A Swarm of Revenue Officers

In his fifth anti-federalist letter, Brutus warned against potential abuses of the Constitution’s necessary and proper clause, especially in regard to taxation:

The design of the constitution is expressed in the preamble, to be, “in order to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity.” These are the ends this government is to accomplish, and for which it is invested with certain powers, among these is the power “to make all laws which are necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” … [T]he inference is naturally that the legislature will have an authority to make all laws which they shall judge necessary for the common safety, and to promote the general welfare. This amounts to a power to make laws at discretion …

… [T]he power to lay and collect has great latitude; it will lead to the passing a vast number of laws, which may affect the personal rights of the citizens of the states, expose their property to fines and confiscation, and put their lives in jeopardy: it opens a door to the appointment of a swarm of revenue and excise officers to pr[e]y upon the honest and industrious part of the community, eat up their substance, and riot on the spoils of the country.

December 13, 1787