Checks & Balances: Exhibit Explores Presidents and American Finance

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Photo courtesy of Curating Section, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

By Kristin Aguilera

When President George Washington died in 1799, his financial assets included such luxury items as a custom-made chariot, a 124-pound cheese wheel and more than 100 gallons of Madeira wine.

Andrew Jackson was relatively financially uneducated and had a mistrust of banking so strong that it led to his elimination of the nation’s central bank; yet he was the only President to extinguish the national debt.

These and other financial facts about our commanders-in-chief are explored in “Checks & Balances: Presidents and American Finance”, an exhibit opening on Election Day— Tuesday, November 8—at the Museum of American Finance at 48 Wall Street.

Designed as a series of rotating exhibitions, the inaugural installment of “Checks & Balances” focuses on the national and personal fiscal policies of five of the most well-known Presidents: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

The exhibit introduces important Treasury Secretaries and tracks significant financial markers, such as GDP, national deficit and presidential salary.  It also delves into the personal finances of the Presidents, including their economic backgrounds and their own banking practices.

Among the objects on display is a rare specimen $100,000 bill featuring the portrait of Woodrow Wilson, the Daguerreotype of George Washington’s image used on the $1 bill and the Riggs Bank ledger of Abraham Lincoln’s personal banking accounts.

On Thursday, November 10, the Museum will host a discussion by New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson and former Lieutenant Governor of New York Richard Ravitch on the government’s response to the current financial crisis.  The discussion will be followed by a reception and viewing of the “Checks & Balances” exhibit.

“Checks & Balances” is sponsored by Con Edison and will be on display through November 2012.  For more information on the Museum of American Finance, visit or follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@FinanceMuseum).

Kristin Aguilera is Deputy Director of the Museum of American Finance