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One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe (Personal Finance & Investment) Hardcover – March 12, 2008
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From the Back Cover
The Untold History of America's First Debt and its Relevance in Today's Economy
“Wright tackles the thorny question of what makes countries wealthy through the lens of a U.S. addiction: government indebtedness.”
-Simon Constable, TheStreet.com
“Think that our burgeoning national debt is something new? We've been down this road before. One Nation Under Debt traces the roots of today's looming fiscal crisis back to the birth of the republic and shows how the founding fathers averted financial Armageddon.”
“This is economic history both high and low-from Alexander Hamilton, the wizard who put America's finances in order, to the men and women who secured America's future by buying its bonds.”
“This book is magnetic. Wright regales us with the bankers and merchants, slaveholders and bondholders, and pen-named politicians of the Early Republic.”
-James W. Mueller, Ph.D., Chief Historian, Independence National Historical Park
"If I could write like Wright, I would be thrilled. Some passages in the book are stunning―almost poetic. For anyone interested in the evolution of the U.S. economy and its early financial system, the first six chapters of this book are essential. Wright makes his point: under skilled management (e.g., Hamilton), debt is good for deepening capital markets, but incurred excessively to finance wars or inappropriate government expenditures, it can eventually prove disastrous."
-Richard Vietor, Harvard Business School, Journal of American History
About the Author
Robert E. Wright is the Rudy and Marlyn Nef Family Chair of Political Economy in the Division of Social Sciences at Augustana College and is a curator for the Museum of American Finance. He is the author of scores of articles, entries, reviews, and chapters, and has authored or coauthored nine books. Wright has written for Barron's, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes.com, and other prominent publications, and has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN, and the BBC.
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Top Customer Reviews
Wright shows Alexander Hamilton as the genius that he truly was. While critics of Hamilton tend to focus on his behind-the-scenes machinations during the 1800 election, Wright allows Hamilton's financial wizardry (which should be this founder's true legacy) to shine. Indeed, Hamilton grasped that a national debt and the eventual assumption of states' debts was necessary not only for the new nation to survive practically, but to maintain its international public credit.
I would recommend reading this book in concert with John Miller's biography on Alexander Hamilton, Portrait in Paradox. Both authors show that Hamilton was well ahead of his time.
The chapters read easily, with an early focus on the Dutch and English international finance models of the early and late 18th century. The chapter entitled "Life," which concentrates on a few individual Virgina debt holders, is also engrossing. Wright spotlights the stories of a few individual patriots to show that these debtholders were just as vital to the nation, with their willingness to take a chance on the early United States, as was both France and Holland in their initial financing of the War of Independence.
All in all, a great read.
Dr. Dennis Edwards
Associate Professor of Economics
The book concentrates on Alexander Hamilton, the first Sec. of the Treasury and his financial system, a system that laid the financial underpinnings of the US and led to the elimination of its first national debt. The question of taxation is covered as well as the formation of the first and second banks of the United States. While a history of debt, the book does not neglect our current debt crisis. The last chapter describes how our current debt is not only so immensely larger than previous debt, but how it is different and infinitely more dangerous. The book ends with an appendix of 47 pages of tables and graphs describing sources of revenue and who held the debt prior to 1836.
The author keeps the subject interesting by mixing the "big picture" of international finance with political skullduggery at home and shines more light on the much maligned Alexander Hamilton's role in safeguarding America's first years.
It would not be bad bet to wager that few of us in the United States know how and why we incurred our first national debt. Maybe more importantly, even fewer of us probably realize just how much there is to contrast between now and then. Just after the adoption of our Constitution, our debt became, under the care and genius of a young Alexander Hamilton, a relatively temporary and useful tool for putting the credit of the United States on solid footing with Europe; while simultaneously serving as a a positive example to our merchants and businessmen, on whom so much of our finances were dependent. Today, our debt would appear to be nothing more than something for career politicans to continually run up for the sake of votes. Indeed, in today's modern American Nanny State, our so-called care takers seem to have no thought to paying the debt down, nevermind off. A far cry from some 200 years ago ! In Robert Wright's new book, such unfortunate differencees between now and then become all too clear.
There is even something for the more socially minded Historian in Wright's breakdown of those who were our nation's very first creditors. He sheds light on just who these first true patriots were.
In sum, this is a well written book on a very important subject matter.