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US Presidents Who Filed Bankruptcy – Part I

by Adam Mack, J.D.

Hillary Stirling, research assistant

Feeling overwhelmed by debt? You are far from alone. During this patriotic season, I thought I’d highlight some of bankruptcy filers who might surprise you.

1. Abraham Lincoln

That’s right, “Honest Abe” filed bankruptcy in 1834 after a business venturefailed. When his partner died shortly after the business failed, Lincoln assumed the partner’s portion of the debt as well out of a sense of honor. His assets were seized and he spent years paying off the debt. Despite this, any stigma from the business failure and bankruptcy didn’t follow him very far and a mere 8 years later he was elected to Congress, and of course, in 1860 became president of the United States.

2. Thomas Jefferson

While a brilliant writer and a wealthy landowner, Jefferson didn’t have the best of luck financially. He was primarily a farmer and was subject to all the financial ups and downs that accompany that profession. He also lent out money and the payments made against those loans were unreliable. Additionally, he inherited debt from his father-in-law and from a friend for whom he cosigned a debt. Jefferson struggled with his own, expensive spending habits as well and died $107,000 in debt (roughly $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 in today’s money). Unlike today, he didn’t have the option to file bankruptcy except during a brief window from 1800 to 1803, which he did utilize. The struggles of our third president are an excellent illustration of how badly things can turn out when the option of bankruptcy isn’t available.

3. William McKinley

Like Jefferson, McKinley cosigned on a debt for a friend and that got him into financial trouble when the friend when bankrupt. To make matters worse, he was forced to declare bankruptcy while serving as the Governor of Ohio. Less than three years later, he was elected President of the United States, once again proving that bankruptcy isn’t The End some people make it out to be.

4. Ulysses S. Grant

After he left office, Grant invested heavily in Grant & Ward, a Wall-Street investment company set up by his son Buck andBuck’sfriend Ferdinand Ward. Ward embezzled the funds the former President invested, eventually going to jail for it. However, President Grant was on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt after Grant & Ward failed and he went bankrupt. The only way he was able to repay any of his creditors was through selling his Civil War memoirs which were published posthumously.

Even great men (and women) occasionally find themselves overwhelmed by debt, whether that’s due to failed businesses, job loss, medical emergencies, or just plain old bad luck. Bankruptcy is a resource that can help you get back on your feet and give you a fresh start if you, like these Presidents, find yourself in over your head. Call us today to learn what your options are!