National debt and political allegiance in eighteenth-century Britain

Lina Weber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The article traces a hitherto-neglected form of political obligation, one that resulted from national debt and relied on creditors’ self-interest. Eighteenth-century commentators argued that William III had introduced public borrowing to gain support from the people and to maintain the Revolution Settlement. This claim was first made by tories and became a staple argument of opposition authors. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, this connection between national debt and political allegiance was reassessed. Robert Wallace presented the debt as a price worth paying for the excellent British constitution, David Hume considered it as Britain's last hope to maintain the established order. In the discussions of American independence, the association of national debt with political obligation was used for divergent purposes. While Adam Smith and Richard Price utilized it to argue for a reform of empire, Thomas Paine urged the American provinces to unite under an American national debt. Drawing on authors from various political allegiances in eighteenth-century Britain, the article shows how the same idea about national debt and political obligation could be used for different purposes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1015-1034
Number of pages20
JournalThe Historical Journal
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


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