national debt history

#178 years ago today we had a national debt of $0


I couldn’t let this factoid slide by today: We aren’t celebrating it but apparently Jan. 8, 1835 was the last time the United States had – or came anywhere near a national debt of $0.

This NPR blog post on the topic sums up the excitement at the time: “On Jan. 8, 1835, all the big political names in Washington gathered to celebrate what President Andrew Jackson had just accomplished. A senator rose to make the big announcement: ‘Gentlemen. the national debt. is PAID.’  That was the one time in U.S. history when the country was debt free. It lasted exactly one year.  By 1837, the country would be in panic and headed into a massive depression.

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This Reuters blogger wrote in 2011: “As president, Jackson was responsible for the first and only time the country stood at a true Debt Zero. The debt was $58.4 million when he first took office in 1829; six years later, as he would announce in his 1835 State of the Union, the country was finally in the black, with $440,000 in the bank. All it took to get there was a maniacal devotion to small government, the forced removal of tens of thousands of Native Americans, and tariffs so high the union nearly broke apart.”

Such economic ups and downs have occurred throughout US history and perhaps no one was as optimistic about the national debt as President Bill Clinton who in 1999 predicted that it would take the government just 16 years to reduce the public debt to zero.  

Not exactly.

Today the debt sits at somewhere north of $16 trillion and is a fiscal and political nuclear bomb that likely won’t be diffused any time soon.  But it is interesting to remember a time when it when it was perhaps less of a concern.

What do you think?

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