Whenever the prose of the Article I, Section 7 requirement for all revenue bills to originate in the House of Representatives is brought up, some find themselves mystified. With government largely predicating its inclinations upon pragmatism rather than constitutional adherence, this proverbial governmental stumbling block is often ignored. If it is acknowledged, it is sometimes likened to incessant, obstructionist babble.

This measure was not babble according to Madison, who is a fairly good source of authority on the topic, given that he is often attributed with the most credit for it. Here is what Madison had to say about this in The Federalist #58:

“The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government.”

The Senate, a body which represented the sovereignty of the states, could not control such things, as the House of Representatives more closely reflects the people’s direct interests. Madison claimed this was principle meant to deter such possibilities, writing that “these questions will create no difficulty with those who reflect that in all cases the smaller the number, and the more permanent and conspicuous the station, of men in power, the stronger must be the interest which they will individually feel in whatever concerns the government.”

Even Alexander Hamilton, an undying advocate for a powerful nationalist government, concurred. In New York’s ratifying convention, Hamilton said:

“Will any man who entertains a wish for the safety of his country trust the sword and the purse with a single Assembly, organized on principles so defective? Though we might give to such a government certain powers with safety, yet to give them the full and unlimited powers of taxation and the national forces would be to establish a despotism, the definition of which is, a government in which all power is concentrated in a single body.”

Through this statement, an alternative system in which the ultimate authority over the republic’s purse was held by small numbers of people was compared with “despotism.”

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who notably refused to sign the end product of the Constitution, demanded this limitation. Gerry believed that since the Senate was composed of a relatively small amount of individuals, it would become as an oligarchy that could tax effectually and will and without regard to the people’s recourse. Gerry’s proposal would have made it impossible for the Senate to amend such bills. Since famous nationalists such as James Wilson were disturbed at how far this curtailed the Senate’s power, the clause was eventually altered to specify the parameter of revenue bills only.This understanding of the “Origination Clause” (as it is sometimes called) was consistent with the manner in which the Constitution was explained in the state ratification conventions.

The House of Representatives, according to Article I, Section 7, has sole claim to the proverbial purse strings of the treasury. Article I, Section 9 makes it explicit that any time money needs to be draw from the treasury, it has to be done subject to appropriation law. According to Madison, who was largely responsible for explaining the Constitution not only in his state, but in New York through The Federalist, was an important authority on the matter. He plainly wrote that the House of Representatives could systematically negate any appropriation laws already passed, or ones to come.

This understanding of the “Origination Clause” (as it is sometimes called) was consistent with the manner in which the Constitution was explained in the state ratification conventions. The House of Representatives, according to Article I, Section 7, has sole claim to the proverbial purse strings of the treasury. Article I, Section 9 makes it explicit that any time money needs to be draw from the treasury, it has to be done subject to appropriation law. According to Madison, who was largely responsible for explaining the Constitution not only in his state, but in New York through The Federalist, was an important authority on the matter. He plainly wrote that the House of Representatives could systematically negate any appropriation laws already passed, or ones to come.

The founders and framers had good reasons to impose such guidelines. Since the House of Representatives was most closely associated with the people’s interests, the body’s desire to levy taxes would be more easily refuted or allowed by the very source of their authority. This means that we should hold today’s politicians to the same standards as they were in the early republic. We can embark upon this path by encouraging our states to interpose to resist such taxes.

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