History of the National Debt

History of the National Debt

The history of the national debt goes back to the earliest days of our history as a nation.  In fact, the United States has had a national debt virtually every year of its existence as a nation.  Not long after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the national debt was reported as $75 million.  This initial debt was incurred during the Revolutionary War and under the Articles of Confederation, which was the nation’s governing document prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  The national debt was briefly eliminated in 1835 under President Andrew Jackson, but it quickly grew into the millions again.

The first dramatic increase in the national debt occurred as a result of the Civil War.  The debt stood at $65 million in 1860 before the Civil War, but grew to over $1 billion in 1863, and ultimately reached $2.7 billion following the end of the Civil War. 

The next surge in the national debt came as a result of World War I, with the debt reaching approximately $22 billion shortly after the end of the war.  The nation’s involvement in World War II caused yet another dramatic escalation in the national debt, with the debt rising to approximately $260 billion by the end of the war in 1945.  Following the end of World War II, however, the national debt was relatively stable for the next 2½ decades, growing from $260 billion in 1945 to $366 billion in 1969. 

Since 1969, however, the national debt has grown dramatically each decade, as shown below:

  • In the 1970’s, the national debt more than doubled, from $366 billion to $829 billion.
  • In the 1980’s, the national debt more than tripled, from $829 billion to $2.9 trillion.
  • In the 1990’s, the national debt almost doubled again, from $2.9 trillion to $5.6 trillion.
  • In the 2000’s, the national debt is projected to more than double again, from $5.6 trillion to $12.9 trillion (projected national debt at the end of fiscal year 2009).

Some will argue that it’s unfair to look at the history of the national debt in terms of raw dollars, because that doesn’t account for inflation or the growth of the economy.  However, even if you look at the national debt as a percentage of our nation’s GDP (gross domestic product), the debt is increasing at a staggering rate.  In 1969, the national debt was just 38% of GDP, but it was over 90% of GDP by the end of 2009, and is projected to grow to over 100% of GDP by 2011.

This uncontrolled growth of the national debt is simply unsustainable, and if the trend continues, the U.S. Government will be unable to meet its future obligations.  It’s imperative that we let our elected officials know how we feel about the federal government’s reckless borrowing and spending that is destroying the very foundation of our economy and our nation. Please contact your Congressman and Senators and tell them you oppose the uncontrolled growth in our national debt.

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