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Informer: US went into debt to fund American Revolution

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:57 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

We hear so much all the time about the debt. When did we start borrowing money and why? How much is the debt now?

The United States has owed others money from the beginning, when it took loans from European nations and incurred a massive debt to fund the American Revolution, which lasted from 1775 to 1783.

“In order to pay for its significant expenditures during the Revolution, Congress had two options: print more money or obtain loans to meet the budget deficit,” reads the website of the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.

“In practice it did both, but relied more on the printing of money, which led to hyperinflation. At that time, Congress lacked the authority to levy taxes, and to do so would have risked alienating an American public that had gone to war with the British over the issue of unjust taxation.”

The United States, via Benjamin Franklin, later secured loans from France, and private Dutch investors, persuaded by John Adams, also lent money to the cause.

In the years after the war, the United States, still light on cash, “struggled to pay off the loans, stopping payments of interest to France in 1785 and defaulting on further installments that were due in 1787,” according the State Department site. Still, the United States managed to secure loans from the Dutch in 1787 and 1788.

By the beginning of 1791, U.S. Bureau of the Public Debt records show, war-related debt totaled $75,463,476.52.

Recent debt figures

The U.S. debt at the end of each fiscal year from 2000 through 2012:

2000 — $5,674,178,209,886.86.

2001 — $5,807,463,412,200.06.

2002 — $6,228,235,965,597.16.

2003 — $6,783,231,062,743.62.

2004 — $7,379,052,696,330.32.

2005 — $7,932,709,661,723.50.

2006 — $8,506,973,899,215.23.

2007 — $9,007,653,372,262.48.

2008 — $10,024,724,896,912.49.

2009 — $11,909,829,003,511.75.

2010 — $13,561,623,030,891.79.

2011 — $14,790,340,328,557.15.

2012 — $16,066,241,407,385.89.

As of May 30, the outstanding public debt amounted to $16,737,246,099,998.86.

How to help

The Treasury Department accepts contributions from citizens who want to help reduce the debt.

To contribute to the debt-reduction effort, visit, which allows users to donate money via credit card or account transfer.

Or send a check — payable to Bureau of the Public Debt, with “Gift to reduce the Debt Held by the Public” on the memo line — to Attn: Dept G, Bureau of the Public Debt, P.O. Box 2188, Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188.


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The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email

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