Last President to leave office in personal debt?

Jun 2019
2
TX
Who was the last US president to leave office in personal debt?

I watched a series some years ago that talked about how earlier (pre-1900s) presidents were paid a salary, but the salary was for paying their staff and other operating costs. And then at some point in the early 1900s something changed and everything was served to them on silver platters with little to no responsibility. Who was the last President to leave office before this change?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,474
Dispargum
Clinton left office owing millions of dollars in attorney's fees. He paid that debt off after a few years on the lecture circuit. Truman and Eisenhower both retired from the presidency before ex-presidents were given a pension. Eisenhower had his army pension. I know Eisenhower wrote a few books, mostly memoirs. I think Truman did the same. Ford also had to work after leaving the White House. He served on several corporate boards. By the mid-twentieth century the poverty of ex-presidents was becoming a national embarrassment. That's why the country eventually gave them pensions. Also, political fund raising rules were liberalized so that politicians can now pocket any left-over contributions at the end of their careers. Some of those left overs can reach several million dollars. A few presidents were already wealthy before becoming president and in retirement lived on that wealth. No one wanted a situation where only a wealthy man or woman could afford to be president. That was one reason for the pension.

Before the Civil War there were a few presidents who went back to Congress after the presidency. Also Andrew Johnson who was post Civil War.
 
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Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
4,287
Caribbean
Also, political fund raising rules were liberalized so that politicians can now pocket any left-over contributions at the end of their careers.
Interesting word. Liberalized.

The billions of dollars surrounding politicians are less vast than the myriad laws governing who can access what, when and how. They seem to have access to vast sums of money that are put to very "personal" type uses. There are high-priced lawyers who don't do anything else. So, the idea of a major politicians having "personal debt" is probably as much an accounting anomaly as a fact of life. What goes on the books, what goes off the books, how many sets of books, and how legal any of this is - well - you would need 24-hour cable news stattion to keep track of that kind of corruption.

And then, there are the amazingly good jobs their family members and friends get. Robert Caro's bio shows the amazing success of LBJ in the radio business - though the stations may have been in his wife's name. Every time LBJ moved up the ladder, someone either sold him another affiliate in exchange for a ham sandwich, or offered to buy a gazillion dollars in ads.
 
Last edited:
Jun 2019
2
TX
How do you define "in debt"? As in a negative net worth? Or is a positive net worth still in debt if they just have debt?
Good point, from what I remember it said they left the White House owing the government money.

One of the other things I remember is that up until this same point in the early 1900s the White House was not customized on tax payer dollars for each incoming president, rather on their own dime which, as has been pointed out, most of them were upper class already. But by the mid 1900s we were installing in ground pools and bowling alleys for them. This is where I believe the American Presidency truly became more about being a rock-star-celebrity than a public servant.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,474
Dispargum
Didn't Obama leave us in debt?
That's not what the thread is about. Every president since Andrew Jackson has left us with a national debt. Just about every fiscal year in the last 50 years has seen a budget deficit. There were only two or three exceptions. No one can blame our national debt on any single president. The OP is about each president's personal debt.
 
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