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February 22, 2015

The richest & poorest U.S. Presidents

Washington was the wealthiest POTUS

Anyone in politics can confirm one thing: it costs money to run for, let alone get in to, public office. 

So it's not surprising that a list of the net worths of every U.S. President doesn't bother including amounts less than $1 million. 

Most Presidents accumulated much more wealth than that during their lifetimes though, as one can see in the compilation put together by 24/7 Wall St.

To adjust for inflation, the article measured everything in 2010 U.S. Dollars, and also included assets such as land and inheritance. 

The top five wealthiest presidents, along with 24/7 Wall St.'s description of their financial histories, are as follows:

1. George Washington - $525 million - His Virginia plantation, “Mount Vernon,” consisted of five separate farms on 8,000 acres of prime farmland, run by over 300 slaves. His wife, Martha Washington, inherited significant property from her father. Washington made significantly more than subsequent presidents: his salary was two percent of the total U.S. budget in 1789.

2. Thomas Jefferson - $212 million - Jefferson was left 3,000 acres and several dozen slaves by his father. “Monticello,” his home on a 5,000 acre plantation in Virginia, was one of the architectural wonders of its time. He made significant money in various political positions before becoming president, but was mired in debt towards the end of his life.

3. Theodore Roosevelt - $125 million - Born to a prominent and wealthy family, Roosevelt received a significant trust fund. He lost most of his money on a ranching venture in the Dakotas and had to work as an author to pay bills. Roosevelt spent most of his adult years in public service. His 235-acre estate, “Sagamore Hill,” sits on some of the most valuable real estate on Long Island.

4. Andrew Jackson - $119 million - While he was considered to be in touch with the average middle class American, Jackson quietly became one of the wealthiest presidents of the 1800’s. “Old Hickory” married into wealth and made money in the military. His homestead ”The Hermitage” included 1,050 acres of prime real estate. Over the course of his life, he owned as many as 300 slaves. Jackson entered significant debt later in life.

5. James Madison - $101 million - Madison was the largest landowner in Orange County, Virginia, with land holding consisting of 5,000 acres and the “Montpelier” estate. He made significant money as secretary of state and president. Madison lost money at the end of his life due to the steady financial collapse of his plantation.

Since this piece didn't give totals under $1 million, it's impossible to rank which of the Presidents was actually the "poorest." However, 24/7 Wall St. did list the presidents who experienced financial ruin. 

Interestingly enough, that list includes two of the richest presidents; Jefferson and Madison. Both accumulated massive debt during their lifetimes and were forced to sell off many of their assets. Here are some of the other presidents that faced economic hardships or essentially ended up broke: 

Abraham LincolnAn ambitious but poor young man, Lincoln’s early life left him in financial ruin. When he was in his 20’s he bought a general store with a friend and business associate – an investment he would later regret. Before the store went bankrupt Lincoln sold his share in the venture. However, his partner died shortly afterwards and Lincoln was forced to absorb his debts He was taken to court by the store’s creditors and lost ownership of his only remaining assets: a horse and some surveying equipment. His later career as an attorney eventually brought Lincoln out of complete poverty.

Ulysses S. GrantHis brief, illustrious career as our nation’s highest-ranking general notwithstanding, Grant never earned a great deal of money and often lived well beyond his means. This was especially the case after his presidency, when he and his wife traveled the world, dining with foreign dignitaries and staying in expensive hotels. In 1881, Grant’s son, Buck, convinced his father to enter an investment partnership with an associate of his, Ferdinand Ward, for $100,000. Ward mismanaged and embezzled Grant’s assets, and when the firm of Ward and Grant went bankrupt, the former was sent to prison, and Grant was left with hundreds of thousands in debt. He went bankrupt, and was only able to save his family further financial hardships by selling his civil war memoirs for nearly half a million dollars – published shortly after his death.

Harry S. TrumanOne of the saddest cases of presidential hardship, Truman, was relatively poor throughout his life. He borrowed against his meager future inheritance and invested in a zinc mining operation, which failed and lost him most of his investment. Truman later performed various menial jobs, which barely kept his family afloat. However, the real financial disaster occurred when the clothing store he owned with a friend went bankrupt in the wake of extreme deflation. Truman lost his $30,000 investment, but never declared bankruptcy despite urgings from friends and family to do so. Truman continued to pay debts throughout his early career, and was still thousands of dollars in debt when he began his tenure as a senator. It was Truman’s sad financial state that inspired the doubling of the presidential salary, which he received after the fact. Truman and his wife were the first two official recipients of Medicare when Lyndon Johnson signed the program into law.

What about Pennsylvania's own James Buchanan, you ask? Comparatively, his financial summary is rather boring:

James Buchanan - less than $1 million - Born in log cabin in Pennsylvania, Buchanan was one of 11 children. He was the only president never to marry. He worked for nine years as attorney, and spent 16 years in public office, including four years as secretary of state.