Tales from the Trail

By George, Romney would not be the richest U.S. president

January 18, 2012

A furor over his refusal to release his tax records has focused renewed attention on Mitt Romney’s vast personal fortune, which puts him in the top tier of wealthy Americans.

But Romney would not be the richest president in U.S. history if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee and defeats President Barack Obama (net worth: $5 million) in November. He’d be the second richest. And to find a wealthier one, in the long line of the mostly well-to-do men who have held the country’s highest office, you’d have to go way back. Way, way back, in fact — all the way to 1789, when George Washington became the first president.

The former private equity executive Romney is worth an estimated $250 million to $270 million, but his pile pales besides that of the father of his country, whose holdings are estimated at $525 million in today’s dollars. 

According to 247wallst.com, which analyzed the finances of all the presidents, Washington owned “Mount Vernon,” his Virginia plantation of five separate farms on 8,000 acres of prime farmland, and more than 300 slaves. He also made far more money than later presidents, with a salary set at 2 percent of the country’s budget.

Romney’s exact worth is not known because he has not released his tax returns, but if the $250 million to $270 million estimate were to hold true, he would come in second, behind Washington and just ahead of another Virginia slave owner, Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president. Jefferson ended his life deep in debt, but as president he owned Monticello, his 5,000-acre Virginia plantation, and dozens of slaves. He also made “significant money” in a variety of political positions before becoming president.

Forbes also puts Washington in first place, although it does not put Jefferson at number two. The magazine’s pick for the second spot is Herbert Hoover, who took office in 1929, just in time for the stock market crash and the Great Depression. Hoover, Forbes noted in 2011, was earning $2.5 million a year — adjusted for inflation — nearly 20 years before he became president.

Romney’s supporters say he is a very successful businessman, whose financial savvy would stand him in good stead as leader of a country still struggling to emerge from a deep recession. But Democrats have seized on the tax return issue to highlight Romney’s wealth and underscore their contention that he is out of touch with the concerns of average, working Americans.

The issue could have traction in an election campaign in which a widening gap between wealthy Americans and the middle class has become an issue.

“It heightens the fact that someone like Romney makes his money in the capital he owns and pays a lower income tax rate than the people who work 9-5, or multiple jobs,” said Jeffrey Winter, a professor of politics at Northwestern University and author of the book “Oligarchy.”

“It just accentuates the contrast between who is bearing the costs,” he said.

Many Americans assume that John Kennedy, the 35th president, was the richest because he came from a family whose estate was worth nearly $1 billion. But most of his family’s wealth was in the hands of his parents, who outlived him, so he did not receive an inheritance.


See the ten richest presidents, according to Forbes, here.

Photo credit: Mitt Romney smiles from his car window as he departs from a rally held at Geno’s Chowder & Sandwich Shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, December 27, 2011. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Photo credit: REUTERS/JFK Presidential Library and Museum

Comments
6 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

What’s common between Washington and Romney is that neither were self made men. Romney’s wealth and opportunities came from Daddys Money and Georges wealth and opportunities came from Martha. George married well. It would be better to compare Washington and Kerry as both married well and both served their country. Romney has never served his country.

Posted by NewsDebbie | Report as abusive
 

Fact check:

Washington’s wealth was extracted from the labor of his slaves and from the labor of countless thousands of others in the Caribbean and from laborers in Europe (the Atlantic trade triangle) …

Posted by wilhelm | Report as abusive
 

If elected, Romney will make out quite well manipulating circumstances to favor his own fortunes. He may not be the richest incoming president, but if he is able to affect the level of deregulation in the finance industry he has suggested, he will likely be the richest ex-president. Of course, another meltdown will inevitably follow such deregulation, but “the knowing” also know when to short sell. The net effect of his presidency would thus be yet another quantum redistribution of wealth upward. The good news is that the resources of the 99% are limited. When no wealth remains to be extracted from us, we might get a little breather before they go at us again.

Posted by Tiredashell | Report as abusive
 

As an example, i am sure Mitt will pay the standard tax rate on his income, not the reduced rate that was passed by corrupt politicians receiving bribes

Posted by GA_Chris | Report as abusive
 

I can’t debate the relative wealth of Romney, Washington, Kennedy and others, but Jefferson is out of the running as one of the richest Presidents, by far. Yes, he owned both land and slaves, but his net worth was never established nor was it ever great.
His money problems began in 1774 when he had to repay the staggering debt on his father-in-law’s estate twice. By our standards, he appeared to be well-paid as ambassador and President, but he had to pay many of the expenses of running those offices out of his salary. He often lived beyond his means and by the late 1780s, as ambassador to France, he was borrowing money to pay off money he’d borrowed earlier.
Late in life, Virginia land prices had dropped as much as 80%, taking any “net worth” Jefferson might have had into negative ranges.
Jefferson bears some of the blame for his financial difficulties. Some came from circumstances he couldn’t control. Even more came from many years devoted to public service, when he had to ignore the assets that truly could have made him wealthy.
For an accurate rendering of Jefferson’s comments on a variety of subjects, including debt, see his blog at http://ThomasJeffersonLeadership.com/blo g/

Posted by PatrickWLee | Report as abusive
 

last usa trip
horror…hip-hop gangster,drugs old cars,dirty streets and people.
USA GO WORK AND NO BLABLABLABLA
TODAY IS EU(HALF EUROPE) X 1,45 richer than north america
no hitler=no trouble in europe= no rich and strong USA
goodnight white cristian man in USA

Posted by waltergerman | Report as abusive
 

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