Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt

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Overview

In this acclaimed work, available here for the first time in paperback, Herbert E. Sloan examines Thomas Jefferson's complex and obsessive relationship to debt—its roles in his life and political career, and in the formation of republican ideology. As party leader in the 1790s, and later as President of the United States, Jefferson led a crusade against public debt, which he felt robbed the people of a future rightly theirs. Yet as a private person, he was plagued by debt, never free of it throughout his life. In this respect, Sloan argues, Jefferson was representative of his social class—most of the Virginia gentry had similar problems with debt, and similar feelings about it.

Taking as the central exposition of Jefferson's political vision his famous letter to James Madison on the rights of the living generation, Sloan explores in detail the events of 1789–90, when Jefferson acceded to Hamilton's plans for the national debt. The consequences of this decision would haunt Jefferson until the day he died.

Eloquently written and exhaustively researched, Principle and Interest provides a unique perspective on a range of topics—revolutionary ideology, political economy, the mechanics of party organization—central to an understanding of the period.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

Reviews in American History
Principle and Interest is the most impressively original and beguilingly stylish interpretation of Jefferson's ideological obsessions since Winthrop Jordan's White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812. It does for the question of debt what Jordan's pathbreaking book did for the question of race; namely, send a shaft of light into the Jeffersonian abyss that not only illuminates one important region of former darkness, but also sets off lights in a whole series of adjoining areas.

— Joseph J. Ellis

Journal of the Early Republic
In six well-conceived, impeccably researched chapters,... Sloan demonstrates that Jefferson was the consummate republican.... Sloan's conclusion, that Jefferson's views about debt were not novel but rather bound him to his age and place, provides perceptive insight for understanding the victory of liberal capitalism over classical republicanism.

— Gene A. Smith

American Historical Review
A masterful account of a key theme—debt—that runs through Jefferson's private life and public career.... Sloan's expansive exploration... stands out from all previous accounts.

— Richard B. Latner

Reviews in American History - Joseph J. Ellis

Principle and Interest is the most impressively original and beguilingly stylish interpretation of Jefferson's ideological obsessions since Winthrop Jordan's White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812. It does for the question of debt what Jordan's pathbreaking book did for the question of race; namely, send a shaft of light into the Jeffersonian abyss that not only illuminates one important region of former darkness, but also sets off lights in a whole series of adjoining areas.

Journal of the Early Republic - Gene A. Smith

In six well-conceived, impeccably researched chapters,... Sloan demonstrates that Jefferson was the consummate republican.... Sloan's conclusion, that Jefferson's views about debt were not novel but rather bound him to his age and place, provides perceptive insight for understanding the victory of liberal capitalism over classical republicanism.

American Historical Review - Richard B. Latner

A masterful account of a key theme—debt—that runs through Jefferson's private life and public career.... Sloan's expansive exploration... stands out from all previous accounts.

From the Publisher

"An important book yielding new insights into the thought and career of Thomas Jefferson."--Choice

"The most impressively original and beguilingly stylish interpretation of Jefferson's ideological obsessions since Winthrop Jordan's White Over Black."--Reviews in American History

"With nuance and subtlety, Sloan presents a convincing picture of Jefferson that skillfully blends divergent elements in recent historiography...This study is first-rate scholarship and merits wide circulation...we are truly indebted to Sloan."--American Historical Reiew

"Specialists will find the book a useful addition to our understanding of the "Jeffersonian persuasion.""--The Journal of American History

"...six well-conceived, impeccably researched chapters, accompanied by two appendices and extensive, informative notes..."--Journal of the Early Republic

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813920931
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Series: Jeffersonian America Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 976,094
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Herbert E. Sloan is Professor of History at Barnard College.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 The Thralldom of Debt 13
2 The Rights of the Living 50
3 Wars, Debts, and Taxes 86
4 Errors of Political Life 125
5 Pay as You Go 165
6 An Engine so Corruptive 202
Appendix A: Paine and Condorcet 239
Appendix B: Selected Virginia Libraries 244
Notes 247
Index 371
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