The Net Worth Of Every American President, From Washington To Obama: 24/7 Wall Street
By 24/7 Wall St: George Washington,the nation's first President, was also one of the wealthiest men to hold the office. His Virginia plantation, "Mount Vernon," consisted of five separate farms on 8,000 acres of prime farmland. Washington made significantly more than subsequent presidents: his salary was two percent of the total U.S. budget in 1789.
(Editor's Note: This article was first published on May 17, 2010. The net worth of any of the Presidents on this list who are no longer living cannot change, except as measured by inflation. The fortune of the presidents who remain living have changed somewhat, but it would be nearly impossible to measure the full effect of that over the last nine months. The value of Bill Clinton's real estate may have risen. Jimmy Carter's publishing royalties may have improved. None of these events is likely to have a substantial effect on the rankings.
The Net Worth of America's Presidents is a study that can be updated from time-time-time, but the figures relative to the passage of a few years will almost certainly never be more than modest.)
Our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, was not one of America's wealthiest - any opportunity to make money after his term of office was cut short. He was born in a log cabin and served as an attorney for 17 years before his presidency. He owned a single-family home in Springfield, Illinois.
24/7 Wall St. has examined the finances of all forty-three presidents. This article provides net worth figures for each in 2010 dollars. Because a number of presidents, particularly in the early 19th Century, made and lost huge fortunes in a matter of a few years, the number for each man is based on his net worth at its peak.
In the case of each president we have taken into account hard assets like land, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, inheritance, homes, and money paid for services, which include things as diverse as their salary as Collector of Customs at the Port of New York to membership on Fortune 500 boards. Royalties on books have also been taken into account, along with ownership of companies and yields from family estates.
The net worth of the presidents varies widely. George Washington was worth over half a billion in today's dollars. Several presidents went bankrupt.
The fortunes of American presidents are tied to the economy in the eras in which they lived. For the first 75 years after Washington's election, presidents generally made money on land, crops, and commodity speculation. A president who owned hundreds or thousands of acres could lose most or all of his property after a few years of poor crop yields. Wealthy Americans occasionally lost all of their money through land speculation--leveraging the value of one piece of land to buy additional property. Since there was no reliable national banking system and almost no liquidity in the value of private companies, land was the asset likely to provide the greatest yield, if the property yielded enough to support the costs of operating the farm or plantation.
Because there was no central banking system and no commodities regulatory framework, markets were subject to panics.
The panic of 1819 was caused by the deep indebtedness of the federal government and a rapid drop in the price of cotton. The immature banking system was forced to foreclose on many farms. The value of the properties foreclosed upon was often low because land without a landowner meant land without a crop yield.
The panic of 1837 caused a depression that lasted six years. It was triggered by a weak wheat crop, a drop in cotton prices, and a leverage bubble in the value of land created by speculation. These factors caused the US economy to go through a multi-year period of deflation.
The sharp fluctuations in the fortunes of the first 14 presidents were a result of the economic times.
Beginning with Millard Fillmore in 1850, the financial history of the presidency entered a new era. Most presidents were lawyers who spent years in public service. They rarely amassed large fortunes and their incomes were often almost entirely from their salaries. From Fillmore to Garfield, these American presidents were distinctly middle class. These men often retired without the money to support themselves in a fashion anywhere close to the one that they had as president. Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield had almost no net worth at all.
The rise of inherited wealth in the early 20th Century contributed to the fortunes of many presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and both of the Bushes. The other significant change to the economy was the advent of large professionally organized corporations. These corporations produced much of the oil, mining, financial, and railroad fortunes amassed at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. The Kennedys were wealthy because of the financial empire built by Joseph Kennedy. Herbert Hoover made millions of dollars as the owner of mining companies.
The stigma of making money from being a retired president also began to disappear. Calvin Coolidge made a large income from his newspaper column. Gerald Ford, who had almost no money when he was a Congressman made a small fortune from serving on the boards of large companies. Clinton made millions of dollars from writing his autobiography.
24/7 Wall St. performed an analysis of presidential finances based on historical sources. Most media evaluations of the net worth of presidents have come up with a very wide range, a spread in which the highest figure was often several times the lowest estimate. Most sources provided no hard figures at all. Most of these efforts have focused largely on the analysis of recent chief executives. That is because it is much easier to calculate figures in a world where assets and incomes are a matter of public record.
One of the most important conclusions of this analysis is that the presidency has little to do with wealth. Several brought huge net worths to the job. Many lost most of their fortunes after leaving office. Some never had any money at all.
Check out net worth of all forty-three presidents -- and visit 24/7 Wall Street for more information.
George Washington (1789-1797), $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.
John Adams (1797-1801), $19 Million, Adams received a modest inheritance from his father. His wife, Abigail Adams, was a member of the Quincys, a prestigious Massachusetts family. Adams owned a handsome estate in Quincy, Massachusetts, known as "Peacefield," a working farm, covering approximately 40 acres. He also had a thriving law practice.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), $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.
James Madison (1809-1817), $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.
James Monroe (1817-1825), $27 Million, Monroe's wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of wealthy British officer. He made significant money during eight years as president, but entered retirement severely in debt and was forced to sell Highland plantation, which included 3500 acres.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), $21 Million, Adams inherited most of his father's land. His wife was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. He devoted most of his adult life to public service, notably after leaving office.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), $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.
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841,) $26 Million, Van Buren made substantial income as an attorney. He was one of only two men to serve as secretary of state, vice president, and president. He owned the 225-acre "Lindenwald" estate in upstate New York.
William Henry Harrison (1841), $5 Million, Harrison married into money - wife's father was prominent judge and landowner. When Harrison's mother died, he inherited 3,000 acres near Charles City, Virginia, which he later sold to his brother. He also owned "Grouseland" mansion and property, in Vincennes, Indiana. Despite his assets, Harrison died penniless, causing Congress to create a special pension for his widow.
John Tyler (1841-1845), $51 Million, Tyler Inherited 1,000-acre tobacco plantation. His first wife, Letitia, was wealthy. Tyler bought "Sherwood Manor," a 1,600 acre estate, previously owned by William Henry Harrison. He became indebted during the Civil War and died poor.
James Knox Polk (1845-1849), $10 Million, Like his wife, Sarah Childress, Polk's father was a wealthy plantation owner and speculator. Polk made significant sums as speaker of the house and governor of Tennessee, and owned 920 acres in Coffeeville, Mississippi, as well as 25 slaves.
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850), $6 Million, Taylor inherited significant amounts of land from his family, which at one point included property in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Louisiana. He made substantial money in land speculation, the leasing of warehouses, and investments in bank and utility stocks. Taylor owned a sizeable plantation in Mississippi and a home in Baton Rouge.
Millard Fillmore (1850-1853), $4 Million, Neither Fillmore nor his wife had significant inheritance. He founded a college that is the current State University of New York at Buffalo, and his primary holding was a house in nearby East Aurora, NY.
Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), $2 Million, Pierce's father was frontier farmer, and his wife was well-to-do aristocrat. He served as attorney for 16 years and held property in concord, NH.
James Buchanan (1857-1861), 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.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), Less Than $1 Million, To the log cabin born. Lincoln served as an attorney for 17 years before his presidency. He owned a single-family home in Springfield, Illinois.
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869), Less Than $1 Million, Johnson's father was a tailor, and his wife was a shoemaker. He served the public for 20 years, including as Governor of Tennessee and U.S. Senator. Johnson owned a small house in Greenville, TN.
Ulysses Simpson Grant (1869-1877), Less Than $1 Million, Grant's father was a tanner, and his wife was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. He lost his entire fortune when swindled by his investing partner. Grant owned a modest home in Galena, Illinois. Although he died with little money, his autobiography kept family afloat.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes, (1877-1881), $3 Million, Hayes' father was a shopkeeper. He was an attorney for 15 years and owned "Spiegel Grove," a 10,000 square foot home that sat on 25 acres in Fremont, Ohio. Hayes also served as Governor of Ohio and was a member of the House.
James Abram Garfield (1881), Less Than $1 Million, Garfield was born in a log cabin in Ohio. He spent 18 years in the House of Representatives. Garfield owned "Lawnfield," a home and small property in Mentor, Ohio. He died penniless.