Special Report

America's 8 Presidents Who Went Broke

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8. Harry S. Truman
> Term: 1945-1953 (33rd president)
> Source of wealth: Various jobs
> Peak net worth (in 2018 dollars): < $1 million
> Financial hardship: Business struggles

Harry S. Truman was unable to amass wealth at any point in his life and struggled with money until his death. Failed business ventures like a zinc mining operation and clothing store drove Truman into debt. Against the advice of those close to him, he declined to go into bankruptcy, opting instead to pay off his debts over time. Truman’s financial hardship prompted the doubling of the presidential salary. When Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Medicare Act of 1965 into law, Truman became the first ever recipient of the new program.

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7. Ulysses Simpson Grant
> Term: 1869-1877 (18th president)
> Source of wealth: Military income
> Peak net worth (in 2018 dollars): < $1 million
> Financial hardship: Overspending / fraud

Outside of the office of the Presidency, Grant is best known for his military career, including his service during the Civil War. After fighting in the Mexican-American war, Grant tried his hand at civilian life. He worked in a real estate office for a time, and also tried farming on his wife’s family’s plantation. When the Civil War broke out, Grant quickly volunteered his services as an officer. Following his term as president, Grant and his wife traveled the world in luxury. While he had some money in savings, the former president invested in a fund in 1884 that would defraud Grant out of more than $100,000, leaving him penniless. Grant was able to finish his memoir shortly before his death, providing his family with some inheritance.

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6. Abraham Lincoln
> Term: 1861-1865 (16th president)
> Source of wealth: Law practice
> Peak net worth (in 2018 dollars): < $1 million
> Financial hardship: Business struggles

Abraham Lincoln came from a humble background and struggled with his first business ventures. After making some money as a manual laborer, Lincoln and a friend together opened a general store in New Salem, Illinois. But the store went into debt, and though Lincoln sold much of his ownership of it, he was forced to absorb the debts after his partner died. To pay off creditors, Lincoln was at one point forced to sell his horse. Lincoln was finally able to pay back his debts and exit poverty through his law career.

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5. William McKinley
> Term: 1897-1901) (25th president)
> Source of wealth: Legal career
> Peak net worth (in 2018 dollars): $1.0 million
> Financial hardship: Business struggles / economic depression

William McKinley proves that not even people who become president are immune from a downturn in the economy. When the depression of 1893 hit, Mckinley’s friend defaulted on a loan the future president had co-signed. His resulting debt was estimated to be at least $100,000, and McKinley was forced to rely on his friends to pay off his debtors.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

4. William Henry Harrison
> Term: 1841 (9th president)
> Source of wealth: Farming
> Peak net worth (in 2018 dollars): $6.1 million
> Financial hardship: Crop failure

For more than a decade in the early 1800’s William Henry Harrison owned a prosperous farm. But when he became the U.S. ambassador to Colombia in 1828, he left others to manage the business. Upon his return, Harrison discovered that bad weather had ruined his crop. With his primary source of income destroyed, he could not pay back his creditors and was forced to sell off much of his land. He was reportedly still in debt when he arrived to the White House in 1841, and when he died later that same year.

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