On June 2, 1787, PA delegate James Wilson read a paper written by the elder statesman of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, which made a case against paying the chief executive a salary. While Franklin thought the executive should be reimbursed for expenses incurred while serving, he did not believe a salary would bring out the best candidates. In fact, he was direct about the kind of people who would seek an office promising power and money.
And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable pre-eminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government, and be your rulers. And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation: for their vanquished competitors, of the same spirit, and from the same motives, will perpetually be endeavoring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.
Franklin’s prophecy seems remarkably accurate regarding the present occupant of the White House. Franklin is correct that some who oppose Trump now do so because of similar motives. However, Trump hasn’t needed much of their help to “distress” his administration and render himself “odious to the people.”
The president’s salary isn’t high enough now to compete with private sector work but in our day the payoff comes in other ways. Trump’s position has already benefited his family and charges of kleptocracy are not far fetched. Former presidents (e.g., Clinton) have used their influence and position to tally up millions in speeches. One crisis of the last election was that so many people didn’t want to vote for either candidate. I hope we have a better choice next time around.