Thomas Jefferson quotes on national debt and credit
On the rare
occasions that I may start thinking too highly of myself, all I have to do is
read the writings of people such as Thomas Jefferson. That is a sure way
to restore my sense of humility.
Jefferson had many poignant thoughts on national debt and credit. Had we followed his advice we wouldn't be in the trouble we are in today. All quotes cited.
Let's start off with paying off each public debt within 19 years so that it would not accumulate and our children would not be in ruins due to our debt:
"[Using], for instance, the table of M. de Buffon, [it can be determined that] the half of those of 21 years and upwards living at any one instant of time will be dead in 18 years, 8 months, or say 19 years as the nearest integral number. Then 19 years is the term beyond which neither the representatives of a nation nor even the whole nation itself assembled can validly extend a debt... With respect to future debts, would it not be wise and just for [a] nation to declare in [its] constitution that neither the legislature nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19 years? And that all future contracts shall be deemed void as to what shall remain unpaid at the end of 19 years from their date?" --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. Papers 15:394
Concerning paying off not only the annual interest but also the principal, (the whole of the debt) he also said:
"We should now set the example of appropriating some particular tax [for loans made] sufficient to pay the interest annually and the principal within a fixed term, less than nineteen years." --Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:273
He based this on his belief that:
"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1820. FE 10:175
"I sincerely believe... that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:23
"[With the decline of society] begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia [war of all against all], which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:40
Today the U.S. has far over-extended itself. Our nations credit is in shambles. Jefferson believed in a nation having much credit, but exercising little of it, because the consequences of excessive borrowing and the accompanying required taxation are dire.
"It is a wise rule and should be fundamental in a government disposed to cherish its credit and at the same time to restrain the use of it within the limits of its faculties, "never to borrow a dollar without laying a tax in the same instant for paying the interest annually and the principal within a given term; and to consider that tax as pledged to the creditors on the public faith." On such a pledge as this, sacredly observed, a government may always command, on a reasonable interest, all the lendable money of their citizens, while the necessity of an equivalent tax is a salutary warning to them and their constituents against oppressions, bankruptcy, and its inevitable consequence, revolution." --Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:269
We are undone:
"There [is a measure] which if not taken we are undone...[It is] to cease borrowing money and to pay off the national debt. If this cannot be done without dismissing the army and putting the ships out of commission, haul them up high and dry and reduce the army to the lowest point at which it was ever established. There does not exist an engine so corruptive of the government and so demoralizing of the nation as a public debt. It will bring on us more ruin at home than all the enemies from abroad against whom this army and navy are to protect us." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon, 1821. (*) FE 10:193
We are beyond preserving the independence of the people. We must now restore it!:
"To preserve [the] independence [of the people,] we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses, and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes, have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account, but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:39
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Papers)
Edited by Julian
60 Vols., Princeton, 1950-. . . 28 vols. complete to date.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (FE)
Edition by Paul
10 Vols., New York, 1892-99.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (ME)
(Lipscomb and Bergh, editors)
20 Vols., Washington, D.C., 1903-04.
"It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."
"If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen." - also Samuel Adams