President Barack Obama appealed to Congress to honor the nation's financial obligations in his 2013 State of the Union Address, and Suffolk University Law School Professor Alasdair Roberts points out that America has defaulted in the past.

"It's incredible that the leader of an economic superpower should feel obliged to say anything about the need to honor the country's debts," writes Roberts in a guest commentary on The Business Desk, Paul Solman's PBS NewsHour blog. "But there's no doubt that default would cause enormous damage to America's reputation abroad. We already have the evidence, provided by one of the most humiliating moments in America's economic history."

Roberts goes on to discuss the is the default of nine states -- accounting for two-thirds of U.S. government debt -- in the 1840s and how that sparked an international crisis.

Rappaport, the Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk Law, is the author of America's First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder After the Panic of 1837.

Read the PBS blog posting