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One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe 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.
Top customer reviews
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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.
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
Why have the voters not elected more true patriots to Congress in the 21st century, when we need them most. I am referring to tea party types who would vote to decrease the size of the federal government, fire federal employees and terminate federal programs?
Hamilton offered us : an adequate supply of cash with the creation of the first Bank of the United States, a stable unit of account--the dollar, low interest rates, low taxes, and security of life, liberty, and property. And there existed in the 1790's entreprenurial gusto and economic opportunity aplenty in the inhabitants of the early united states. Despite Jefferson and Madison's fears, it was Hamilton's economic plan that worked well and breathed life into the new country! [p151]
I also agree with the Dr. Wright's idea of the 'development diamond' The author described the development diamond as being : the Constitution of 1787, the first national debt paid off in 1834, the financial system the first and second Banks of the United States, the various entrepreneurs and the rise of professional business manangers that spurred American economic growth from 1780-1857.