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

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