Do you think current President Donald Trump is the only politician who has filed for bankruptcy in the past?
Think again! President Trump’s businesses have gone bankrupt, but the current controversial president has never filed for personal bankruptcy before.
That’s not to say that other famous politicians haven’t filed, though. You might be surprised at the long list of seemingly wealthy individuals who have gone into bankruptcy court before. Read on to discover four fairly famous politicians who have gotten a fresh financial start through bankruptcy.
1. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson has an incredible legacy today, so most envision him to have been an ultra-wealthy and powerful founding father. Despite his image, Thomas Jefferson passed away a very poor man. In fact, he was right in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings when he was laid to rest!
Historians say Jefferson owned a huge plantation called Monticello, but he was in so much debt that it would be equivalent to about $1 million in today’s dollars. Even prior to the American Revolution, Jefferson is said to have incurred debt to a Scottish firm who was purchasing his tobacco plants. Then in 1774, Jefferson was straddled with even more debt when his father-in-law (https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/john-wayles) suddenly passed away.
More and more debt seemed to be piling up, but that didn’t stop Jefferson from living lavishly. Historians say Jefferson lived well above his means by spending a lot of his money on wine and furnishings. As Jefferson neared the end of his life, his creditors sued him for the remainder of his debts. As a result, Jefferson’s family was forced to sell off Monticello, Jefferson’s personal property, his slaves, and all of his personal property, too. It took 50 years after Jefferson’s death for his grandson to pay off everything he owed.
2. Ulysses S. Grant
Have you ever heard of citizens sending a former President checks in the mail to help them pay back their debts? Well, it really happened!
Historians say former Union Army leader Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t the best businessman. While he was successful fighting in the Mexican-American War, he didn’t have much luck after that. He spent the years after the war trying out several different ways to make money. He reportedly tried to become a farmer, rent collector, real estate agent, and even attempted to sell firewood on street corners to make it by.
He found his place during the Civil War and shortly later became a politician. After he left the White House, his failure to make an income came back to haunt him again. He attempted to start a financial firm that quickly crumbled. His business partner reportedly was running a pyramid scheme and left Grant to foot the bill. Grant was forced into filing for bankruptcy.
In the end, Grant was left with a mere $80 to his name. Although dedicated citizens sent checks to the former president, he was never able to fully repay his debts during his lifetime. Thankfully, just before he passed away, he signed a book deal with Mark Twain and sold off his memoirs. After his passage, Twain published the memoirs, which quickly became a best seller. Grant’s widow, Julia, came out ahead after receiving $450,000 in royalties (https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-ulysses-s-grant).
3. Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold was actually considered an American hero before he deserted to the British during the Revolutionary War. His treasonous act is now infamous, but many don’t know the full story behind why Arnold decided to flee to the British side.
According to historians, Benedict’s father was a serious alcoholic. He owned his own business, which went bankrupt early in Benedict’s life. At eleven, he was sent off to live with relatives. Over the next several years, Arnold ran away several times to fight in the French and Indian war. Eventually, he opened up his own business selling various traded goods. Just when things started to seem calm, the Revolutionary War broke out.
Arnold took command of American units and led them to several victories. Despite that, he was humiliated when he presented his expenditures to the Church Committee in Boston. The committee denied Arnold’s expenses, and they refused to compensate him for the money he’d given to soldiers.
To make matters worse, Arnold encountered even more troubles when he returned to the battlefield. Hurricanes, snow, and treacherous conditions caused a majority of his soldiers to flee. Before he made his infamous betrayal, Arnold and his soldiers were forced to survive by eating bark from trees and roots from the ground. They were also making broth from candles, cartridge boxes, and shoes. Despite that, he continued to lead his troops into victory.
After the war, Arnold faced scrutiny back home. He was accused of misusing his military power to support his own shop back at home. He was accused of using Army wagons to transport his goods. In a strongly worded letter to Washington, he explained he had “little expected to meet the ungrateful returns I have received from my countrymen. (https://www.americanheritage.com/why-benedict-arnold-did-it#8)”
To add insult to injury, the Board of Treasury ruled in April of 1780 that Arnold owed Congress more than three thousand pounds. The ruling is baffling because Arnold was never paid for his service as a Continental officer throughout his entire experience. In financial despair, Arnold resorted to negotiating with the British to help offset his losses.
Eventually, all these factors led to Arnold’s defection to the British side.
4. Harry S. Truman (Almost!)
Although Harry Truman never actually filed for bankruptcy, he came very close in his lifetime. He’s considered one of the nation’s poorest presidents ever!
Historians say that Truman had a tough life. He always worked hard either on the farm or as a soldier. He also attempted to invest in a zinc mining operation, but the investment fell through. Once he recovered from that financial setback, he and one of his friends, Eddie Jacobson, opened up a clothing store in our very own hometown, Kansas City. Truman took out some loans to help open up the store, which initially was doing very well.
Tragedy struck in 1922, though, as the store succumbed to the Great Depression. The closure left Truman in a lot of debt. He owed a total of about $30,000, which would equate to about $400,000 in today’s dollars (https://talkingcents.consumercredit.com/2014/02/20/presidential-debt-problems-harry-s-trumans-personal-debts/).
Truman’s luck turned around when he got into politics, but he never quite did get a handle over his debts. One of his debts wasn’t settled until 2012 when the Truman Library Institute settled it! Truman was always on the brink of bankruptcy, and filing for it could’ve helped him manage his debts better.
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