They Didn't Get Rich Being President!

Nov 26, 2016
central NC

The majority of presidents in U.S. history have been fairly wealthy. Adjusting each president’s net worth for today's dollars, most would be considered multi-millionaires. However, many presidents came from humble beginnings and never became highly wealthy. According to the Wall Street Journal, five of our 19th century presidents are among the top ten poorest presidents in US history. Let’s take a look at who they are.

James Buchanan (Photo11: National Archives / Getty Images)
James Buchanan was our 15th president and served from 1857-1861. He came from a wealthy family, but he never made much money of his own. After getting a law degree, Buchanan joined the military and served during the War of 1812 before being elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. His political career included positions such as congressman, senator, and secretary of state. Buchanan never had to provide for anyone else as he was the only president who never married.

Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president and served from 1861-1865. He was born into a modest family and made his living in his early 20s doing manual labor like splitting wood. After moving to New Salem, Illinois, Lincoln tried out a number of other occupations, serving as town postmaster and owning a general store. Eventually, he found politics and won a seat in the Illinois state legislature. It was only after his election that he decided to become a lawyer, an occupation which set him on his political path.

Andrew Johnson was our 17th president and served from 1865-1869. He began his working life as a tailor, but his true passion always seemed to be in debating. Johnson frequently advocated for the common man and railed against plantations. He gained the support of his Greeneville, Tennessee community, eventually becoming alderman and mayor of the town. His political career continued its upward trajectory until he was put on Abraham Lincoln’s ticket for reelection in 1864. He took office after Lincoln’s assassination.

Ulysses Simpson Grant was our 18th president and served from 1869-1877. While he is renowned for his leadership of Union forces during the Civil War he struggled to find a career after the Mexican-American War. After resigning from the Army in 1854, Grant failed in his attempts to work in farming and real estate, so he went to work for his father, who worked in leather goods. He returned to his true calling when the Civil War broke out.


James Abram Garfield (Photo11: National Archives / Getty Images)
James Abram Garfield was our 20th president and served in 1881. He never pursued a lucrative career track, instead focusing on service. After completing his education at the Eclectic Institute, he returned to his alma mater and became a teacher of Greek and Latin. Before entering politics, Garfield was also ordained as a minister. He fought for the Union during the Civil war, leading Ohio's 42nd volunteer infantry regiment.


Chester Alan Arthur​

Chester Alan Arthur was our 21st president and served from 1881-1885. His first job out of college was a school teacher. He rose to become a school principal before leaving to focus on his law career. This led him to his position as a customs collector for the Port of New York. As president, Arthur dismantled that system, using his inside knowledge of how it worked.

Source: Grant Suneson, 24/7 Wall Street Published Feb. 18, 2019
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Mar 18, 2015
Ellie. Great information. I disagree with the addition of Grant on the list. After the war, while sick with throat cancer, Grant writes his memoirs in order to provide financial security for his family after his demise. The books became a great success and provided his family with a much needed standard of living as well as future financial security. David.


Jun 18, 2018
I believe Garfield to be a great man. He came from very humble beginnings but valued education. Think he would have done much for the country but his life was taken . More so by the "medical treatment " he got, than the bullet he received. You and NH do a great job on your forums.


2nd Lieutenant
Jul 28, 2015
New York City
"The Former Presidents Act (known also as FPA) (3 U.S.C. § 102) is a 1958 federal law that provides several lifetime benefits to former presidents of the United States. Before 1958, the U.S. federal government provided no pension or other retirement benefits to former United States presidents. Andrew Carnegie offered to endow a $25,000 annual pension for former Chief Executives in 1912, but congressmen questioned the propriety of such a private pension. Legislation introduced that year to establish a presidential pension failed. In 1955 former President Harry S. Truman's limited financial resources for an office staff prompted legislation to provide benefits to former presidents."


First Sergeant
Sep 15, 2018
South Texas
Don't know how true it is but I heard there are people enjoying our National Parks, like Gettysburg, because our present office holder has donated part of his salary to the NPS.

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