Jefferson on Debt

With the debt ceiling negotiations closing in, it’s worth looking to Thomas Jefferson.


Jefferson was very opposed to federal government borrowing.  (He was less concerned with states borrowing.)  What I love about the quote below is Jefferson’s concern for leisure time. 

"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 . [emphasis added]"

–Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:39

Pay a mortgage? Have student loans? Make a car payment?  Then you might know what Jefferson was talking about.  Debt limits your freedom. You work to pay off the debt, not to live a better life. While you might be perfectly happy selling sea shells you hunted and painted by hand, you cannot. You must work for the man to earn the wage to repay the debts.

These obligations, of course, are your own. If you feel trapped by debt, you trapped yourself.

Government debt, however, enslaves us just as surely. Yet we had little choice in the matter. In many cases, we opposed the borrowing that now forces us to labor.  Our children were born into this financial slavery, and their children will be. 

Free the children.


One thought on “Jefferson on Debt”

  1. The “Cut-Cap-Balance” measure, S. 1340, is worth being informed about.  Unfortunately, the text isn’t available via Thomas or the GPO site.

    The balanced budget amendment part, the way I understand it, is modeled after Orrin Hatch’s SJR 10.  That’s a page long and available at Thomas. 

    For me personally, I see several hitches:  I’m not exactly wild about the central government being “limited” to 18% of GDP for its revenue–because that seems pretty high–and why the confidence in a balanced budget amendment?  The 9th and 10th, and even the 2nd and 4th, clearly don’t hold very much meaning for those people in DC, so why would a BBA not just be something else for them to twistify, mangle, and otherwise skirt (via complicity in the federal judiciary, no doubt)? 

    Why can’t we all decide to do something about the “Federal Reserve” Bank?  Like a complete audit?  Hasn’t there been enough monetized debt to last for all eternity?  Can’t we just shut off the magic money faucet?  Sorry, I’m reading Rothbard’s “The Case Against the Fed”, and that’s a real hot button issue for me.

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