10 Poor Presidents Who Put Mitt Romney to Shame

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GOP candidate Mitt Romney holds the dubious distinction of being one of the wealthiest men ever to run for president. However our nation's first president, George Washington's net worth of $525 million — in 2010 dollars according to a study by 24-7 Wall Street — was by far the wealthiest of our past presidents. In comparison, Romney's net worth, estimated at a measly $190 to $250 million, is mere chump change. Here are 10 examples of presidents who were nowhere near Romney's or Washington's tax bracket.

  1. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

    Harry S. Truman entered and left the office badly in debt. His post-presidential financial struggles inspired Congress to create the Former presidents act, which allows former presidents to collect a decent pension. A strong advocate of government health care, Truman and his wife were the first two official recipients of Medicare when it was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson. Believing that doing so would harm the integrity of the office of the president, Truman refused to be on any kind of corporate payroll. He is quoted as saying, "My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference."

  2. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)

    Born in a one-room log cabin, Abraham Lincoln held the office of president during the Civil War and would guide the country through one of the most traumatic periods of its history. Poor and primarily self-educated, early in his life, Lincoln had to absorb the debts of a deceased partner with whom he had bought what was a very unsuccessful general store. As a result, he lost what assets he had and only avoided a life of poverty thanks to his career as an attorney.

  3. William Henry Harrison (1841)

    It's not without some irony that Whig party president William Henry Harrison, derogatorily referred to as a "land-grabber," and who brutally fought and consistently short-changed Native Americans for their land, entered office in serious debt due to the natural destruction of crops on land which he owned. Harrison's sons also carried a great deal of debt at that time. Harrison's death by pneumonia, just one month after entering office, may have saved him from becoming totally insolvent.

  4. William McKinley (1897-1901)

    Succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt after dying from a bullet wound from an assassin's gun, William McKinley, whose net worth was less than $1 million, left behind no significant inheritance. During the depression of 1893, McKinley, then Governor of Ohio, found himself liable for loans he'd signed for a friend and was almost forced to claim bankruptcy. Two years later, perhaps remembering his own circumstance, he successfully headed a charity drive to raise money for nearly 10,000 Ohioans living below the poverty level.

  5. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)

    Some of our past presidents went bankrupt or suffered financial ruin due to living beyond their means. After his presidency, Grant and his wife Julia spent a great deal of money traveling around the world to visit various foreign dignitaries. That trip left them broke, and after investing and losing his assets to embezzlement by an associate of his son, Grant was bankrupt and nearly insolvent. Before dying of cancer, Grant wrote and sold his memoirs of the Civil War, saving his family from a life of poverty.

  6. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

    Historian Ned Sublette writes, "As was the norm for planters, (Thomas) Jefferson was both insolvent and fabulously wealthy." He owned upwards of 600 to 700 slaves in his lifetime, human beings that served not only as labor, but as liquid assets. Jefferson bought tons of overpriced junk, including elaborately designed non-functional harpsichords, plaster busts, and mahogany tables to decorate his lavish, expansive estate Monticello. Jefferson was never able to effectively manage the huge plantation or get ahead of his mounting debt. After his death, Monticello was auctioned off along with his slaves, by the state of Virginia.

  7. James Monroe (1817-1825)

    Yep. Another president, another plantation owner who, thanks to living a lavish lifestyle and mismanaging his estate, ended up in debt up to his eyeballs after serving two terms. In spite of his wife coming from a wealthy family and emergency aid from Congress in the amount of $30,000, mounting debts forced Monroe to sell his 3,500 acre Highland plantation and presumably the slave labor that had kept it running.

  8. James Madison (1809-1817)

    Sheesh! Here's another one! It's apparent that the era in which each president lived determined their financial successes or failures. Remember, agriculture was truly at the mercy of the elements. And the institution of slavery was just beginning to be seen as an unsustainable, not to mention morally reprehensible way of doing business. James Madison had an experience similar to Jefferson's, losing money hand over fist while he and his family racked up debt. Like Grant, Madison published a book of his memoirs hoping that royalties from sales would provide for his family.

  9. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)

    Jimmy Carter may possibly be the only U.S. president ever to own a farm but no slaves. Carter left the office of the president deep in debt due to mismanagement of his peanut farm which he had left in a blind trust during the course of his presidency. Over the years, Carter has managed to recover financially by writing several best-selling books.

  10. Barack Obama (2009-present)

    Many presidents, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, have increased their net worth through book royalties. Current President Barack Obama, the grandson of a Kenyan goat herder, used the royalties from his two bestsellers to pay off his and his wife's school loan debts! This former law professor, civil rights attorney, and community organizer — community activism, now THAT'S where the big bucks are — may be the first president ever who knows what it's like to juggle mortgage and student loan payments.

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