November 5, 1862: How big is the national debt?

US 1862 Bank Note

The editor of the Richmond Daily Dispatch indulges here in some speculation about the true size of the Union national debt. He puts it at well over 1 billion dollars, rather than the 640 million secretary Chase claims. The debt at the end of the war was 2.2 billion, so it may be that Chase was doing some creative accounting. Of course, the editor goes on to chortle over the South’s wealth and the North’s lack of it, which will result in the North going broke at the end of the war while the South will be economically sound. That part didn’t work out so well, as it turns out. I guess it might have if the south could have kept possession of all that cotton.

A number of changes in the economic system came with the war. Chase did authorize the issuing of the first standardized US federal bank notes — like the one depicted above, with his own picture on it. And of course there was the income tax.

Secretary Chase and the Yankee debt.

It the old notion that “figures cannot lie” has not been already exploded, it is likely to be so before the end of this war. Secretary Chase writes that the Yankee debt is loss than $640,000,000, including even the legacy of $70,000,000 left by the old United States. Nothing is easier than to show that, it “figures cannot ” at least a Yankee Secretary of the Treasury can.

The old United States army cost, upon an average, a thousand dollars a man per annum. The Yankee army costs a much larger sum per man than the old army did. Now, for one year, the Yankees have been paying for 750,000 men. So here are $750,000,000 for the army alone, at the old rates, for one year. Previously that is from April, Lincoln had 150,000 men in the field, which cost him, at the same rate, $95,000,000. The whole sum is $845,000,000 for the 750,000 and for the 150,000, the latter being takes in with the former after this time last year. It must be recollected that two separate enrollments were ordered, each of 300,000 men; that is, 600,000 in all. They have already cost an enormous sum, but we leave them out of the estimate. We have, then, according to the moderate allowance we have made, $845,000,000 for he army alone.

But has the Yankee Government no expenses except army expenses! Does the navy cost nothing? Does the civil service cost nothing? Does it cost nothing to carry on the Government in these perilous times? It used to cost fifty to seventy millions in times of profound peace. Has Lincoln discovered any method of rendering it cheaper to carry it on in time of war than in time of peace? Assuredly not. All these cause combined must swell the debt to at least $1,000,000,000 even if it be admitted that a soldier poets no more now than he did in the old army.

But he does cost more. His pay is twice as great, his equipments are twice as expensive, his living is twice as costly. There never existed an army, since the time of Zerxes, at which was furnished so extravagantly. Figures, those “equivocating fiends,” which such men as Secretary Chase can easily cause to “lie like truth,” may “keep the world of promise” to the eye of the true believing Yankee but the day must come when all such promises must be “broken to the hope.”–To the other sources of expense must be added the enormous profits of contractors, and the villainies which they practice in extorting money from the Government. Pu all together, and our word for it that the Boston Convention was much nearer the truth when it named two thousand millions as the sum of the Yankee debt than Chase was when he razed it down six hundred and forty. In August, 1861. a correspondent of one of the Northern papers stated that Lincoln’s Government was spending two and a half millions per diem–Since that period it has been stated, on Yankee authority, that it was spending four millions per diem. Both statements were correct, as any man may satisfy himself by referring to the size of their army and navy, the increase of pay, the enormous additions to their marine, both of men and ships, the unheard of luxuries of their camps, the expense of their military equipments, the prodigious losses in baggage, commissary stores horses medicines, &c., which they have sustained, and the lavish expenditure of money in Europe for arms and munitions of war.

The best part of the joke is, that they have nothing worth speaking of to pay the interest of this mighty debt. The revenue from customs is cut off. They have nothing but wheat and corn, and bacon and pork, and beef, to send abroad and bring in cash. All the cotton, tobacco, and sugar is on our side of the house. Let the peace come when it may, we shall have four or five millions bales of cotton and untold quantities of tobacco to send to Europe, receiving in return five or six hundred millions in gold and silver, or their equivalent. We owe no foreign debt and with such a basis of specie, we shall be the most prosperous nation of which there is any account. That is the difference between us and the Yankees. We have a large debt; but it rests upon an impregnable specie basis. They have a debt three or four times as large, and it rests upon nothing.

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