To the congress of the United States, and in a particular manner to the representatives of the people in this house, the period of the total emancipation of the nation from the thraldom of a public debt, will be a moment of intense interest, and of heartfelt mutual gratulation. To have co-operated in the accomplishment of this event, is a laudable object of ambition. To have witnessed and contributed to its accomplishment during his own term of service, is a legacy of honor and integrity, which any public servant may be desirous of leaving for the memory of his children, and the gratitude of posterity. As a monument of good faith, of active industry and strenuous exertion for the fulfilment of public engagements, it is an example of morality, well worthy of that community, which was also the first among the nations of the earth to lay the foundations of the government upon the basis of freedom and the unalienable rights of human kind.
The consummation of this purpose was indeed one of the great objects for which the constitution of the United States received its present organization. The public debt had originated in and by the war of our national independence; but so feeble and inefficient was the confederation first formed for the government of the union, that its central power was incompetent to levy upon the people funds adequate even to discharge the interest as it became due upon the public obligations. . . .
Accordingly, no sooner had the government of the United States been organised under the present constitution, than the first object to which the attention of congress and of the executive were turned, was to devise means of providing for the payment of the public debt. From that time, the principle of its total discharge, as soon as by a vigorous exercise of the resources of the union it might be rendered practicable, it was assumed; assumed after full and free deliberations, and in pointed preference to the doctrine then honestly entertained by a portion of the statesmen of the time, that a permanent public debt to a moderate extent and under judicious regulation would prove a public blessing. Happily, a principle of deeper moral obligation and of sounder policy prevailed. In the first report of the first secretary of the treasury to the house of representatives upon public credit, bearing date the 9th of January, 1790, within one year after the first meeting of the national congress, he adverted to this then controverted question of political economy in the following terms: "Persuaded, as the secretary is, that the proper funding of the present debt will render it a national blessing, yet he is so far from acceding to the position, in the latitude in which it is sometimes laid down, that public debts are public benefits, a position inviting to prodigality, and liable to dangerous abuse, that he ardently wishes to see it incorporated as a fundamental maxim in the system of public credit of the United States, that the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of EXTINGUISHMENT. This he regards as the true secret for rendering public credit immortal."
And upon this principle was the public debt of the United States, burthensome as it then was, funded. By the sanction which congress then gave to this lofty and honorable sentiment, the total extinguishment of the debt became incorporated as a fundamental maxim in the system of public credit of the United States.
Booknotes: Paducah and the Civil War
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