As commander of the various militias during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington served his country without compensation, save for an allowance for certain expenses he incurred. He did this voluntarily, and gladly.
When his duties on the field of battle were over he would have been content to retire to his farm at Mt. Vernon, Va. But his countrymen called upon him to continue his service for eight more years.
On Thursday, April 30, 1789, Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president. After taking the oath of office, Washington addressed a joint session of Congress assembled inside the Senate chambers.
In his address he stated that he was being called “from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection.” His love for country overrode his desire for a life of leisure.
However, he again turned down any compensation:
“When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.”
For Washington, the reward was in the service. Today it seems those holding elected office view things quite differently.
Whether it’s a local city councilor, a state legislator or a member of Congress, every waking thought of the elected class seems devoted to compensating from the public treasury one special interest group or another, with the ultimate goal of being rewarded for it down the road, either through some underhanded pay-for-play scheme or with a cushy lobbying gig upon leaving elected office.
When will another Washington step up?