The Anti-Federalists tried to draw attention to troubling provisions in the 1787 Constitution, one of which was the proposed power of taxation for the "general welfare and common defense" of the nation. John Smilie and "Brutus" make some observations on the subject.
August Glen-James, editor
. . . it is the great mean of protection, security, and defense, in a good government, and the great engine of oppression and tyranny in a bad one.
It will be said, perhaps, that the treasure, thus accumulated [i.e., by the proposed federal government under the Constitution], is raised and appropriated for the general welfare and the common defense of the States; but may not this pretext be easily perverted to other purposes, since those very men who raise and appropriate the taxes, are the only judges of what shall be deemed the general welfare and common defence of the national government? If then, Mr. President, they have unlimited power to drain the wealth of the people in every channel of taxation, whether by imposts on our commercial intercourse with foreign nations, or by direct levies on the people, I repeat, that this system must be too formidable for any single State, or even for a combination of the States, should an attempt be made to break and destroy the yoke of domination and tyranny which it will hereafter set up . . . . The total destruction of every principle of liberty should furnish a fit security for the exercise of arbitrary power. The money which has been raised from the people, may then be effectually employed to keep them in a state of slavish subjection.
--John Smilie, Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention, 28 Nov. 1787
In the business therefore of laying and collecting taxes, the idea of confederation is totally lost, and that of one entire republic is embraced. It is proper here to remark, that the authority to lay and collect taxes is the most important of any power that can be granted; it connects with it almost all other powers, or at least will in process of time draw all other after it; it is the great mean of protection, security, and defense, in a good government, and the great engine of oppression and tyranny in a bad one.
--Brutus, No. 1, 18 Oct. 1787