Today in History: The U.S. National Debt Reaches $0 for First and Last Time

Today in History: The U.S. National Debt Reaches $0 for First and Last Time

By M.C. Millman 

January 8, 1835, was the one and only time in U.S. history that the national debt was whittled down to zero.

This unprecedented personal goal was achieved by President Andrew Jackson, and it resulted in one of the worst financial crises in American history.

Since the American Revolution, American politicians have argued over the wisdom of the nation carrying debt.

While the federal government at the time had no problem taking on the war debt of individual states in order to unify the nation, Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, viewed acquiring debt on the part of the country as a source of national shame. 

President Andrew Jackson also had an aversion to debt after a personal experience that soured him on acquiring debt, calling the debt "a moral failing" and "black magic."

As soon as his term began on March 4, 1829, and throughout his presidency, Jackson vetoed several spending bills and ended projects that would have expanded nationwide infrastructure. He also paid down the U.S. debt by selling government land in the West until there was no more debt in 1835.

Selling off large swathes of federal land led to a real estate bubble, along with other poor fiscal policy decisions on the part of the president, which led to the Panic of 1837. Ultimately, the federal government began borrowing again and has been in debt ever since.

The closest the U.S. ever got to paying off its national debt since January 8, 1835, was by the early Twentieth Century. The brief drop didn't last long, as with the start of World War I, the national debt was off and running. 

Today, the United States's national debt is more than $34 trillion or $101,238 for every person in America, and it doesn't seem that it will disappear any time soon. 


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