The Poorest U.S. Presidents
You'd think that, as the leader of one of the richest nations in the world, the President of the United States would have no problems with money. However, throughout history, several commander-in-chiefs were low on funds before and/or after their presidencies. Here are some of the poorest heads of state.
Harry S. Truman
The 33rd president of the United States of America spent most of his life in financial turmoil. He had a modest upbringing, and years of bad investments and poorly performing businesses (including a men's clothing store and a mining and oil company), kept him in debt —though he managed to never file for bankruptcy. After his presidency, Truman and his wife Bess moved into his mother-in-law's home in Independence, Mo. Truman was one of the first presidents to receive a pension, a sum of $25,000 annually, which helped to keep him afloat. He and his wife were also the first recipients of Medicare after it was signed into law.
Ulysses S. Grant
America's 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, died broke. He lost $100,000 after being defrauded by his son's business partner, Ferdinand Ward, which forced him into bankruptcy. Even before that, though, Grant had a reputation for spending more money than he had. He and his wife Julia lived the high life, indulging in luxurious travels and fine dining. It wasn't until after his death that Grant was able to give his family some financial security: His Civil War memoirs, published posthumously by Mark Twain, netted them nearly half a million dollars.
William Henry Harrison
Bad luck might be the reason for the financial problems of William Henry Harrison, the short-lived ninth president of the U.S. A career in the Army and then in public service left him little chance to accumulate wealth; he was dependent on the modest income of his farm, and after inclement weather destroyed his crops, while he was serving as the Ambassador to Colombia, he fell on hard times, struggling to meet his creditors' demands even as he ran for the presidency. Upon his death—a month after his Inauguration Day—he was virtually penniless. Congress voted to give his widow a special $25,000 pension, along with the lifelong right to mail letters for free.
Thomas Jefferson was for much of his life one of the wealthiest presidents of all time. He was born into an affluent family, and as an adult owned a 5,000 acre plantation in Virginia called Monticello, owned about 200 enslaved people, and had an estimated net worth of $212 million. Yet, the author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia was saddled with significant debt in his later years, and he was unsuccessful in his attempt to auction off his land to pay off creditors. He left no inheritance to his surviving and acknowledged daughter, and she was forced to live off of charity. He fathered at least six other children with enslaved woman Sally Hemings. Four of those survived to adulthood, and all four were freed eventually; two were freed in his will.
James A. Garfield
The 20th president was born into poverty, growing up in a log cabin in Ohio with four siblings. He worked various odd jobs from carpenter to janitor to get himself through college. Despite passing the Ohio bar exams, Garfield dedicated much of his life to public service and never made much money; he was penniless at the time of his assassination in 1881.