George Washington, the first of 39 men to hold the office, received $25,000 per annum. Today, under the 1969 salary law passed by Congress, the pay is $200,000. Extensive benefits augment the figure.
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln – all of the first 18 presidents through Andrew Johnson and the first term of Ulysses S. Grant – received the same stipend initially set up, $25,000.
In 1873, midway in Grant’s tenure, the presidential salary was doubled to $50,000.
Thirty-six years and eight presidents later the salary was raised to $75,000 in 1909. It stayed at that figure until 1949 for terms of William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, plus the first part of Harry Truman’s tenure in office.
(An asterisk should accompany Hoover’s name to donate a generous and history-making hallmark of the 31st presidents public service. Hoover drew no salary, preferring to live on his private means, says Compton’s Encyclopedia. “He used the salary to hire able associates or for public or charitable purpose. He kept none for himself.”)
For two decades (1949 to 1969) presidents received $100,000 a year. That era included Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Then Congress doubled the president’s pay to $200,000. Richard Nixon was first to receive this amount, followed by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and the incumbent, Ronald Reagan.
Considering financial, economic and historical factors, how would the president’s pay of today compare with that of early-day chief executives?
Marvin E. Wiggins, general reference librarian at the Brigham Young University Library, concluded after a preliminary survey that without extensive studies it would be exceedingly difficult to draw valid conclusions. Especially so, he said, given the changes in the economic system, the inflation trends, and the fact that the nation didn’t have the gold standard in the early years.
For the full picture, non-salary benefits provided by the government should he considered also.
Without attempting to ascertain such benefits applied in past eras, let’s take a quick look at those in effect today as listed by source hooks and the Library of Congress research service.
Besides the $200,000 salary which is taxable income, the president has a $50,000 yearly expense allowance, also taxable; and a travel allowance of $40,000, not taxable as direct income.
Effective this year, the president’s salary is covered by Social Security and is taxed accordingly.
As for pension, a former president receives a benefit equal to the salary of the head of a cabinet department, currently at the annual level of $82,900. There are other major benefits reserved for past presidents also.
An executive mansion (the White House) is furnished, of course, for the president and his family, including staff. While appropriations are available for maintenance of the White House, the president pays for family meals, personal furnishings, etc.
The Air Force maintains an airplane for his use. Secret Service protection is an item of substantial cost.
What about health benefits? A president may enroll in any one of several health plains under the Federal Employees Health Benefit program. He would be required to contribute to the premiums.
That’s pretty much the picture. It won’t help you decide how to vote Nov. 6, but it may give you a better understanding of how we pay the person elected to the nation’s highest public office.