Federalism, Finance, and Social Legislation in Canada, Australia, and the United States

By A. H. Birch | Go to book overview

2
PUBLIC FINANCE AND SOCIAL LEGISLATION IN THE UNITED STATES

1. THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM

AT the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 very little controversy arose over the division of the powers of legislation and the sources of revenue. The Convention took weeks to reach agreement regarding the composition of Congress and the position of the President, but 'when it came to the question of the powers to be vested in the legislature, there was a general willingness to grant extensive powers, provided they were carefully defined'.1 The federal Congress was given power to legislate over the matters that had been within the competence of the congress of the confederation together with matters which were clearly beyond the competence of the states, such as foreign affairs, defence, and a uniform tariff.

Similarly the division of revenue sources was made without fuss. Since one of the main reasons for the calling of the Convention was the financial weakness of the confederate government, and since the delegates present were mainly men who were likely, by their interests, to be sharply aware of the need for financial stability in the new government,2 the Convention had a bias in favour of giving adequate powers to Congress. It followed from the decision to adopt a common tariff that the federal government would collect customs duties, and it was also decided to give Congress a general right 'to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises'.3 This is a comprehensive conferment of power, and in fact there are only two constitutional restrictions on the financial powers of Congress, both to be found in Section 9 of the 1st Article. These prohibit the imposition of export duties and provide that direct taxes must

____________________
1
M. Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution ( New Haven, 1946 edn.), p. 77.
2
C. A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States ( New York, 1921), passim.
3
Constitution, Art. 1, Sect. 8.

-8-

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