The following is another chapter from my disinformation book, 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know: Volume 2, published in 2004. For more on me go to The Memory Hole or follow me @RussKick on Twitter.
We typically imagine George Washington to be as pure as driven snow, a demigod who won the Revolutionary War, then assumed the mantle of President to flawlessly lead a fledgling country.
The reality is vastly different. Besides being borderline incompetent on the battlefield (during the first four years of the Revolution, he lost every major engagement), the man who could not tell a lie started the tradition of presidential corruption.
The whistle was blown by the Clerk of Congress — writing under the nom de plume “A Calm Observer” — in the Philadelphia Aurora, a muckraking anti-federalist newspaper founded, edited, and published by Benjamin Franklin’s grandson. In 1795, the Aurora published the Clerk’s detailed breakdown of how much loot Washington had taken from the Treasury beyond his Constitutionally-sanctioned $25,000 annual salary.
According to the paperwork seen by the Clerk, the Father of Our Country started out honest, drawing exactly his salary of $25K during year one. But over the course of the second year, he took $30,150, thus embezzling $5,150. In his third year, perhaps suffering a pang on conscience, G. W. took a little less than his entitlement: $24,000. He made up for it during his fourth year, though, by filching an extra grand.
In February 1793, as Washington’s second term was about to begin, Congress passed an act calling for the President to be paid on a quarterly basis (i.e., $6,250 every three months). But during the first quarter of his second term, Washington took $11,000 from the Treasury.
At this point, the Clerk of Congress must’ve lost access to the smoking guns, since he wonders whether the graft continued after Q1 of the second term. He presciently asks: “If the precedent which this donation from the treasury furnishes, were to be allowed in favour of other public officers, how many hundred thousand dollars per annum would thus be lawlessly taken from the public treasury and saddled upon the people?”
Reference: Benjamin Franklin Bache, “A Calm Observer”, in Bruce Shapiro (ed.), Shaking the Foundations: 200 Years of Investigative Journalism in America. Thunder’s Mouth Press and Nation Books, 2003.
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