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