“I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And, to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. ”

- Thomas Jefferson, 1816

Resources ... The Idea ... Making the Idea a Reality ... Legacy

Timeline of Debt in American History

A Closer Look

The Idea

“The accumulation of debts is a most fearful evil.”
- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

“Tho’ much an enemy to the system of borrowing, yet I feel strongly the necessity of preserving the
power to borrow.”
Thomas Jefferson, 1788

Jefferson viewed both personal debt and the national debt as threats to the American experiment in self-government, presenting risks to civic responsibility, endangering government stability and hampering investment to improve individual and national prosperity.

Making the Idea a Reality

“The probable accumulation of the surpluses of revenue, beyond what can be applied to the payment of the public debt …merits the consideration of Congress ... shall it not rather be appropriated to the improvements of roads, canals rivers, education, and other great foundations of prosperity & union…?”
 -Thomas Jefferson, 1808

Jefferson’s Personal Debt Jefferson's personal debt resulted from a combination of his borrowing to support his lavish lifestyle, the ups and downs of plantation agriculture, and debt acquired from his father, father-in-law, and friends.
Jefferson and the National Debt As President, Jefferson reduced taxes, paid down the debt, reined in military spending, and embarked on public works programs. Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin led these efforts to set the country on a course of fiscal restraint.


"The earth belongs to the living"

In September of 1789, Thomas Jefferson sat down to write a letter to James Madison asking the question: Does one generation of men have the right to bind another generation to its debt and laws?

The Legacy

Debt history timeline

Click here to view a timeline of debt in Jefferson's life and the history of America.

Moving Toward the Future

“I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.” - Thomas Jefferson, 1816

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