The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 31


Hamilton defends the authority of the federal government to impose taxes “in the ordinary modes,” as opposed to taxing the states in their collective capacities, with reference to three principles. First, a government ought to have enough power to fulfill its responsibilities. Second, since it is impossible to predict what problems the US government will face in the future, its ability to confront these challenges must not be unduly limited. Third, since all governments require money to fulfill their responsibilities, it must be granted the ability to generate revenue.

Hamilton furthermore dismisses the conspiracy theories of the constitution’s opponents who allege that granting the government the authority to tax the people directly will enable the national government to become tyrannical and leave state governments at “the mercy of the national legislature.” Hamilton argues that the structure and composition of the government, rather than the excessive limitation of its powers, must be relied upon to guard against such usurpations.


Hamilton prefaces his argument in this paper with a discussion of “primary truths, or first principles.” He asserts that certain principles in the natural science are plainly evident. Similarly, in ethics and politics, certain principles are simply common sense. However, in morals and politics, men can easily become stubborn and intractable. He accuses opponents of the Constitution of being unreasonable in their criticisms and argues why the Constitution’s provisions for taxation are based on common sense principles of political science. He explicitly recognizes the counterargument that taxation may lead to usurpations of state rights by the national government, but then derides this position as unreasonable and extravagant fantasy.

By taking this approach, Hamilton tries to present his side of the argument as irrefutable and rooted in common sense. His tone is highly argumentative and dismissive. He clearly considers his opponents’ arguments to be founded on unreasonable fears that serve only to prolong and confuse the debate.