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SPEECH OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON,
ON THE EXPEDIENCY OF ADOPTING THE
DELIVERED IN THE CONVENTION OF NEW YORK, JUNE 27, 1788.
A proposition to amend the constitution was brought before the conven
tion, the object of which was, to materially abridge the power proposed to be conferred upon Congress, relative to imposing excise and laying direct taxes, in opposition to which, Mr. Hamilton de.. livered the following speech.
This is one of those subjects, Mr. Chairman, on which objections very naturally arise, and assume the most plausible shape. · Its address is to the passions, and its first impressions create a prejudice, before cool examination has an opportunity for exertion. It is more easy for the human mind to calculate the evils, than the advantages of a measure; and vastly more natural to apprehend the danger, than to see the necessity, of giving powers to our rulers. Hence, I may justly expect, that those who hear me, will place less confidence in those arguments which oppose, than in those which favor, their prepossessions.
After all qur doubts, our suspicions and speculations, on the subject of government, we must return, at last, to this important truth-that when we have formed a constitution upon free principles; when we have given a proper balance to the different branches of administration, and fixed representation upon pure and equal principles, we may, with safety, furnish it with
all the powers necessary to answer, in the most ample manner, the purposes of government. The great desiderata are a free representation, and mutual checks. When these are obtained, all our apprehensions of the extent of powers are unjust and imaginary. What then is the structure of this constitution ? One branch of the legislature is to be elected by the people-by. the same people, who choose your state representatives. Its members are to hold their office two years, and then return to their constituents. Here, sir, the people govern: here they act by their immediate representatives. You have also a senate, constituted by your state legislatures—by men, in whom you place the highest confidence, and forming another representative branch. Then, again, you have an executive magistrate, created by a form of election, which merits universal admiration. In the form of this government, and in the mode of legislation, you find all the checks which the greatest politicians and the best writers, have ever conceived. What more can reasonable men desire ? Is there any one branch, in which the whole legislative and executive powers are lodged? No. The legislative authority is lodged in three distinct branches, properly balanced: the executive authority is divided between two branches; and the judicial is still reserved for an independent body, who hold their offices during good behavior. This organization is so complex, so skilfully contrived, that'. it is next to impossible that an impolitic or wicked measure should pass the great scrutiny with success. Now, what do gentlemen mean, by coming forward and declaiming against this government ? Why do they say we ought to limit its powers, to disable it, and to destroy its capacity of blessing the people ? Has philosophy suggested-has experience taught, that such a government ought not to be trusted with every thing, necessary for the good of society ? Sir, when you have divided and nicely balanced the departments of government; when you have strongly
connected the virtue of your rulers with their interest; when, in short, you have rendered your system as perfect as human forms can be—you must place confidence; you must give power.
We have heard a great deal of the sword and the purse: it is said, our liberties are in danger, if both are possessed by Congress. Let us see what is the true meaning of this maxim, which has been so much used, and so little understood. It is, that you shall not place these powers in either the legislative or executive singly: neither one nor the other shall have both; because this would destroy that division of powers, on which political liberty is founded; and would furnish one body with all the means of tyranny. But, where the purse is lodged in one branch, and the sword in another, there can be no danger. All governments have possessed these powers: they would be monsters without them, and incapable of exertion. What is your state government? Does not your legislature command what money it pleases? Does not your executive execute the laws without restraint? These distinctions between the purse and the sword have no application to the system, but only to its separate branches. Sir, when we reason about the great interests of a great people, it is high time that we dis-, miss our prejudices and banish declamation.
In order to induce us to consider the powers, given -by this constitution, as dangerous-in order to render plausible an attempt to take away the life and spirit of the most important power in government, the gentleman complains that we shall not have a true and safe representation. I asked him what a safe representation was, and he has given no satisfactory answer. The assembly of New York has been mentioned as a proper standard; but, if we apply this standard to the general government, our Congress will become a mere mob, exposed to every irregular impulse, and subject to every breeze of faction. Can such a system afford security ?. Can you have confidence in
such a body? The idea of taking the ratio of representation, in a small society, for the ratio of a great one, is a fallacy which ought to be exposed. It is impossible to ascertain to what point our représentation will increase: it may vary from one, to two, three, or four hundred; it depends upon the progress of population. Suppose it to rest at two hundred; is not this number sufficient to secure it against corruption ? Human nature must be a much more weak and despicable thing, than I apprehend it to be, if two hundred of our fellow-citizens can be corrupted in two years. But, suppose they are corrupted; can they, in two years, accomplish their designs ? Can they form a combination, and even lay a foundation for a system of tyranny, in so short a period? It is far from my intention to wound the feelings of any gentleman; but I must, in this most interesting discussion, speak of things as they are ; and hold up opinions in the light in which they ought to appear: and I maintain, that all that has been said of corruption, of the purse and the sword, and of the danger of giving powers, is not supported by principle or fact: that it is mere verbiage, and idle declamation. The true principle of government is this: make the system complete in its structure; give a perfect proportion and balance to its parts; and the powers you give it will never affect your security. The question, then, of the division of powers between the general and state governments, is a question of convenience: it becomes a prudential inquiry, what powers are proper to be reserved to the latter; and this immediately involves another inquiry into the proper objects of the two governments. This is the criterion by which we shall determine the just distribution of
powers. The great leading objects of the federal government, in which revenue is concerned, are to maintain domestic peace, and provide for the common defence. In these are comprehended the regulation of commerce, that is, the whole system of foreign intercourse; the
support of armies and navies, and of the civil administration. It is useless to go into detail. Every one knows that the objects of the general government are numerous, extensive and important. Every one must acknowledge the necessity of giving powers, in all respects, and in every degree, equal to these objects. This principle assented to, let us inquire what are the objects of the state governments. Have they to provide against foreign invasion? Have they to maintain fleets and armies? Have they any concern in the regulation of commerce, the procuring alliances, or forming treaties of peace? No. Their objects are merely civil and domestic; to support the legislative establishment, and to provide for the administration of the laws. Let any one compare the expense of supporting the civil list in a state, with the expense of providing for the defence of the union. The difference is almost beyond calculation. The experience of Great Britain will throw some light on this subject. In that kingdom, the ordinary expenses of peace to those of war, are as one to fourteen: but there they have a monarch, with his splendid court, and an enormous civil establishment, with which we have nothing in this country to compare. If, in Great Britain, the expenses of war and peace are so disproportioned, how wide will be their disparity in the United States; how infinitely wider between the general government and each individual state! Now, sir, where ought the great resources to be lodged ? Every rational man will give an immediate answer. To what extent shall these resources be possessed ? Reason says, as far as possible exigencies can require; that is, without limitation. A constitution cannot set bounds to a nation's wants; it ought not, therefore, to set bounds to its re
Unexpected invasions, long and ruinous wars, may demand all the possible abilities of the country. Shall not your government have power to call these abilities into action? The contingencies of society are not reduceable to calculations. They