Friday, April 22, 2016

Johnson on "Imposts" and Ratitification in New York

Calvin H. Johnson, University of Texas School of Law, has posted “Impost Begat Convention”: New York's Ratification of the Constitution:
The meaning of the Constitution is said to be set by the ratification debates. The key issue in New York was nationalizing the tax on imports, called the “impost.” The sides as to ratification in New York were set by the debates over the 1783 proposal to give Congress power to impose the impost. The defeated proponents of the 1783 impost in New York became the Federalists in favor of the Constitution in 1788, and the party that had defeated the 1783 impost remained intact to become the Anti-Federalists in opposition to the Constitution in 1788.

Nationalizing the state imposts was the key economic necessity for the Constitution as a whole. The first mission of the Constitution, under proponents’ understanding, was to give Congress a tax of its own to make payments on the debts of the Revolutionary War. In the next and inevitable war, Congress would need to borrow from the Dutch again. The impost was considered across the nation as the easiest tax and most appropriate one under the mercantilist economics of the times.

If New York legislature had granted the general government the power over the impost, the confederation mode of government under the Articles probably would have survived. The confederate congress would not have been replaced by the self-sufficient, vigorous, supreme national government that the Constitution formed, or at least not until some future crisis. As Hamilton appropriately put it, “Impost Begat Convention.”

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