… as the salary annexed to my office looks large in every man’s eye, it draws the attention of the needy in every part of the Union and increases the demands of aid, far beyond the proportion of means it furnishes to satisfy them. I am obliged therefore to proceed by rule, & not to give to one the share of another.
To Isaac Briggs, May 20, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders always have people asking them for favors.
Jefferson’s friend, Isaac Briggs (1763-1825), was an engineer, surveyor and inventor of considerable renown. This short letter covered a half dozen subjects, including the many requests he received for money. Those requests were prompted by the size of the President’s salary.
That salary was $25,000 per year. It was established for President Washington and continued unchanged through the first 18 executives, ending with Ulysses S. Grant. It was a sizeable sum, and it attracted the attention of many who sought the President’s support for their particular cause. In Jefferson’s time, at least, that salary had to cover all the costs of staffing and running the President’s House, later called the White House. Those expenses, increased by Jefferson’s sometimes lavish personal tastes, made his actual compensation far less.
The requests for help were numerous and beyond any ability to satisfy. Jefferson’s rule was that he supported a few personal causes only and would not deprive them to help the masses.