FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The question of the wealth of current presidential candidates and the net worth of past presidents seems to be of real interest to the newspaper pundits and the talking heads on TV. Some seem to believe that if a president or presidential candidate is wealthy then maybe they can’t understand the position of those of us who have to sweat to balance a household budget.
Looking back at history I don’t think it matters at all. Actually sometimes it appears that some of the wealthy seem to have more empathy toward us common folks that those who seek to gain wealth via political means.
Perhaps looking at the wealth of our first president, George Washington, would be a good place to start. Like so many I once thought of President Washington as just being our first president and not so much of how really great he was for this nation. As I read more history about the man himself, and the times he lived in, I came to realize just how fortunate this nation was to have Washington as our first President.
George Washington’s estimated net worth would have been around $525 million in today’s dollars. Washington owned five farms totaling 8,000 acres of prime farmland and his wife, Martha, inherited a lot of property from her father. Did Washington’s great wealth make him such a great president or was it a factor at all? Maybe it wasn’t a factor at all unless his ability and experience of successfully managing such wealth was indeed a positive factor.
At one time Thomas Jefferson’s worth was about $212 million in today’s dollars, but his estate was bogged down in debt at the time of his death.
Presidents Fillmore, Garfield, Arthur, Buchanan, Grant, Hayes and Lincoln had little financial worth at all.
Many economic factors had a strong bearing on how our presidents, and our citizens, made out in the past. The panic of 1819 and the depression of 1837, which lasted for six years, affected all our citizens and the wealthy too, including our presidents.
Family wealth gave a number of our presidents the ability to dwell on politics without having to concern themselves with such mundane things as making a living. In this group we’d have to include: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
One thing is for sure, over the past fifty years once you gained the office of President of the United States, when you retired from office, or were voted out, you didn’t have to worry about living high on the hog for the rest of your life. Past presidents’ pensions are very good, plus many other opportunities open up.
Making speeches, serving on the Board of Directors of large companies, and writing their memoirs are just a few of the ways large post presidential incomes are earned.
Lyndon B. Johnson wasn’t poor when he was in the senate and when he was president, but after he left office he created a fortune that is estimated to be almost $100 million in today’s dollars. Much of this was in broadcasting investments and it has been strongly implied that he used his strong, inside influence to acquire FCC broadcasting licenses that the average person wouldn’t have had a chance of obtaining.
So, does the wealth of any individual seeking the office of president of the United States really matter? If it was realized through legal and honest means I think not. I think his/or her leadership and management abilities are much more important than what their bank account or investment portfolios may be worth.
(Bob Harper is a local resident who writes a column of general interest.)