A Nation Wholly Free: The Elimination of the National Debt in the Age of Jackson

Carl Lane. Westholme, $28 (280p) ISBN 978-1-59416-209-1
Historian Lane delivers a superbly written exploration of a narrow subject in the fading past, making it feel surprisingly relevant to modern readers. Paying off the national debt, a topic that’s at the center of passionate debate today, similarly roiled the political scene 175 years ago. Lane describes how, under vastly different conditions, Andrew Jackson and his administration vowed to completely eliminate the national debt by 1835. They succeeded, but in the process were forced to bow to ideology and political pressure, killing the Second Bank of the U.S. and unwisely distributing surplus federal funds to state banks rather than using the money for infrastructure development. The result, according to the author, was the crash of 1837—America’s first great financial crisis. Lane brings life to the dry topics of debt, tariffs, taxes, and banks, and he’s not above calling participants to account when he thinks criticism is warranted. His only error is holding figures of the past to today’s standards. Otherwise, this is first-rate history rendered with unusual clarity and verve. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/22/2014
Release date: 10/01/2014
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-59416-587-0
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