It has been famously argued that Tom Paine was not much of an economic thinker. Indeed, in his published work, we see relatively scarce systematic commentary on the subject. But, as befitting his origins in a mercantile family, Paine as a young man had prepared for a career as an excise officer. He later fully participated in a broader Enlightenment conversation about the new world of credit, trade, commercial and monetary policies, among other fiscal issues of early globalization. In particular, Paine formulated a systematic critique of public debt as a compelling way to discuss political sovereignty, the social contract, and the true wealth of nations – among other issues. In 1796, in France, Paine published a critique of wartime funding of the British economy with the publication of The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance inspired by the title of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). Paine’s denunciation of the economic self-mutilation caused by British wartime expansionism focused on a reform by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, who partially privatized the public debt of Britain. The British pound sterling was henceforth sustained by mysterious private loans whose very terms were obscured from public opinion. This article argues that the pamphlet had many parallels to David Hume’s 1752 essay Of Public Debt which Hume revised after the Seven Years War with a radical critique of public debt. The Humean origins of many of Paine’s arguments are manifest in the corrupting nature of public debt tied to military expenditure. To Hume and Paine, gimmicky forms of state borrowing in times of war lead to the bankruptcy of expansionist absolutism and to the eventual “decline and fall” of belligerent empires.
Journal of Early American History – Brill
Published: Nov 16, 2016
Keywords: public debt; Hume; Paine and the French Revolution; Paine’s political economy; wartime funding; William Pitt the younger
It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.
Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.
All for just $49/month
Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly
Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.
Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.
Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.
All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.
“Hi guys, I cannot tell you how much I love this resource. Incredible. I really believe you've hit the nail on the head with this site in regards to solving the research-purchase issue.”Daniel C.
“Whoa! It’s like Spotify but for academic articles.”@Phil_Robichaud
“I must say, @deepdyve is a fabulous solution to the independent researcher's problem of #access to #information.”@deepthiw
“My last article couldn't be possible without the platform @deepdyve that makes journal papers cheaper.”@JoseServera