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Federal Budgets Past & Present: with a look back at 1805

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For the federal government, this time of year is all about planning for the next fiscal year which makes the timing for an expanded and enhanced guide on the sources related to the budget of the United States fortuitous.

image is is from the budget featuring military pensions to John Willard, Jabez Bowen, William Imlay, James Nicholson, James Ewing, Stephen Moylan, John Stockton, Benjamin Harwood, John Hopkins and Sherwood Haywood with amounts
An Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of the United States for the year 1805, p.40.

It may seem that a guide on U.S. budgets is a very narrow topic, but because we get a lot of questions about both current and past budgets,  updating and enhancing what we had was important.  In the past, print versions were the only option but the web has meant increased access to both current and historical information. For those wanting the current budget, it has been available for many years on the Office of Management & Budget’s (OMB) website or via the Government Printing Office (GPO) website.  However, those who wanted earlier budgets prior to GPO archiving the digital versions had to go to a library that kept the previous budgets in print – something that is not all that common. Now there are several sources that digitize those earlier budgets and other official budget-related materials and make them available via the web.  This updated guide covers both print and electronic sources, past and present, for the official budget of the United States and the other budget related documents produced by agencies like USAID and the Department of Defense.

Looking at budgets is an interesting way to gain some insight into the history and development of the United States. It shows what was going on and what was important at any given time.  I wrote a post in 2011 about a budget so this is not the first time that an historical U.S. budget caught my attention,  but for this I thought 1805 would provide a glimpse at the both the past and future ambitions of the country. The American Revolution was not that far in the past, and many of the individuals that were involved were still alive and politically active. It was also at a time when the country was beginning to grow and develop.

The 1805 budget contains many individual names, which are typically not included in modern budgets and can show that the budget is more than just an accounting of the money spent on government activities.  This budget reads like a list of who was who in 1805:

  • The position and names of the President (Thomas Jefferson), and Vice President (Aaron Burr) were given.
  • The names of agency heads like Secretary of the Treasury (Albert Gallatin), Secretary of the Department of State (James Madison), Postmaster (Gideon Granger), and Secretary of War (Henry Dearborn) were included.
  •  Names of some other government employees were given including Tench Coxe, a name that comes up in the correspondence of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
  •  The budget section concerning Congress included names of the Members but also included Joseph Wheaton (Sergeant at Arms) and Thomas  Claxon (door-keeper for the House of Representative).
  •  There were also the names of judges including John Sloss Hobart (District of New York), William Kilty (Chief Justice of the District of Columbia), and the members of the Supreme Court including Chief Justice John Marshall.
  • There were also the names of those in charge of the various territories including William C. C. Claiborne, then governor of the Mississippi Territory.
  • Benjamin Rush was then the Treasurer of the Mint.
  • There were a number people named who were paid “for the support and erection of Light-houses, beacons, buoys, &c.  and the improvement of navigation” including Joseph Whipple (in New Hampshire as superintendent of Light-house establishment), William Ellery (Superintendent of the Light-house on Jamestown Island in Rhode Island), and Elzy Burrows (contractor for erecting a light-house on Old Point Comfort, or Smith’s point).
  • There were a number of names and firms mentioned as selling products and services. The State Department’s budget included money to be paid to firms including Oliver Farnsworth (Rhode Island) who published the Laws of the Second Session of the 7th Congress. On page 45, there was money to be directed toward “public buildings in the city of Washington”  (Washington, D.C.) which included building a jail and indicated that Thomas Munroe was superintendent of the city and Daniel C. Brent was the marshal. There were also a number of miscellaneous Claims including several claims by William Duane for furnishing reams of paper for ships’ registers.
Image from the budget featuring the naval establishment for 74 gun ships, completing the Navy-yard, Dock-yards and Wharves as well as the building of the Marine Barracks
An Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of the United States for the year 1805, p.53.

There were also other tantalizing bits that were particular to the 1805 budget that were both local and national in nature:

  • Payments related to various treaties including the British, the Spanish, and Mediterranean Powers (pages 48 and 49).
  • There is mention on pages 53 and 63, for money to build a Marine Barracks. It doesn’t mention the specific location, but because of the timing, it makes it likely that it is for Marine Barracks on 8th Street on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
  • There is also a line in the appendix related to Domestic Debts that says “Louisiana six per cent stock …..  11,250,000” which relates to the Louisiana Purchase.
Image show Domestic debt numbers passed to the credit of the Sinking Fund and includes a number of cases including the Louisiana Purchase
An Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of the United States for the year 1805, Appendix “State of the Debt of the United States, on the 1st January, 1804.”

To see our new guide and explore those past budgets, go to:

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