponents of the proposed Constitution are focusing on scaring you with the powers this new government has, when they should really be concerned with the structure of it. If it’s true that no government can be trusted with enough power to effectively govern a country our size, then we shouldn’t even try to make one, and just split up into separate confederacies right now. Otherwise, the paradox of demanding something that the government doesn’t have power to provide will become unbearable. Don’t try to work with the paradox – seize the logical solution.

I don’t think the other side can prove that this country is too large for a single government. I think I’ve made it pretty clear so far that the opposite is true: we need a central government, and the vast size of our country proves that we need one that is vested with enough power to govern it. If we listened to the people who rail against the proposed Constitution, we’d have to conclude that even the weak government created by the Articles of Confederation is too powerful for them.

Mini-Federalist #22 – The Same Subject Continued: Other Defects of the Present Confederation

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #22, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_22.html

Originally published December 14, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

The problems we’ve already discussed aren’t the only ones that make our current system incapable of good government.

Everyone agrees that the government should be able to regulate commerce. We’ve already talked about how useful this would be, so I don’t have much to add. It’s obvious that this item requires federal supervision. The fact that our current government can’t do it has already led to tensions between a few States, and problems in negotiating foreign treaties. I mean, who is going to make a trade agreement with a government that can’t guarantee control of its own trade? The plan of the British government seems to be to play our States off each other.

And many States have done just that – acting independently in regulating their trade (especially with Great Britain). We need a uniform policy.

The greed and selfishness of some States, manifested in their trade regulations, has already led other States to complain and seek their own selfish solutions. Not only does this go against the whole idea of “Union”, but if we don’t get this under control, there won’t be a Union left. Look at what the Germans have done to their commerce by having every prince exact his own taxes on trade passing through his territory. Now, I hope we wouldn’t be so stupid as to allow that to happen, but if we keep going down this road of conflicting State interests, we’ll almost certainly end up treating all our neighbors like foreigners.

The ability of our current government to raise armies depends upon the generosity of the States for money and men. This led to severe problems and inefficiencies during the Revolution. States could only meet their quota of men by offering huge bounties to anyone who would sign up for them. As the men became more scarce, the bounties went ever higher. The people saw this going on, and so able-bodied men weren’t enlisting, hoping to get a better deal later on. In the midst of crisis, we couldn’t get enough troops, and were overpaying for the ones we had. Some States resorted to tactics that were less-than liberty-minded in order to meet their quotas. Is that the kind of society we want?

Not only is this system inefficient, it’s unfair. The States that have active battles going on within their borders had to try very hard to raise men out of fear, while the States that were far from the action barely participated in recruiting efforts. It isn’t like the negligent States could be easily found out – sending fewer men is harder to track and figure out than sending less money. The States that didn’t do their part will probably never make up for it. It’s pretty clear that this quota system – both for men and for funding – just doesn’t work.

Another problem is that every State has an equal say. This is unfair to the larger States – Delaware and Rhode Island have an equal voice to Pennsylvania and Virginia – and fundamentally goes against the idea of majority rule. Of course some will say that the States are all equal and sovereign, and thus a majority of States equals a majority of the country. But this doesn’t make sense – what if the “majority” that is formed of States is actually a minority of the total population? Should we all have to submit to the will of the minority? How long will it take the larger States to simply leave the Union rather than put up with this? By sticking around, they wouldn’t only be giving up power, but fairness, too. Since the smaller States aren’t equipped to go it alone without the larger ones, they should support any measures that keep the larger States happy.

One answer to this problem is to require a 2/3rds vote for any major decision – the idea being that 2/3rds of the States will always equal at least a majority of the population. But this isn’t fair – and plainly doesn’t add up. You can today put together 2/3rd of the States that don’t constitute a majority of the population. This is on top of the problem of determining which issues fit in the “major” category vs. the ones that can be determined by a simple majority. Also keep in mind: we will probably be adding more States later.

In addition: this “solution” may actually cause greater problems. If all decisions require a 2/3rds vote, then the minority can always veto the majority. We might as well have minority rule. And if some States aren’t available to vote on a matter, the problem is compounded. There have been cases where Delaware and Rhode Island (together about 1/60th of the population) have been able to block legislation. In this case, the “solution” acts in practice in exactly the opposite way that its designers intended. The idea behind a 2/3rds requirement is that it will promote security, but it in fact promotes obstructionism and corruption. In emergencies, quick action is required. Things have to move forward. In order for that to happen in such a system, the majority has to do what the minority wants – the minority will, in effect, be in control. This leads to delays, corruption, and bad compromises – and you’re even trained to feel good about these things! It all ends in weakness, and maybe even anarchy.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that this also increases the chances for foreign corruption, not to mention rebellion at home. You may think this isn’t true, but imagine the damage that could be caused by a foreign power grinding our government to a halt at just the right time. While the 2/3rds requirement guarantees that nothing destructive will be done, its easy to forget that nothing good will be done either. The power to halt progress can be just as dangerous as the power to make the wrong progress.

Imagine that we’re in the middle of a war, as an ally of one nation against another. Now, if we got tired of war and decided to try to make peace while our ally wanted to continue, it wouldn’t be difficult for the ally to figure out that all he has to do is bribe 1/3rd of the States to see things his way, and he can prevent the peace process from happening. The same can also happen with our enemy – manipulating a small minority to get their way. And not just with wars, either. One foreign nation could, through corruption in a small number of States, prevent us from trading with other foreign nations.

I’m not making this stuff up. While the republic is a great form of government, it’s weakness is in how easily it can fall victim to foreign influence. Monarchies are far from perfect, but at least a King will not sell out his own country – that particular evil is extremely rare.

In a republic though, people who have been given power by their fellow citizens are often tempted by their own greed to sell that power to the highest bidder. Their personal gain isn’t explicitly linked to the good of the country as it is with a King. There are tons of historical examples of this kind of corruption in republics, and we’ve already talked about the damage that resulted. This type of buying of influence is commonplace.

Yet another problem with our system is that we have no federal judiciary. Laws become meaningless without courts. Treaties as well need to be treated like law, and we need courts to apply them. Rather than leave national matters to the individual State courts, we should have one supreme court to keep things consistent and act as a final arbiter. Most other nations have a setup like this.

This becomes even more of a problem in our system, where there are federal and State laws. What is to keep the States from over-ruling federal laws that they disagree with? If State courts get the final say, we will not only potentially end up with dozens of separate answers, but those answers will obviously be in the best interests of the individual States, not necessarily the common good. This is especially a nightmare for treaty interpretation and enforcement. Why would any foreign nation take us seriously when any treaty might be imbued with 13 different meanings?

So far, I’ve just talked about the biggest flaws in our system. There are still other smaller ones that gum up the works, too. Obviously, the system is so flawed that we can’t just patch it up with amendments – we need to gut it and start over.

Congress isn’t organized in an effective way. A single house may work OK now, but if we start giving additional powers to the federal legislature – even ones that everyone agrees it should have –  it could lead to problems. If we don’t change this aspect of Congress now, we may be forced to give the additional powers in an emergency situation later. If that happens, the government will either crumble under the weight of it, or become so all-powerful and tyrannical as to become one of the worst of all time. We will have created the terror that the opponents of the Constitution claim to be wary of.

Finally, it doesn’t help things that the Articles of Confederation were never approved by the people. Because it is essentially only an agreement between legislatures, there are questions about whether it can be repealed by individual States, or if it is even a legitimate government in the first place. As bad as it sounds to allow one party of a contract to completely annul it, that idea is on the table. We need to have a more solidly-constructed government. Our future has to be founded on the consent of the people. All national authority must be granted by them.

Mini-Federalist #21 – Other Defects of the Present Confederation

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #21, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_21.html

Originally published December 12, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

I spent the last three articles discussing the specifics of some other historical confederate governments (including what happened to them). Now I’d like to talk about some of the defects in our own system. If we’re ever going to come up with proper meaningful solutions, we have to agree on what the problems are.

For one thing, the laws of our central government don’t have any weight to them. There is no explicit constitutional mechanism to enforce them nor power to dish out any kind of punishment for ignoring them. Even if we assume that the power exists, the Articles of Confederation lay out: “that each State shall retain every power, jurisdiction, and right not expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” So, we feel like we need this power, but we’d have to make it up (since it isn’t explicitly given) and the central government is only allowed to have powers that are explicitly given, so making it up is against the Articles (as our opponents point out). This puts our federal government in the rather unenviable position of making essentially meaningless laws.

Another problem is that there is no assurance in the Articles that the States will follow the laws. Even if we assume that it’s implied, doesn’t that go against the provision I stated above, too?

The bigger of these problems is the lack of a federal enforcement mechanism.

If there is no legal agreement for the States to follow the federal laws, then the federal government won’t have the ability to step in and help in the case of domestic trouble. What if tyrannical forces seized power in one or more States – what could the central government legally do? Little more than sadly observe. And this isn’t just theoretical – look at what just happened in Massachusetts. Can you imagine what would have happened if those rebels had better leadership? And this isn’t just a local problem – a tyrannical government in one State may very well cause problems for its neighbors.

Some people object to the idea of a guarantee because they feel that it would lead to an erosion of the States’ rightful power. These people misunderstand, and this objection keeps us from enjoying the primary benefit of having a Union in the first place. It wouldn’t prohibit the States from changing their own Constitutions legally, just if those changes happen violently – and we can’t have enough protections against that. Not only would this mechanism protect us against rebels, but leaders-turned-tyrants, too.

Still another problem is the issue of revenue. The system where the States provide funds on a quota basis has a fundamental flaw. There is no way that such a system can reliably provide for the federal government’s needs – we know this. I’d also argue that it is unfair to the States – we don’t have a way of accurately measuring who can afford what amount. We can’t go by amount of land, or amount of population, or even by value of land. What is the wealth of the Netherlands when compared to Russia, for example? In our own States, compare Pennsylvania with Connecticut – do land mass or population easily map to comparative wealth for them? The same problem applies to the counties within the States, too.

There are far too many variables that contribute to a State’s wealth: soil, climate, government, ingenuity of the people, education, trade, industries in the State, and many more. Since there are so many varied factors, we can’t possibly have one common measurement for the wealth of a State, and therefore no measure for how much they can afford to pay the federal government in taxes. Trying to create one will only create injustice among the States.

This fact alone will eventually lead to a dissolution of the Union. The States that are unfairly taxed will not simply sit around and take it. Under a quota system, this is impossible to avoid.

The only way to correct this is to allow the federal government to collect its own taxes, duties, and imposts. Such consumption taxes placed on certain specific items, payable by individuals, are the only fair revenue-generating measures. Each person (through his own buying habits) essentially decides how much he pays in taxes. This is as fair a system as we can possibly hope to make. Even if it isn’t totally fair, it would still be better than the current quota system.

Of course, the greatest thing about a consumption tax is that it will limit itself. If the tax is too high, the price of the taxed goods will be too high and no one will buy them, thus defeating the revenue-generating purpose. This simple fact will keep the taxes fairly low. It would be impossible for the people to be oppressed by these kinds of taxes.

These indirect taxes should be the main source of revenue for our government for the foreseeable future. Direct taxes (like property taxes) are easier to apportion – you can go either by population (which is simpler to figure out and thus preferred), or land value (which in a large, growing country like ours, is extremely difficult – and expensive – to calculate). Either way, we should have a definite rule for how these taxes are to be collected, otherwise the power of the government’s discretion may be abused.