20Business is business


 

 

“The chief business of the American people is business,” according to Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president [1923–29].

A lawyer, he blossomed into a politician and as vice president took over from his scandal-ridden and expelled senior, Pres. Warren Harding. Coolidge. Like most of his fellows Coolidge was an advocate of smaller government and laissez-faire economcs, and, uncharacteristically, a stalwart supporter of racial equality.

One of the ironies of the American presidency is that although the independence of the New Republic was a revolt against interference of the Mother Country in trading, no “businessman” as such assumed the presidency until Donald K. Trump in 2017.

True, American presidents have often made business affairs a profitable sideline. Our first president, George Washington, for example, more than adequately steered the commercial affairs of the well endowed widow he married, she slightly more their common 27 years, in the White House in January 6, 1759.

Washington lived as a gentleman planter, in between his service in the British Province of Virginia militia in the French-Indian War [1754–63], his role commanding the grim campaign of the Revolutionary Army [1775 -1783], and his service as the first president [1789 to 1797]. Meanwhile, he worked constantly as an innovative farmer, switching from and experimenting with new crops, fertilizers, crop rotation, tools, and livestock.. By his death in 1799, he had expanded the plantation from 2,000 to 8,000 acres with more than 3,000 acres under cultivation.

Not all presidents have been so successful at their parallel commercial pursuits.

Thomas Jefferson, perhaps because an ostentatious lifestyle, owed money throughout his lifetime. His main source of income, “Monticello,” proved inadequate to cover his debts. Towards the end of his life, he he petitioned the state of Virginia to auction off his land; the state refused. After he died, his estate was auctioned but his surviving daughter was had to rely on charity.

James Madison, at his “Montpelier” plantation, suffered similar difficulties. While his various agriculture businesses were occasionally profitable, in the end they lost money. His stepson, a gambler, racked up debts Madison absorbed and forced him to sell half of Montpelier. Although he may have wanted to free his slaves, his financial troubles prevented him doing so, and he sold some of them to pay off debts.

James Monroe,Monroe ran his plantation into the ground. At the end of his life, he petitioned Congress to relieve his family’s debt and was granted $30,000. It turned out to be insufficient and he was forced to sell his Paris home and his 3,500 acre “Ash Lawn” estate. On Monroe’s misfortune, John Quincy Adams wrote “Mr. Monroe is a very remarkable instance of a man whose life has been a continued series of the most extraordinary good fortune, who has never met with any known disaster, has gone through a splendid career of public service, has received more pecuniary reward from the public than any other man since the existence of the nation, and is now dying, at the age of seventy-two, in wretchedness and beggary.”

President Harry S. Truman may have been the poorest of all U.S. presidents. He was worth less $1 million in today’s dollars. .

No one knows for sure how much Donald Trump is worth, but he is the country’s richest president ever. Trump is believed to have inherited $40 million when his father died in 1974. Bloomberg News estimates the GOP candidate is now worth $2.9 billion. But Trump claims he’s much richer than that because he believes his name alone is worth $3 billion.

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