Presidential salaries have been a hot topic in recent times – especially after President Donald Trump made a campaign promise that if elected he would donate his entire $400,000-per-year salary to charity. He has since kept this promise (although legally he did have to accept a salary of at least $1 per annum), and it was announced in May 2018 that Trump did in fact donate his first-quarter salary to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But was Trump’s campaign promise a unique one? It turns out he is not the first U.S. president to say “no” to getting a paycheck for time spent in the White House.
In It for the Money?
Interestingly, the current president and the first president had something unique in common: they both did not want to be paid for the job. George Washington was a wealthy landowner and celebrated Revolutionary War commander who also declined payment for his military service. He did end up accepting a salary of $25,000 for the presidency, but only because the Constitution requires it, and the framers wanted to encourage people of varying economic standing to run for president.
Although it was big news when Donald Trump announced he did not plan to accept a salary, two presidents that came before him did the same. John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Herbert Hoover also declined their paychecks. Although both JFK and Hoover were extremely wealthy, they came into money by very different means.
JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, made a fortune through savvy investing and trading. JFK was born into wealth and dubbed a “trust fund baby” – living off an enormous trust fund while the Kennedy family estate was estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. His wife Jackie Kennedy was also no stranger to wealth – she was an oil heiress whose father was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time.
Hoover, an orphan raised by his uncle, made his millions through consulting and investments in the mining industry – earning $2.5 million in today’s dollars as early as 1910.
Since 2001, the president is offered an annual salary of $400,000. Additionally, the president receives a $100,000 non-taxable travel account, a $50,000 annual expense account, as well as $19,000 for entertainment purposes.
Here’s the progression of presidential salaries throughout history:
- 1789 - 1873: $25,000
- 1873 - 1909: $50,000
- 1909 - 1949: $75,000
- 1949 - 1969: $100,000
- 1969 - 2001: $200,000
- 2001 - Present: $400,000
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