Thomas Jefferson was heads and tails above the presidential pack when it came to cutting federal spending and reducing the national debt. Despite fighting the Barbary Wars and obtaining low-interest loans for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson lowered the national debt from $83 million to $57 million during his eight years in office.
And the next four presidents basically followed suit, with some variance. Despite the War of 1812, further U.S. land acquisitions and the building up of interstate infrastructure, the next four administrations -- those of Presidents James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson -- were able to bring the national debt down from $57 million to a mere $33,703.05.
You ask: How did our founders do it?
Here's a snapshot of their sentiments and policies toward national debt, which are detailed further in the third chapter ("Stop the Nightmare of Debt") of my book "Black Belt Patriotism":
George Washington told the House of Representatives in 1793: "No pecuniary consideration is more urgent than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt; on none can delay be more injurious, or an economy of the time more valuable."
John Adams wrote to Jefferson from Paris in 1780: "I think we shall do no great things at borrowing (money), unless that system or some other, calculated to bring things to some certain and steady standard, succeeds."
Thomas Jefferson similarly admonished Samuel Kercheval in 1816, "To preserve (the) independence (of the people), we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt."
The national debt nearly doubled under Madison -- largely because of the War of 1812 -- but the "Father of the Constitution" said in remorse: "I regret, as much as any member, the unavoidable weight and duration of the burdens to be imposed; having never been a proselyte to the doctrine, that public debts are public benefits. I consider them, on the contrary, as evils which ought to be removed as fast as honor and justice will permit."
Monroe, who shrank the national debt by one-third, said: "The vast amount of vacant lands, the value of which daily augments, forms an additional resource of great extent and duration. These resources, besides accomplishing every other necessary purpose, put it completely in the power of the United States to discharge the national debt at an early period."
John Quincy Adams, who also shrank the national debt by one-third, said, "The plain state of the fact appears to me to be that the load of taxation to pay the interest upon the national debt is greater than the nation can bear, and that the only possible remedy will be a composition with the public creditors, or an authoritative reduction of the debt in one form or another."
Jackson made this passionate presidential commitment: "I stand committed before the country to pay off the national debt at the earliest practicable moment. This pledge I am determined to redeem." (In January 1835, the national debt was paid off!)
Obama made this statement in a debate before he was elected: "There is no doubt that we've been living beyond our means, and we're going to have to make some adjustments. Now, what I've done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut." But remember the figures: To date, Obama has added more than $5 trillion of national debt, spending about $4.18 billion every day that he has been in office.
Do you really want four more years?
John Adams was right: "Facts are stubborn things."