Government debt (also known as public debt, national debt and sovereign debt) is the debt owed by a central government. (In the U.S. and other federal states, "government debt" may also refer to the debt of a state or provincial, municipal or local government.) By contrast, the annual "government deficit" refers to the difference between government receipts and spending in a single year, that is, the increase of debt over a particular year.
- Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author
A - F
- The consequences arising from the continual accumulation of public debts in other countries ought to admonish us to be careful to prevent their growth in our own.
- John Adams, First Address to Congress (November 23, 1797).
- In his first years in the White House, Mr. Roosevelt apologized for each annual deficit. Each new budget message explained that, because of unforeseen circumstances, the promise of the previous year had not been met, but next year things would be better; next year there would be a balanced budget…. The 1938 congressional elections were uncomfortably near at hand…. it was announced that the President would deliver a Fireside Chat. In it our startled ears caught the opening accents of a grand new liturgy. Spending would be resumed, but let not the heart be troubled. Spending was no longer the rock of unsound finance on which so many liberal governments had been wrecked; it was not danger, but security. Debt, if owed to ourselves, was not debt but investment.
- Bruce Barton, "A Businessman's Doubts on Government Spending", Fortune (February 1943), p. 136.
- Remember, debts that can't be paid, won't be paid.
- Nothing is so well calculated to produce a death-like torpor in the country as an extended system of taxation and a great national debt.
- William Cobbett, letter (February 10, 1804), reported in Lewis Saul Benjamin, The life and letters of William Cobbett in England & America (1913), p. 203.
- All debts contracted and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.
- Section VI of the United States Constitution
- The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
- 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution
- Solvency is maintained by means of a national debt, on the principle, "If you will not lend me the money, how can I pay you?"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ability (1856).
G - L
- I have long argued that paying down the national debt is beneficial for the economy: it keeps interest rates lower than they otherwise would be and frees savings to finance increases in the capital stock, thereby boosting productivity and real incomes.
- Alan Greenspan, speech (April 27, 2001), reported in Ethan Pope, Social Security: What's in It for You (2005), p. p. 133.
- A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.
- Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Robert Morris (April 30, 1781).
- Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.
- Herbert Hoover, Address to the Nebraska Republican Conference, Lincoln, Nebraska (16 January 1936)
- And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816, reported in ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Paul L. Ford, vol. 10, p. 41 (1899).
- I am for a government rigorously frugal & simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers & salaries merely to make partisans, & for increasing, by every device, the public debt, on the principle of it's being a public blessing.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799, reported in ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Paul L. Ford, vol. 7, p. 327 (1896).
- At the time we were funding our national debt, we heard much about "a public debt being a public blessing"; that the stock representing it was a creation of active capital for the aliment of commerce, manufactures and agriculture.
- Thomas Jefferson, on Public Debts, Letter to John W. Epps (Nov. 6, 1813).
- I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Plumer, July 21, 1816, reported in ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 15, p. 47 (1903).
- I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government to the genuine principles of it's constitution; I mean an additional article, taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, November 26, 1798, reported in ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Paul L. Ford, vol. 7, p. 310 (1896).
M - R
- Such was the origin of that debt which has since become the greatest prodigy that ever perplexed the sagacity and confounded the pride of statesmen and philosophers. At every stage in the growth of that debt the nation has set up the same cry of anguish and despair. At every stage in the growth of that debt it has been seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and ruin were at hand. Yet still the debt went on growing; and still bankruptcy and ruin were as remote as ever.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, History of England, vol. 8 (The Complete Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 8), chapter 19, p. 70 (1899).
- When I was a youngster growing up in South Dakota, we never referred to the national debt, it was always referred to as the war debt because it stemmed from World War I. Well, what we have now, at least two thirds of it, is the war debt. We're never going to make a substantial cut in that debt until we quit getting into these unnecessary wars.
- George McGovern, reported in Kira Zalan, "George McGovern: Barack Obama, Democrats Need a Backbone", U.S. News (December 2, 2011).
- No nation ought to be without a debt. A national debt is a national bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case a grievance.
- Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776), p. 3.
- Our national debt after all is an internal debt owed not only by the Nation but to the Nation. If our children have to pay interest on it they will pay that interest to themselves. A reasonable internal debt will not impoverish our children or put the Nation into bankruptcy.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the American Retail Federation, Washington, D.C. (May 22, 1939); reported in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939 (1941), p. 351.
S - Z
- Our national debt a national blessing.
- Samuel Wilkerson; used as a broadside issued by Jay Cooke, June, 1865; qualified by H. C. Fahnstock, "How our national debt may be a national blessing".