Good Question: Have All Presidents Been Wealthy?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s no question that the two Republican front-runners in the race for president are rich.

Mitt Romney paid nearly $3 million in federal taxes for 2010, Newt Gingrich paid almost $1 million. That’s wealth. In fact, Gingrich paid more in taxes than most of us make over 20 years.

Wealth has become an issue in the campaign, and it raises an interesting question: Has there ever been a common man as president?

“They’re not common men, let’s put it that way,” said Hy Berman, a University of Minnesota professor of history.

But they have had varying degrees of wealth.

Researchers at 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the net worth of the U.S. Presidents, and found some interesting patterns.

If the President wasn’t rich, he was generally a big shot political leader.

The richest president was also the first: George Washington. His salary was 2 percent of the total U.S. budget in 1789, he owned five farms on 8,000 acres in Virginia.

“In the earliest days? Every one of our founding fathers was rich,” said Berman.

The poorest? Perhaps Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson or Ulysses S. Grant would qualify.

Lincoln was a lawyer for 17 years, which was a position of prominence in Illinois. However, he was also a U.S. Representative, and a prominent speaker.

Andrew Johnson “was basically a tailor,” said Berman, but he was also the former Governor of Tennessee — hardly a common man.

Grant “is the only president that went bankrupt after the presidency,” according to Berman. Yet he ascended after being a legendary war hero.

From Washington until Polk, nearly every president was a wealthy landowner.

“After that it started getting less and less wealthy. More and more lawyers and professional people,” said Berman.

That covers the Lincoln and Johnson years, but “that changed again with professors like Wilson, then Harding and Coolidge,” said Berman. In the 20th Century, nearly every president came to office with a bucket of money.

Ironically, Andrew Jackson was “the common man’s president, and he was one of the wealthiest,” said Berman, “but he took the role of being the champion of the common person.”

According to Berman, there’s no correlation between personal wealth and success on the job for presidents.

“The most popular presidents among common people were people like Franklin Roosevelt, who was very rich,” he said.

So, that may be good news for Romney. If elected, he would be the fourth richest president of all time, according to Forbes Magazine.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Phiiid

    Good Question: Did you guys pose this question when John Kerry – even wealthier than Romney – was running for president in 2004?

  • Don

    What relavance does that have to anything in 2012, and presidents of the U.S.
    Also “good question” was not a feature of WCCO in 2004.

  • Don'tTread

    So according to this article, the founding fathers derived their wealth from means outside the political establishment, i.e land ownership. Romney’s connections to wealth however help drive his support, i.e. Bain Capital’s large stake in Clear Channel. Hence the reason you rarely hear Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, or Rush Limbaugh present him in an objective light. So yes, presidents tend to be wealthy, but what is that trend supposed to mean?

    • Bob

      Romneys wealth was earned not inherited, not married into, not from a bootlegging father. He has no connection to wealth other than working hard on his own.

  • ronald

    Ha ha! Where’d you get this thing, Matt?Ok, +1 for ntevloy, Harris. But I’d expect to be reading this on the back page of People Magazine. An ostensible comparison, really, they’re getting into the realm of geography quizzes. Can you show me Hawai’i here on this map of the world? Can you name the countries in North America? I’m with you, Matt. It’ll be a good measure of free association and maybe of whatever the pollee had eaten for breakfast. Down the road a decade, an extra digit of popular sentiment will get us a few interesting scholarly articles, but the *immediate* advantage of this methodology is what exactly, Harris?Gwen Ifill’s panel had a very interesting discussion on this week’s Washington Week, chock full of interesting data points that I’m going to be hard pressed to conjure up right at the moment. The majority of Americans still hold the Republican Party primarily responsible for the logjam and more than that, hold Congress responsible, rather than this President. Also, Sarah Palin is riding high in her own mind, but the great majority of Americans polled are calling B.S. on her, and presumably the Tea Party’s recipe for success.Michael Beschloss was interviewed recently and came immediately to the defense of one-term Presidential greatness, but averred that it would take more than a soundbyte to elaborate. Coming straight from the mouth of another scholar who goes out of his way to be nonpartisan, it made me curious to hear the opposing interpretation fleshed out more.The Republican leadership has seen those numbers, even while they are careful to keep up the brave face in the spin. I suppose that has much to do with why the hyperpartisan logjam has become creaky of late. But I think if you were going to go through the rigamaroll of discourse analysis, I think you’d see that the President managed for the time being to neutralize the effect of Massachusetts with a very meaningful summit in Maryland at the Republican legislative retreat.You know my take already, Matt. Here’s what qualifies as good leadership: President Obama is tangibly unsticking the logjam, despite the opposition’s attempts to hold him responsible. Part of this came from tacking with the post-Massachusetts Senate realities on the job bill in the State of the Union address, but Maryland was even more significant. His summit with the opposition in Maryland was not merely cunning strategery. It was undertaken in the most sincere and even plain-speaking tone of any President since Harry Truman a President historians revere. This is good Presidential style, not self-conscious posturing. Whether Obama has fully internalized the Truman experience is unclear he’s been more comfortable speaking in terms of JFK, LBJ and FDR, and on bipartisanship, he gets his cues from Goodman’s interpretation of Lincoln. But Truman faced down his own Do-Nothings in Congress, and in a climate in which HE was repeatedly ranked the worst President in American history. Maybe by next month we’ll see the President carrying around a fresh copy of McCulloch.Cheers, Matt. Fun post, as always!Martin

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