The Moral Liberal, Classics Library
Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1, 1774: Speeches and Resolutions in Congress, January 27 1783–February 12 1783.
Monday, January 27, 1783.
MR. HAMILTON went extensively into the subject; the sum of it was as follows: He observed that funds considered as permanent sources of revenue were of two kinds: first, such as would extend generally and uniformly throughout the United States, and would be collected under the authority of Congress; secondly, such as might be established separately within each State, and might consist of any objects which were chosen by the States, and might be collected either under the authority of the States or of Congress. Funds of the first kind, he contended, were preferable; as being, first, more simple, the difficulties attending the mode of fixing the quotas laid down in the Confederation rendering it extremely complicated, and in a manner insuperable; secondly, as being more certain, since the States, according to the said plan, would probably retain the collection of the revenue, and a vicious system of collection prevailed generally throughout the United States,—a system by which the collectors were chosen by the people, and made their offices more subservient to their popularity than to the public revenue; thirdly, as being more economical, since the collection would be effected with fewer officers under the management of Congress than under that of the States.
Tuesday, January 28th.
Mr. Hamilton, in reply to Mr. Ellsworth, dwelt long on the inefficacy of State funds. He supposed, too, that greater obstacles would arise to the execution of the plan than to that of a general revenue. As an additional reason for the latter to be collected by officers under the appointment of Congress, he signified that as the energy of the Federal Government was evidently short of the degree necessary for pervading and uniting the States, it was expedient to introduce the influence of officers deriving their emoluments from, and consequently interested in supporting the power of, Congress.1
Wednesday, January 29th.
Mr. Hamilton disliked every plan that made but partial provision for the public debts, as an inconsistent and dishonorable departure from the declaration made by Congress on that subject. He said the domestic creditors would take the alarm at any distinctions unfavorable to their claims; that they would withhold their influence from any such measures recommended by Congress; and that it must be principally from their influence on their respective Legislatures that success could be expected to any application from Congress for a general revenue.
February 12, 1783.
Resolved, That it is the opinion of Congress that complete JUSTICE cannot be done to the creditors of the United States, nor the restoration of PUBLIC CREDIT be effected, nor the future exigencies of the war provided for, but by the establishment of permanent and adequate funds to operate generally throughout the United States, to be collected by Congress.2
1 Almost all the resolutions offered in Congress by Hamilton are omitted here, because they are given in the journals of that body. Many of them are unimportant, and nearly all are the work of committees. Those which follow are retained solely because they show the drift of Hamilton’s mind at this time on the subject of government, and the nature of his efforts as a public man to bring about the desired changes in our political system. The speeches are taken from Madison’s Debates, and although mere fragments, illustrate better than anything else the character of Hamilton’s work as a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation.
2 This remark was imprudent and injurious to the cause which it was meant to serve. This influence was the very source of the jealousy which rendered the States averse to a revenue under collection, as well as appropriation, of Congress. All the members of Congress who concurred in any degree with the States in this jealousy smiled at the disclosure. Mr. Bland, and still more Mr. Lee, who were of this number, took notice in private conversation that Mr. Hamilton had let out the secret. (Note by Madison.)
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. The copyright for the original of this document is held in the Public Domain. Font, formatting, spelling modernizations, typo/transcription corrections, and explanatory footnotes for this version of ”The Works of Alexander Hamilton” Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.