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Depends what you mean by large. The US has been in debt since day 1 due to Revolutionary War Debts owed to probably France. The only time it's been zero was during Andrew Jackson's presidency about 1835. First major surge in debt was the war of Northern Aggression (aka Civil War). Pretty much every war created huge surges in the Public debt, especially World War I, World War II, Cold War, War on Terrorism.

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Q: When was the First Large Growth in Public Debt?
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