washington's presidential salary was 25,000 a year -- 11/15/21

Today's selection -- from Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis. We have done a post or two in the past about the Electoral College. Here, we add a bit more history to supplement our previous entries.

"In their wisdom and foresight, not to mention their fear of the rabble, the Framers of the Constitution had created a remarkably curious beast when it came to selecting the president. The Electoral College was the Constitutions last-ditch defense against an overdose of democracy.

"In the Framers' scheme, each state would choose electors equal to its representation in Congress (House seats plus Senate seats). How the electors were chosen was a decision left to the separate states. The electors would then meet in their states and vote for two persons for president. The winner was the man with a majority. The Framers figured nobody -- besides George Washington, that is -- could win a clear majority, in which case the election would be decided in the House of Representatives, where each state got one vote.

"Political parties were not only absent at this time, but were considered contemptible. Ideally in a debate, men would line up on one side or the other and then fall back into nonalignment, awaiting the next issue. The men who made the Constitution did not foresee the rise of the two-party system as we know it, although its beginning were apparent in the debate over ratification. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, would be the first political party formed in America.

"Although February 4, 1789, has come down as the traditional first presidential election date, that was actually the day on which the first electors cast their ballots. It was preceded by a crazy quilt of elections taking place in late 1788 and the first months of 1789, with each state setting its own rules as to who could vote for what. Some states allowed the electors to be chosen directly by voters; in other states, electors were chosen by the state legislature. While being a male freeholder (property owner) was generally the key to a vote, some states had very ambiguous voting rules. In New jersey, for instance women indeed did vote or president in the first election. In Pennsylvania, any taxpayer was eligible.

"But the result was the same. On March 4, the first Congress was supposed to convene in New York, but a quorum wasn't reached until April 1. Finally, on April 6, the Senate counted the electoral ballots and declared the inevitable. Washington was elected unanimously. John Adams had been named on enough ballots to qualify as vice president. Officially informed of his election on April 14, Washington left Mount Vernon two days later for an eight-day triumphal journey past adoring crowds along the way, and on April 30, 1789, he took the oath of office at Federal Hall in New York, which would be the seat of government for the next year and a half.

"Washington earned a salary of $25,000 a year, a rather handsome sum at the time; however, he had to pay his own expenses. After moving to 39-41 Broadway, he hired fourteen white servants and brought seven slaves from Mount Vernon."

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Kenneth C. Davis


Don't Know Much About History




Copyright 2011, 2020 by Kenneth C. Davis


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