President Washington's Forgotten Advice On National Debt

Lee Cary
In President George Washington's valedictory address to the people of the United States in September 1796, he offered this forgotten advice on "public credit."

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also, that timely disbursements, to prepare for danger, frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace, to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

As of March 25, 2012, 7:10 a.m. Mountain Time, the national debt - excluding unfunded liabilities - is $15,581,339,XXX,XXX.  The X's on the debt clock mount so quickly that I can't read them.

In President George Washington's valedictory address to the people of the United States in September 1796, he offered this forgotten advice on "public credit."

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also, that timely disbursements, to prepare for danger, frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace, to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

As of March 25, 2012, 7:10 a.m. Mountain Time, the national debt - excluding unfunded liabilities - is $15,581,339,XXX,XXX.  The X's on the debt clock mount so quickly that I can't read them.