National Affairs: The Laundry Is Free

Economy-minded old Benjamin Franklin had argued at the Constitutional Convention against paying U.S. Presidents anything but their expenses. Combine power and profit in the presidency, warned Franklin, and the nation would get not the best men for the job, but the most avaricious, "the bold and the violent." Franklin was overruled: George Washington got $25,000 and a rent-free mansion.

Despite Franklin's fears, few Presidents had grown richer on the job. One who did was William Howard Taft. To incoming President Woodrow Wilson, Taft wrote helpfully: "You will find that Congress is very generous...

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