The Early History of the National Debt

The U.S. is currently in debt to the tune of more than $15 trillion. Though this is definitely the highest dollar amount of debt the country has ever experience, the U.S. is no stranger to national debt. The U.S. acquired its first debt in 1777 when the Farmers General of France lent the U.S. approximately $381,000. The Farmers General of France was a group that collected taxes from French citizens on a variety of items, including salt and tobacco. The U.S. repaid the debt with bales of tobacco.

By January 1, 1791, debts incurred during the American Revolution and Articles of Confederation totaled $75 billion. In the years following the revolution, the U.S. experienced 14 surpluses and two deficits. The War of 1812 added additional debt, although the U.S. was able to pay off nearly all of its debt in the 20 years following the war.

A pattern begins to emerge following the Civil War as America accrues more debt. In 1860, the U.S. was only $65 million in debt, but by the end of the war, the debt exceeded $2.7 billion.