This isn’t the first time the US has had a problem with burgeoning public debt. Back in the 1830’s there was a financial crisis similar to the one occurring today. The reasons were many, and included speculators using borrowed money to invest in risky ventures such as cheap land.
Banks failed, unemployment reached record levels, and the country lurched into a depression. The slump continued until 1842, when the economy limped into a slow recovery.
Patriotic Americans who wanted to help the good times get here more quickly started making voluntary contributions to the federal government. In 1843, the government began depositing this money into an account called “Gifts to the United States” in the Treasury’s general fund.
In 1961, Public Law 87-58 placed the contributions under the aegis of the Bureau of the Public Debt. The act specifically authorized the government to accept donations of money and other property to be used to reduce the debt, and is still in force today.
You can find information on the Public Debt Reduction Fund in federal tax form instructions and publications. Contributions qualify as itemized deductions on your income tax return.
If you’re wondering whether anyone still sends money, the answer is yes. According to the Congressional Research Service, various contributors have donated more than $65 million since the program’s inception to help reduce the US public debt.