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Debt is that which is owed; usually referencing assets owed, but the term can cover other obligations. A debt is created when a creditor agrees to loan a sum of assets to a debtor.


  • There is, of course, a gold mine or a buried treasure on every mortgaged homestead. Whether the farmer ever digs for it or not, it is there, haunting his daydreams when the burden of debt is most unbearable.
  • Chi vuole che la quaresima gli paia corta, si faccia debito per pagare a Pasqua.
    • Giordano Bruno, Candelaio, Act IV, Scene XVII. — (Lucia.)
    • Translation: He who wants Lent to seem short, should contract a debt to be repaid at Easter.
    • Translation reported in Harbottle’s Dictionary of quotations French and Italian (1904), p. 275.
  • It shows nobility to be willing to increase your debt to a man to whom you already owe much.
    • Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, II, 6, 2 (43 BC).
  • There are two things that bestow consequence; great possession, or great debts.
    • Reverend Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832), English cleric and writer. Lacon; or, Many Things in Few Words (1823).
  • "My other piece of advice, Copperfield", said Mr. Micawber, "you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and—and, in short, you are for ever floored. As I am!"
    • Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1849–1850 [1950]), chapter 12, p. 185.
  • Debt is the prolific mother of folly and of crime.
  • Slight was the thing I bought,
    Small was the debt I thought,
    Poor was the loan at best—
    God! but the interest!
  • Debt, grinding debt, whose iron face the widow, the orphan, and the sons of genius fear and hate; debt, which consumes so much time, which so cripples and disheartens a great spirit with cares that seem so base, is a preceptor whose lessons cannot be forgone, and is needed most by those who suffer from it most.
  • Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer.
  • You must pay at last your own debt. If you are wise, you will dread a prosperity which only loads you with more.
  • Poverty demoralizes. A man in debt is so far a slave; and Wall-street thinks it easy for a millionaire to be a man of his word, a man of honor, but, that, in failing circumstances, no man can be relied on to keep his integrity.
  • Creditors have better memories than debtors; and creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.
  • What is debt anyway? A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence."
  • Let every man, every corporation, and especially let every village, town, and city, every county and State, get out of debt and keep out of debt. It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.
  • The debt was the most sacred obligation incurred during the war. It was by no means the largest in amount. We do not haggle with those who lent us money. We should not with those who gave health and blood and life. If doors are opened to fraud, contrive to close them. But don't deny the obligation, or scold at its performance.
  • Live within your means, never be in debt, and by husbanding your money you can always lay it out well. But when you get in debt you become a slave. Therefore I say to you never involve yourself in debt, and become no man's surety. If your friend is in distress, aid him if you have the means to spare. If he fails to be able to return it, it is only so much lost.
    • Andrew Jackson, letter to his ward Andrew Jackson Hutchings (April 18, 1833).
  • You must, to get through life well, practice industry with economy, never create a debt for anything that is not absolutely necessary, and if you make a promise to pay money at a day certain, be sure to comply with it. If you do not, you lay yourself liable to have your feelings injured and your reputation destroyed with the just imputation of violating your word.
  • Be assured that it gives much more pain to the mind to be in debt, than to do without any article whatever which we may seem to want.
  • One of the greatest disservices you can do a man is to lend him money that he can't pay back.
    • Jesse Holman Jones, chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and later Secretary of Commerce, The New York Times Magazine (July 2, 1939), p. 4.
  • 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 (1849-1861), Volume 8 (The Complete Writings of Lord Macaulay, Volume 8), chapter 19 (1899).
  • The human species, according to the best theory I can form of it, is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow, and the men who lend.
    • Charles Lamb (1775-1834). 'The Two Races of Men', Essays of Elia (1823).
  • Leve aes alienum debitorem facit, grave inimicum.
    • A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one makes him an enemy.
      • Seneca the Younger, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucilius) (c. 65), Letter XIX: On worldliness and retirement, line 11.
  • It's dynamite to spend future earnings. I have had a taste of it myself, and it's mighty bitter. A debt is a debt, whether it's margins or mortgages; and debts are all the same, no matter how you try to camouflage 'em. You never get much out of 'em except trouble. On the farm or in Wall Street, if you use the other fellow's money, it costs you a lot more than it's worth.
  • 'Tis good to be known,
    To have all of thy own.
    Who goeth a borrowing,
    Goeth a sorrowing.
    • Thomas Tusser, Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie (1573), point 6.
  • Wars are made to make debt.
    • Ezra Pound, interview in Writers at Work, Second Series (1963).
  • DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver.
    As, pent in an aquarium, the troutlet
    Swims round and round his tank to find an outlet,
    Pressing his nose against the glass that holds him,
    Nor ever sees the prison that enfolds him;
    So the poor debtor, seeing naught around him,
    Yet feels the narrow limits that impound him,
    Grieves at his debt and studies to evade it,
    And finds at last he might as well have paid it.
    Barlow S. Vode

National debt[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • As an individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from—so must it be with a government.
    • Abraham Lincoln, campaign circular from Whig Committee, March 4, 1843.—The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, vol. 1, p. 311 (1953).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 181.
  • I hold every man a debtor to his profession.
  • Anticipated rents, and bills unpaid,
    Force many a shining youth into the shade,
    Not to redeem his time, but his estate,
    And play the fool, but at the cheaper rate.
  • Wilt thou seal up the avenues of ill?
    Pay every debt as if God wrote the bill!
  • The slender debt to Nature's quickly paid,
    Discharged, perchance with greater ease than made.
  • Debtes et mensonges sont ordinairement ensemble ralliés.
    • Debts and lies are generally mixed together.
    • François Rabelais, Pantagruel (1532), Book III, Chapter V.

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