Taxation Quotes

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Even before he became Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton focused on the importance of revenue for the nation. While many founding fathers focused principally on the government structures, Hamilton knew that finances went hand-in-hand with the government to set a basis for a stable and prosperous nation. And in order to both pay off the debts from the Revolution and prepare for "future exigencies," he knew that taxes had to be enacted.

In 1782, Hamilton had direct experience with taxation when he served as the Receiver of Continental Taxes  for New York. Later, as Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was responsible for establishing the national system of taxation, which previously did not exist under the Articles of Confederation. His study, analysis, and proposals are documented in such varied documents as the Federalist Papers, official state reports, and personal correspondence. Here is just a selection of some of Hamilton's quotes on the topic of taxation. 

Note: This page will continue to grow with new quotes from a variety of sources. Know of a quote? Send it to us!


 In framing a government for posterity as well as ourselves, we ought, in those provisions which are designed to be permanent, to calculate, not on temporary, but on permanent causes of expense.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34, "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation," New York Packet, January 4, 1788


[Taxes] will in the end be borne by all classes; yet it is of the greatest importance that no one should sink under the immediate pressure.

-Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. VI, July 4, 1782


There is no part of the administration of government that requires extensive information and a thorough knowledge of the principles of political economy, so much as the business of taxation. The man who understands those principles best will be least likely to resort to oppressive expedients, or sacrifice any particular class of citizens to the procurement of revenue. It might be demonstrated that the most productive system of finance will always be the least burdensome.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 35, "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation," Independent Journal, January 5, 1788


The genius of liberty reprobates every thing arbitrary or discretionary in taxation.

-Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. VI, July 4, 1782


The great art is to distribute the public burthens well and not suffer them, either first, or last, to fall too heavily upon parts of the community; else distress and disorder must ensue.

-Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. VI, July 4, 1782


All imposts upon commerce ought to be laid by Congress and appropriated to their use, for without certain revenues, a government can have no power; that power, which holds the purse strings absolutely, must rule. 

- Alexander Hamilton, Letter to James Duane, "Deficiencies of the Confederation," September 3, 1780


It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they contain in their own nature a security against excess. They prescribe their own limit; which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end proposed, that is, an extension of the revenue.

– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21, "Other Defects of the Present Confederation," Independent Journal, December 12, 1787



 Every proposal for a specific tax is sure to meet with opposition.

-Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. VI, July 4, 1782


If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.

– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21, "Other Defects of the Present Confederation," Independent Journal, December 12, 1787


...[I]t should be remembered that it is impossible to devise any specific tax, that will operate equally on the whole community. It must be the province of the legislature to hold the scales with a judicious hand and ballance one by another. The rich must be made to pay for their luxuries; which is the only proper way of taxing their superior wealth.

-Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. VI, July 4, 1782


How is it possible that a government half supplied and always necessitous, can fulfill the purposes of its institution, can provide for the security, advance the prosperity, or support the reputation of the commonwealth?

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 30, "Concerning the General Power of Taxation," New York Packet, December 28, 1787


 A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 31, "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation," New York Packet, January 1, 1788


Limiting the powers of government to certain resources, is rendering the funds precarious; and obliging the government to ask, instead of empowering it to command, is to destroy all confidence and credit. If the power of taxing is restricted, the consequence is, that on the breaking out of a war you must divert the funds appropriated to the payment of debts, to answer immediate exigencies. Thus, you violate your engagements at the very time you increase the burthen of them. Besides, sound policy condemns the practice of accumulating debts. A government, to act with energy, should have the possession of all its revenues to answer present purposes.

-Alexander Hamilton, "Speech on the compromise of the constitution" at the New York Ratifying Convention, June 27, 1788


Constitutions of civil government are not to be framed upon a calculation of existing exigencies, but upon a combination of these with the probable exigencies of ages, according to the natural and tried course of human affairs. Nothing, therefore, can be more fallacious than to infer the extent of any power, proper to be lodged in the national government, from an estimate of its immediate necessities. There ought to be a CAPACITY to provide for future contingencies as they may happen; and as these are illimitable in their nature, it is impossible safely to limit that capacity.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34, "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation," New York Packet, January 4, 1788


It is evident from the state of the country, from the habits of the people, from the experience we have had on the point itself, that it is impracticable to raise any very considerable sums by direct taxation.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 12, "The Utility of the Union In Respect to Revenue," New York Packet, November 27, 1787


The confederation in my opinion should give Congress complete sovereignty; except as to that part of the internal police, which relates to the rights of  property and life among individuals and to raising money by internal taxes.

- Alexander Hamilton, Letter to James Duane, "Deficiencies of the Confederation," September 3, 1780


The system will be founded upon the most easy and equal principles - to draw as much as possible from direct taxation, to lay the principal burdens on the wealthy, etc.

- Alexander Hamilton, "Speech on the Senate of the United States" from the New York Ratification Convention (as recorded in G.P. Putnams Sons edition), June 28, 1788


When you have given a power of taxation to the General Government, none of the States individually will be holden for the discharge of the Federal obligations; the burden will be on the Union

- Alexander Hamilton, "Speech on the Senate of the United States" from the New York Ratification Convention (as recorded in G.P. Putnams Sons edition), June 28, 1788


If the power of taxing is restricted, the consequence is, that on the breaking out of a war you must divert the funds appropriated to the payment of debts, to answer immediate exigencies. Thus, you violate your engagements [to pay off the debt] at the very time you increase the burthen of them.

- Alexander Hamilton, "Speech on the Senate of the United States" from the New York Ratification Convention (as recorded in G.P. Putnams Sons edition), June 27, 1788 


A uniform tax is perfectly constitutional; and yet it may operate oppressively upon certain members of the Union.

- Alexander Hamilton, "Speech on the Senate of the United States" from the New York Ratification Convention (as recorded in G.P. Putnams Sons edition), June 25 1788


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. 

- Alexander Hamilton, "Speech on the Senate of the United States" from the New York Ratification Convention (as recorded in G.P. Putnams Sons edition), June 27, 1788


Neither will it follow that an accumulation of debt is desirable, because a certain degree of it operates as capital...[t]he debt, too, may be swelled to such a size as that the greatest part of it may cease to be useful as a capital, serving only to pamper the dissipation of idle and dissolute individuals; as that the sums required to pay the interest upon it may become oppressive, and beyond the means which a government can employ, consistently with its tranquility, to raise them; as that the resources of taxation to face the debt may have been strained too far to admit of extensions adequate to exigencies which regard the public safety.

-Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures, December 5, 1791


As to taxes, they are evidently inseparable from government. It is impossible without them to pay the debts of the nation, to protect it from foreign danger, or to secure individuals from lawless violence and rapine.

-Alexander Hamilton, Address to the Electors of the State of New York, 1801


The establishment of permanent funds would not only answer the public purposes infinitely better than temporary supplies; but it would be the most effectual way of easing the people. With this basis for procuring credit, the amount of present taxes might be greatly diminished. Large sums of money might be borrowed abroad at a low interest, and introduced into the country to, defray the current expences and pay the public debts; which would not only lessen the demand for immediate supplies, but would throw more money into circulation, and furnish the people with greater means of paying the taxes. 

-Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. VI, July 4, 1782


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