It was on this day, January 8th, in 1835 that President Andrew Jackson achieved his personal goal of paying off the entire U.S. national debt – all $120 million of it. Consequently, this was the only time in U.S. history that the country was entirely debt free. Unfortunately, it was a difficult decision that precipitated one of the major economic crises that our country has ever seen. So, what was really seen as quite good in other ways ended up dividing the political parties of the day and the debt started to grow once again. In fact, as of January of this year, the national debt stands at $31.38 TRILLION! And it is expected to be $32.59 trillion by the end of the year.
The truth of the matter is that President Jackson had lost money personally in a bad investment and it took him quite a while to recover from the loss. He didn’t like debt! But there was heavy disagreement from the opposition as to how important it really was for the national debt to go away.
Jackson, with his personal history of debt, wanted it gone and to have the country free and clear was very important to him. Both President Jefferson and also President Madison had preceded Jackson in their bid to reduce the national debt. In fact, Jefferson had accomplished a reduction while still making the Louisiana Purchase, adding a huge amount of land to the U.S.
But the election of 1824 had polarized the country and for all practical purposes, there were four different political parties – all with different agendas for spending and positions on debt. The subject of debt had been one of deep discussion since the Revolutionary War. After the war ended, the central government agreed to take on the debt of the individual states as part of the unification policy.
One school of thought was that taking on debt would be a way of growing the country’s economy and a national bank was started. President Jefferson opposed this idea, saying that it would only favor the northeast and wasn’t fair to the rest of the country. Jefferson went to far as to say that the debt was a shameful thing for the country.
During Jackson’s presidency, he vetoed bills that would increase spending and went so far as to sell off land to pay off the balance of the debt, culminating in the country being debt-free January 8, 1835 for the first and only time in its history.
After the debt was paid, the selling of land created a real estate bubble and the elimination of the national bank created chaos and reckless spending. A return to debt was inevitable. A depression followed and by 1837 the country was once again in debt.
The country also had its debt increase substantially during the Civil War but by the early 20th century, the debt was once again almost paid off – until World War I necessitated the need for federal borrowing. Since then, the debt has been increasing to its current unbelievable levels. I still have hopes that someday we may return to a debt-free status in our country.
Speaking of paying off debt, Jesus paid the debt for all the sins of the world on the cross. That means that you and I are debt-free. Our debt has been paid in full! That is what is so remarkable about Jesus. He laid down his life, although He was sinless, and paid the price for all of us – a sacrifice once and for all to eradicate our debt.
Our verse for tonight is from John’s first epistle. John, in teaching about sin, tells us, in 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (KJV)
The word propitiation isn’t a word we use very frequently. But it means “to pay the price for” or to atone for something. In other words, we owed the debt but Jesus paid the price to set us free.
My encouragement this evening is that Jesus was pleased to die for our sins and to pay the price. He loves us with a love that can’t possibly understand in our humanness. My prayer is that as a result of this debt-free status, we may do unto others those things that would please the One who paid the price for us. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…