A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors


 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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Comments to the lists of "Wealthy Americans in politics and public office"

Lists published as of October 18, 2004
 
 - Wealthy US Presidents
 -  Wealthy candidates to the US presidency
 - Wealthy Vice Presidents of the U.S.A
 - Wealthy US cabinet members
 - Wealthy United States Senators


following soon :

 - Wealthy members of the U.S. House of Representatives
 - Wealthy state governors
 - Wealthy mayors of major U.S. cities
 - Wealthy ambassadors and other leading diplomats of the United States of America

read also :
- Some remarks about the compilation of these lists
- Special feature : "
George Bush vs John Kerry "
                                 
A cross profile of the two aristocrats running for the White House
  ( Note from the author : This cross profile was written by a friend of mine. I consider it rather critical
   and somewhat biased and can therefore not entirely endorse it. To some it may be worth reading though)

 
Wealth and politics have a long record in America, well antedating its independence and the creation of the United States. During Colonial times, public offices were sought by wealthy Americans to increase their wealth and social status through the power they conferred. The salaries colonial officers drew and used to purchase land were often the basis of large fortunes. The Stuyvesant fortune of New York and the Carter fortune of Virginia are just two examples where the founder used his influence as office holder to gain or preserve his wealth.

After America gained independence and during the first administrations of the new U.S. government, the top officeholders came from the country's wealthiest and socially most prominent families. This was in many ways the consequence of a revolution made by aristocrats, but it also reflected the drain public office made on personal fortunes, when the federal government was still hardly able to finance its debt and had little or no money to pay for its office holders. Only rich men could afford to be president in these days and some even lost most of their wealth as they paid for lavish entertainment and had to divert their attention from business to politics. Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe are good examples for this case.

In the course of the 19th century, US politics underwent serious democratization and both legislators and public officials increasingly came from lower and middle classes. Popularity was often related to a person's ability to convey an image of humble origins or at least a credible link to the common man. Aristocrats had a decidedly more difficult task to win popular elections, although money and the control of the media played an increasingly important role to set the stage. Political parties got organized and soon wielded more financial power, than an individual, even a very rich one, could possibly reach.

On this background the wealthy still widely chose to enter politics and run for or accept public offices. Their motivations were manifold. In some cases, their political careers were key to the building of their fortunes. Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, the powerful long time Republican senator of Rhode Island, is an example. Another is Richard B. Connolly, the only member of the infamous Tweed ring who managed to safeguard the $3 million plus fortune he accumulated as a corrupted [ New York ] city official.
 
Prominence as a by-product of the highest public office, became the foundation of the personal fortunes of several US presidents, starting with Ulysses Simpson Grant, whose memoirs at least saved his heirs from poverty and reaching to Bill Clinton, whose book and speeches more than balanced the debts he had to contract with his lawyers, to defend his position as US president. These personal lawsuits must be related to his office, since they would probably never have arisen if he were a normal citizen. Richard Nixon's most valuable (money yielding) legacy is made up of his personal papers as president, for which the US government recently agreed to pay $18-26 million to the estate. The money is earmarked to a foundation.

More common were millionaires with already well established fortunes, who entered politics primarily as a way to increase their social status, notably during the Gilded Age. Although they did wield actual (political) power, their main concern was status and their tenures were characterized by absenteeism from their congressional duties. Examples include railroad promoter Leland Stanford and copper king William Andrews Clark, the two wealthiest men in absolute terms to enter the US Senate.

During the heydays of the Gilded Age, the US Senate was rightly considered an exclusive millionaires club. Besides the already named Stanford and Clark, well known multi-millionaires like Henry Gassaway Davis, his son-in-law Stephen B. Elkins and fellow West Virginian Johnson Newlon Camden, as well as myriad more from other states, served a term or more as US senators. Less exclusive and thus probably less coveted, the US House of Representatives still attracted many millionaires, some of whom later rose to more prominent positions.

Among the US presidents, many were actually millionaires if their (highest lifetime) fortunes are converted in US dollars of 2004. Besides the already mentioned George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, were also Lyndon B. Johnson, whose broadcast stations and Texas real estate put him among the richest American presidents in office. Herbert C. Hoover, both Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and many more make up the list. Although John Fitzgerald Kennedy had not actually inherited the principal yet, his share in a trust fund his father assigned to his seven surviving children in 1946, put him actually at the top of the list of wealthy US presidents. For both, George Herbert Walker Bush and George Walker Bush (jr), the official figures have to be increased by the value of their inherited wealth, hidden from the public in blind trusts. Regardless of this component, both figure among the millionaire presidents.

Some of the very rich were vice-presidents or candidates to the US presidency. Most notable amongst them are Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, who was appointed rather than elected to the office of vice-president after Richard Nixon was forced to resign. H. Ross Perot was the richest candidate to the US presidency ever, although not for one of the established parties. Other examples include newspaper publisher James M. Cox, banker Levi P. Morton, railroad attorney Samuel J. Tilden and manufacturer Peter Cooper. Through the huge fortune of his wife, the former Theresa Heinz, the present Democratic candidate to the US presidency, John Forbes Kerry, also belongs to this group.

The richest American ever to hold a Federal public office was Andrew William Mellon, the billionaire banker and venture capitalist from Pittsburgh, who headed the Treasury Department for three consecutive Republican administrations during the 1920's. He actively used his office to reduce income and estate taxes for the very rich, which had been introduced by the Democrat Wilson administration to finance the American contribution to World War I. He stepped down in 1932, after it became clear that his vision of a fast recovery was an illusion, leaving the department in the hands of yet another multi-millionaire : Ogden Livingston Mills.

Because the cabinet members are appointed by the president rather than elected, many wealthy Americans who sought them filled these essential positions at the helm of the US executive government. Only few cases where the Senate refused to endorse a presidential nominee are known, the most prominent being Alexander Turney Stewart for the Treasury Department by U.S. Grant. Stewart, the first major department store owner in New York, was then the third richest man in America and the office he sought even more was the mayoralty of his hometown. He hardly understood how the Jewish banker Joseph Seligman could be offered both and refused them. Other notable American millionaires who became cabinet members include William Collins Whitney, John Wanamaker, William Averell Harriman and C. Douglas Dillon.

Similar positions to which numerous wealthy American have been appointed by well intentioned US presidents were diplomatic missions to foreign countries. US ambassadors to England include the already mentioned [ A.W. ] Mellon, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the founder of political dynasty, and D. K. E. Bruce, Mellon's son-in-law. France was handed among others to Morgan partner Robert Bacon, Jesse Isidor Straus (of Macy's), C. Douglas Dillon and more recently to the widow of W. A. Harriman. Two rare Guggenheim sons of the third generation were US ambassadors: Harry Frank Guggenheim to Cuba (1929-33) and his older brother Meyer Robert Guggenheim to Portugal (1953-54). The list could be almost indefinitely extended. [It is therefore still pending in Encyclopedia of American Wealth]

If the presidency of the United States of America is a quite difficult objective even for a multi-millionaire, many wealthy Americans made it into less spectacular but no less important political executive offices. Numerous state governors came from the ranks of America's richest capitalists and mayors of major cities, some with as many inhabitants as actual countries, also frequently came from these ranks. Thus New York State was governed by the immensely rich William Averell Harriman and Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller and New York City had many multi-millionaire mayors, the latest of them being the incumbent Michael Bloomberg. Rockefeller's brother Winthrop was governor of Arkansas well before Bill Clinton, Pierre Samuel Du Pont headed Delaware (1977-85) and the pattern holds for many other states. [The lists of wealthy American state governors and mayors of major cities are also still pending]



Browse the following lists of  wealthy Americans in politics and public office
at "Encyclopedia of American Wealth" :

Lists published as of October 18, 2004

 - Wealthy US Presidents
 -  Wealthy candidates to the US presidency
 - Wealthy Vice Presidents of the U.S.A
 - Wealthy US cabinet members
 - Wealthy United States Senators


following soon :

 - Wealthy members of the U.S. House of Representatives
 - Wealthy state governors
 - Wealthy mayors of major U.S. cities
 - Wealthy ambassadors and other leading diplomats of the United States of America


read also :
- Some remarks about the compilation of these lists
- Special feature : "
George Bush vs John Kerry "
                                 
A cross profile of the two aristocrats running for the White House
  ( Note from the author : This cross profile was written by a friend of mine. I consider it rather critical
   and somewhat biased and can therefore not entirely endorse it. To some it may be worth reading though)

              

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