May 23, 2023
Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury said, “A national debt, if it is not excessive, to us will be a national blessing.” The whole “if it is not excessive” part has always been important, but never more important than it is today.
The musical, “Hamilton,” doesn’t really do much on this other than a brief line from the song, “My Shot.” Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and portrayed young Alexander rapping: “But Jesus, between all the bleedin’ and fightin’ I’ve been readin’ and writin’…we need to handle our financial situation…”
Assuming debt and handling it has always been part of our fabric. We began accumulating it before our constitution was ratified. Debts incurred during the Revolutionary War period totaled a little over $75 million. President Andrew Jackson paid off the original national debt in 1835 because he didn’t trust the paper money we issued. It was the only time it happened. Then we went to war with Mexico in 1846, and the current debt began.
The Department of the Treasury is a great resource of the debt’s history. That is if one is inclined to understand what our obligations actually are. Reading through it feels like a highlight reel of what makes America what it is today.
Our nation was founded on many things. Some of them are great sources of pride: independence, representative government, religious freedom, etc. Others are not, primarily, slavery and misogyny. Deficit spending, operating on debt, and all of the things that come with it has pros and cons, but carrying debt at all was a choice we made at the beginning.
Honoring our debts is as much about who we are as allowing the debt to exist is in the first place.
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