Independence Day

The 4th of July is a great opportunity to relax, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the heart of summer. It is also (sometimes) used to reflect on the birth and history of the United States. The revered "Founding Fathers" established a federal systems of checks and balances that still is the envy of much of the world, more than 250 years later.

Thomas Jefferson, in addition to being the third president of the United States, was the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence. What is less well known is that he struggled with creditors throughout his life, including during and after his presidency. Jefferson died with debts in excess of $100,000, an amount more akin to several million dollars in current debt. While much of his debt was inherited, and it was not uncommon for farmer-planters of his era, it greatly troubled Jefferson during his life. Many of the voluminous letters of the champion of self-sufficiency referred to financial concerns and stress. Jefferson was no different that many Americans in being unable to meet his financial burdens, even with his inherited wealth and advantage.

It is also little-known that Abraham Lincoln suffered financial problems early in his professional life. When a partner is a dry goods (general store) partnership disappeared, Lincoln was stuck with the bills. Like Jefferson, Lincoln struggled with the debt burden and was greatly troubled by his situation. It took many years, and a successful law practice, to overcome the debt, but Lincoln never forgot the feeling. His frugality continued throughout his entire life.

Other presidents felt the financial crunch. Ulysses S. Grant struggled with debt after bad investments throughout his life, and was forced to sell his autobiography (written while extremely ill) to pay his basic bills. And of course, Donald Trump filed 4 bankruptcies, though these were Chapter 11 business bankruptcies. Other presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton grew up incredibly poor. Johnson grew up in extreme poverty when his father's ranch failed. Many historians believe it drove his desire to create the "Great Society" and the "War on Poverty".

The United States bankruptcy code is established under federal law, and bankruptcy itself is recognized in the United States Constitution. So, while you are reflecting on United States history this week (between beers and hot dogs) remember that not only is it a part of our federal system, it was established and maintain because even some of the best among us need the help.