be too confident that she could support, without 
great distress, a burden a little greater 
than what has already been laid upon her. 
When national debts have once been accumulated 
to a certain degree, there is scarce, I 
believe, a single instance of their having been 
fairly and completely paid. The liberation 
of the public revenue, if it has ever been 
brought about at all, has always been brought 
about by a bankruptcy; sometimes by an avowed 
one, though frequently by a pretended 
The raising of the denomination of the coin 
has been the most usual expedient by which a 
real public bankruptcy has been disguised 
under the appearance of a pretended payment
If a sixpence, for example, should, either 
by act of parliament or royal proclamation
be raised to the denomination of a shilling
and twenty sixpences to that of a pound sterling
the person who, under the old denomination
had borrowed twenty shillings, or near 
four ounces of silver, would, under the new, 
pay with twenty sixpences, or with something 
less than two ounces. A national debt of 
about a hundred and twenty-eight millions, 
near the capital of the funded and unfunded 
debt of Great Britain, might, in this manner, 
be paid with about sixty-four millions 
of our present money. It would, indeed, be 
a pretended payment only, and the creditors 
of the public would really be defrauded of ten 
shillings in the pound of what was due to 
them. The calamity, too, would extend much 
further than to the creditors of the public
and those of every private person would suffer 
a proportionable loss; and this without 
any advantage, but in most cases with a great 
additional loss, to the creditors of the public
If the creditors of the public, indeed, were 
generally much in debt to other people, they 
might in some measure compensate their loss 
by paying their creditors in the same coin in 
which the public had paid them. But in most 
countries, the creditors of the public are, the 
greater part of them, wealthy people, who stand 
more in the relation of creditors than in that 
of debtors, towards the rest of their fellow-citizens. 
A pretended payment of this kind
therefore, instead of alleviating, aggravates, in 
most cases, the loss of the creditors of the 
public; and, without any advantage to the 
public, extends the calamity to a great number 
of other innocent people. It occasions a 
general and most pernicious subversion of the 
fortunes of private people; enriching, in 
most cases, the idle and profuse debtor, at 
the expense of the industrious and frugal 
creditor; and transporting a great part of the 
national capital from the hands which were 
likely to increase and improve it, to those who 
are likely to dissipate and destroy it. When 
it becomes necessary for a state to declare itself 
bankrupt, in the same manner as when it 
becomes necessary for an individual to do so, 
a fair, open, and avowed bankruptcy, is always 
the measure which is both least dishonourable 
to the debtor, and least hurtful to the 
creditor. The honour of a state is surely 
very poorly provided for, when, in order to 
cover the disgrace of a real bankruptcy, it 
has recourse to a juggling trick of this kind
so easily seen through, and at the same time 
so extremely pernicious
Almost all states, however, ancient as well 
as modern, when reduced to this necessity
have, upon some occasions, played this very 
juggling trick. The Romans, at the end of 
the first Punic war, reduced the As, the coin 
or denomination by which they computed the 
value of all their other coins, from containing 
twelve ounces of copper, to contain only two 
ounces; that is, they raised two ounces of 
copper to a denomination which had always 
before expressed the value of twelve ounces
The republic was, in this manner, enabled to 
pay the great debts which it had contracted 
with the sixth part of what it really owed
So sudden and so great a bankruptcy, we 
should in the present times be apt to imagine, 
must have occasioned a very violent popular 
clamour. It does not appear to have occasioned 
any. The law which enacted it was, 
like all other laws relating to the coin, introduced 
and carried through the assembly of the 
people by a tribune, and was probably a very 
popular law. In Rome, as in all other ancient 
republics, the poor people were constantly 
in debt to the rich and the great, who, in 
order to secure their votes at the annual elections, 
used to lend them money at exorbitant 
interest, which, being never paid, soon accumulated 
into a sum too great for the debtor 
to pay, or for any body else to pay for him. 
The debtor, for fear of a very severe execution, 
was obliged, without any further gratuity, to 
vote for the candidate whom the creditor recommended. 
In spite of all the laws against 
bribery and corruption, the bounty of the candidates
together with the occasional distributions 
of coin which were ordered by the senate
were the principal funds from which, during 
the latter times of the Roman republic, the 
poorer citizens derived their subsistence. To 
deliver themselves from this subjection to 
their creditors, the poorer citizens were continually 
calling out, either for an entire abolition 
of debts, or for what they called new 
tables; that is, for a law which should entitle 
them to a complete acquittance, upon paying 
only a certain proportion of their accumulated 
debts. The law which reduced the coin 
of all denominations to a sixth part of its former 
value, as it enabled them to pay their 
debts with a sixth part of what they really 
owed, was equivalent to the most advantageous 
new tables. In order to satisfy the people
the rich and the great were, upon several 
different occasions, obliged to consent to laws, 
both for abolishing debts, and for introducing 
new tables; and they probably were induced 
to consent to this law, partly for the same