May 24, 2012 by Bob Livingston
Most the Framers and Ratifiers of the U.S. Constitution feared paper money. For that reason, Article I, Section 8, which deals with credit, commerce and coinage, was a much-discussed section.
As the consensus moved toward restricting the issuance of paper money and establishing a sound money policy, the Framers pondered what to do about the government’s debt. Many argued that, without the ability to print money, there was no way to discharge the debt. But the Framers knew from experience that printing money led to inflation. So Clause 5 — which restricted money to coins — was inserted to negate the effects of fiat money. Clause 2 of the section, which gives Congress the power to “borrow money on the credit of the United States,” was finally settled upon, though not without objection.
The anti-Federalist Brutus — probably New York’s Robert Yates — wrote in Brutus, No. 8:
Under this authority, the Congress may mortgage any or all the revenues of the union, as a fund to loan money upon, and it is probably, in this way, they may borrow of foreign nations, a principal sum, the interest of which will be equal to the annual revenues of the country.–By this means, they may create a national debt, so large, as to exceed the ability of the country ever to sink. I can scarcely contemplate a greater calamity that could befal (sic) this country, than to be loaded with a debt exceeding their ability ever to discharge. If this be a just remark, it is unwise and improvident to vest in the general government a power to borrow at discretion, without any limitation or restriction.
Even though he understood where Clause 2 would lead, I doubt Brutus could have foreseen a debt exceeding $15.7 trillion.