The misfortunes under which we have for some time laboured, and which still press us severely, would be in a great measure alleviated, if not wholly removed, by devolving upon Congress the power of regulating trade and laying and collecting duties and imposts. If these powers were once fully vested in Congress, trade would immediately assume a new face, money and people would flow in upon us, and the vast tracts of ungranted lands would be a mine of wealth for many years to come. I am pursuaded, that with this addition to the powers of Congress, we should soon find them sufficient for every purpose; and it is very certain that if we did not find them sufficient, we could easily encrease them.1
But instead of being contented with this, the late convention by their proposed constitution, seem to have resolved to give the new continental government every kind of power whatsoever, throughout the United States. This power I have already attempted to show, is not limited by any stipulations in favour of the liberty of the subject, and it is easy to shew, that it will be equally unchecked by any restraint from the individual states. The treasure of the whole continent will be entirely at their command. "The Congress shall have power to levy and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises." And what are the individual states to do, or how are they to subsist? may they also lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises? If they should, the miserable subject will be like sheep twice shorne; the skin must follow the fleece.
But the fact is, that no individual state can collect a penny, unless by the permission of Congress; for the "laws of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary, notwithstanding."2
The laws of the individual states, will be only Leges sub graviore Lege: for the power of enacting laws necessarily implies the power of repealing laws; and therefore Congress, being the supreme legislatures, may annul or repeal the laws of the individual states, whenever they please. Not a single source of revenue will remain to any state, which Congress may not stop at their sovereign will and pleasure; for if any state attempt to impose a tax or levy a duty, contrary to the inclination of Congress, they have only to exert their supreme legislative power and the law imposing such tax or duty, is done away in a moment. For instance, it will very soon be found inconvenient to have two sets of excise officers in each town or county in every state, they will be in danger of clashing with each other, it will then be found "necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers vested by the constitution in the government of the United States, or in some department or officer thereof," to forbid the individual states to levy anymore excise. Congress may chuse to impose a stamp-duty. It will be very inconvenient for people to run back and forward to different offices, to procure double stamps, and therefore it will be thought "necessary and proper" to forbid any state to meddle with stamp-duties. The same will be the case with many other taxes. They will be in danger of clashing with each other, if Congress and the several states should happen to lay taxes on the same article. The States therefore individually, will be restrained from imposing any taxes upon such articles as Congress shall think proper to tax. They must then try to find out other articles for taxation, which Congress have not thought proper to touch. This I fear will be a difficult task: for the expensive court to be maintained by the great president, the pay of the standing army and the numerous crouds of hungry expectants, who have lost their all, and it will be said, have lost it by their zeal for the new constitution, must necessarily employ the sharpest wits among their ablest financiers, to devise every possible mode of taxation; and besides, if an individual state should hit upon a new tax that should happen to be productive, there is no doubt but it would soon be taken from it and appropriated to the use of the United States.
The inhabitants of the TEN MILE SQUARE, would find ways and means to dispose of all the money that could possibly be raised in every part of the United States. What then will become of the separate governments? They will be annihilated; absolutely annihilated; for no man will ever submit to the wretchedness and contempt of holding any office under them.3