Five Poorest U.S. Presidents
When most of us think about the Presidents of the United States, we think about rich people who spend the rest of their lives living off of book deals and speaking engagements. However, this is not so. Many Presidents had problems making ends meet and some of them actually went bankrupt! They were the poorest U.S. Presidents. Everyone who become President is not a millionaire or independently wealthy. Here are five of our leaders who almost literally lived in the poor house.
This is one of the most unfortunate cases of how a President managed his funds. Harry Truman was poor his entire life and made one failed investment after another. Even though Truman could have gone bankrupt, he never did. Because he was so poor, the presidential salary was doubled during his time in office and they gave him the money after he left the White House. When Medicare was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman and his wife were the first two people to receive the benefits.
Here was a victim of the depression of 1893 (yes, there were more economic problems in the past, too). William McKinley had invested in a tin plate company that his friend owned and it went under. The future president found himself in $130,000 in debt and had to file for bankruptcy. He had some friends help him out, which eventually got him out of debt, but they did it in a way that looked to McKinley as charity. He never forgave them for that.
Grant was a great general, but a lousy businessman. He is the type of guy that lived, as the saying goes, “on a champagne diet, but a beer budget.” Although very well liked as a president, he was a party animal who liked to drink and gamble. His family was no better. Mrs. Grant liked to travel and stay in expensive hotel rooms. Grant’s son, Buck, liked to fall for expensive business schemes and would get his father to bankroll him. This cost Grant to go into bankruptcy. In the end, he was forced to avoid prison by selling off his Civil War memoirs and souvenirs.
The main writer of our Constitution, Madison was a wealthy plantation owner who lived off his tobacco crops. As a Virginian politician, he held a lot of power in the founding of our nation. Even though he was a savvy businessman, some things are beyond your control. You cannot predict the weather and famines and sometimes you cannot reign in your family members. In Madison’s case, his stepson destroyed his investments while he was in the White House. He left the Presidency at the age of 65 to find his plantation in ruins. He was forced to sell off half of his property and then took a job as the Rector (President) of the University of Virginia.
Who would expect one of the greatest Presidents would ever be near financial ruin? While Jefferson was a genius as a writer and inventor, he was cursed with bad luck when it came to keeping money in his pockets. It’s hard to imagine from a man who owned Monticello, a large plantation in Virginia. His troubles started when he married into debt with his wife, Martha Wayles. Her father died penniless and the money owed passed onto Jefferson. Even with a decent-sized farm, Jefferson could not cover all his creditors and pleaded with the state of Virginia to sell off his estate to pay his dues. The state refused him, stating that it would not look right for a past President of the United States to be destitute. They waited until he passed away and his last surviving daughter, Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph, was forced to live on charity the rest of her life after paying her father’s debts by selling land and slaves.