Article 2, Section 1, Clause 7

Document 4

House of Representatives, Compensation of President

16 July 1789Annals 1:646--51

The House then proceeded to the second part of the report, viz: "That there be paid in like quarterly payments to the Vice President of the United States, 5,000 dollars per annum."

Mr. White.--I do not like the principle on which this provision is made for the Vice President; there is nothing, I believe, in the constitution which gives him a right to an annual sum; it fixes no duty upon him as Vice President, requiring a constant attendance. He may be called upon to act as President, and then I would give him the salary of the President; at other times, he is to preside as President of the Senate, then I would pay him for his services in that character. On this principle, I shall move to strike out the clause; if that is agreed to, I propose to offer one, allowing him the pay of President, when he acts as President; and a daily pay during the time he acts as President of the Senate.

Mr. Page would second the motion for striking out five thousand dollars, but with a different view from what had been intended by his worthy colleague. He wished it struck out, in order to introduce a larger sum. His idea was, that a proper proportion was not observed between the salary of the First and Second Magistrates. As to the utility of the office, he had nothing to say. He had no hand in forming the constitution; if he had, perhaps he should never have thought of such an officer; but as we have got him, we must maintain him; and those gentlemen who talk of respectability being attached to high offices, must admit, in a comparative view, that he is not supported with dignity, provided a situation derives its dignity from the money given him by way of salary; for his part, he thought money, abstractedly considered, could not bestow dignity. Real dignity of character proceeds from a much nobler source; but he apprehended the people of the United States, whose representative the Vice President was, would be displeased to see so great a distinction made between the President and him.

Mr. Sedgwick said, the arguments of the honorable gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. White,) did not strike him with any force, nor did he see the impropriety spoken of. One reason why the pay of the members of the Senate and House is per diem is, because they contemplate their being together but a very inconsiderable part of their time; but I suppose, said he, that every gentleman who has considered the subject, has determined in his own mind that the Vice President ought to remain constantly at the seat of Government; he must always be ready to take the reins of Government when they shall fall out of the hands of the President; hence it will be necessary that he should, for this cause, if not for any other, preclude himself from every object of employment, and devote his whole time to prepare himself for the great and important charge for which he is a candidate. Under these circumstances, it is necessary that he should be provided with a constant salary, to support that rank which we contemplate for him to bear; I therefore conceive it must be such a perpetual salary as the President is entitled to receive. If the principles of the motion are inadmissible, it cannot be supported by argument, because very little information can be obtained on which to ground our reasoning.

Mr. Seney said, that, according to the constitution, a compensation is to be made for services performed. The Vice President may absent himself the whole time. He proposed giving him a handsome allowance while employed, but thought he ought to be paid per diem.

Mr. Sherman adverted to the circumstance of salaries being allowed to Lieutenant Governors in the several States where such officers are appointed; so that, according to this mode, the grant made to the Vice President would correspond with the practice of the States individually. It appeared also, he said, to be necessary, inasmuch as this officer would be taken from all other business.

Mr. White.--If I thought, sir, the attendance of the Vice President as necessary as that of the President, I would not hesitate to allow him an annual salary; but I do not conceive it to be so necessary; it is not made so by the constitution. If he had been appointed Vice President as a perpetual counsel for the President, it would have altered the case; he would then have had services to render, for which we ought to compensate him. The honorable gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Sherman) has intimated that he will be precluded from following any other business; there is nothing in the constitution which precludes him from following what profession he thinks proper. I am willing to pay him a full and liberal allowance for all the services he renders; but I do not think we are authorized to institute sinecures for any man.

It ought to be considered that the Vice President has personal advantages from the appointment to that office; it holds him up as the successor of the President; the voice of the people is shown to be considerably in his favor; and if he be a deserving person, there will be but little doubt of his succeeding to the presidential chair; not that I would make this an argument to diminish his compensation. I would pay him amply for all the services he renders, at least as amply as the Government and circumstances of the people will admit. When performing the duties of President, he should receive the salary as such.

The constitution has stipulated, that the President shall be compensated for his services, that we shall ascertain it by law; but it has not said one syllable with respect to the pay of the Vice President; hence I consider it would be improper to pay him on any other principle than in proportion to his services. If these require five thousand dollars a year, it may be made to amount to that sum, at so much per diem.

As to the observations of the gentleman from Connecticut, (Mr. Sherman,) that Lieutenant Governors receive salaries in the several States, and therefore it will be proper to grant one to the Vice President, in order to comport with the practice of the States individually, I shall only remark, that in some States they have no such officer; in others, where they have such an officer, they give him no pay at all; in some, they are paid according to their attendance on business, in the manner that I propose to pay the Vice President. But admitting that every State had an officer of this kind, and that they paid him a salary like that proposed in the report, it would be no argument why the General Government should pursue a practice inconsistent with that economy and sense of propriety which it ought to be the study of the Representatives of the people of the United States to preserve to their constituents.

Mr. Madison.--I do not concur, Mr. Speaker, in sentiment, with my colleague on this subject. I conceive, sir, if the constitution is silent on this point, that it is left to the Legislature to decide according to its nature and its merits. The nature of the office will require that the Vice President shall always be in readiness to render that service which contingencies may require; but I do not apprehend it to be in our power to derive much advantage from any guides furnished by the examples of the several States; because we shall find them differently provided for by the different Governments. If we consider that the Vice President may be taken from the extremity of the continent, and be from the nature of his office obliged to reside at or within the convenient reach of the seat of Government, to take upon him the exercise of the President's functions, in case of any accident that may deprive the Union of the services of their first officer, we must see, I think, it will often happen that he will be obliged to be constantly at the seat of Government. No officer under a State Government can be so far removed as to make it inconvenient to be called upon when his services are required; so that, if he serve without a salary, it may be he can reside at home, and pursue his domestic business; therefore the application in that case does not appear to me to be conclusive.

My colleague says that he will derive advantages from being in the line of appointment to the presidential chair. If he is to be considered as the apparent successor of the President, to qualify himself the better for that office, he must withdraw from his other avocations, and direct his attention to the obtaining a perfect knowledge of his intended business.

The idea that a man ought to be paid only in proportion to his services, holds good in some cases, but not in others. It holds good in legislative business, but not in the executive or judicial departments. A judge will be sometimes unemployed, as in the case of the Vice President; yet it is found necessary to claim the whole of his time and attention to the duties for which he is appointed. If the principle of proportioning the allowance to the quantum of services performed obtains, it will be found that the Judiciary will be as dependent on the legislative authority, as if the Legislature was to declare what shall be their salary for the succeeding year; because, by abridging their services at every session, we could reduce them to such a degree, as to require a very trifling compensation indeed. Neither do I, Mr. Speaker, consider this as a sinecure; but that will appear from the reasons already given. The office of a judge is liable, in some degree, to the same objection; but these kinds of objections are levelled against the institutions themselves. We are to consider his appointment as a part of the constitution; and if we mean to carry the constitution into full effect, we ought to make provision for his support, adequate to the merits and nature of the office.

Mr. Ames said that the Vice President's acceptance of his appointment was a renunciation of every other avocation. When a man is taken from the mass of the people for a particular office, he is entitled to a compensation from the public; during the time in which he is not particularly employed, he is supposed to be engaged in political researches for the benefit of his country.

Every man is eligible, by the constitution, to be chosen to this office; but if a competent support is not allowed, the choice will be confined to opulent characters. This is an aristocratic idea, and contravenes the spirit of the constitution.

Mr. Seney.--This, sir, is a subject of a delicate nature, and the discussion of it rather disagreeable; but I think it my duty to declare my sentiments freely upon it. No argument has been adduced to convince me that the Vice President ought to receive an allowance any more than the other members of the Legislature. He cannot be compelled to perform any duty. This is an important subject, and ought to be maturely considered, as a great deal depends on the decision which will now take place.

Mr. Burke observed that the situation of our finances was so much embarrassed, as to disempower us from giving such ample salaries as we might, under different circumstances, think necessary; that it was but reasonable the Vice President should receive a compensation adequate to the second officer in the Government. He will be subject to extra expenses by living at the seat of Government, and will be obliged to maintain his dignity. Mr. B. further suggested that the sum might not be fully sufficient, but in our present situation, it was as much as we could afford.

Mr. Ames, in his reply to Mr. Seney's observations, pointed out the difference of the situation of the Vice President and the members of the Legislature.

Mr. Sedgwick made some additional remarks of a similar nature, and further observed, it would be necessary that the members of the House should return and associate with their constituents, in order to learn their sentiments and their feelings, and witness their situation and wants, that they may consequently resume their former occupations: but with respect to the Vice President, his acceptance must be considered as an abandonment of every other pursuit; he must reside at the seat of Government, and will necessarily incur extra expenses in consequence of his office.

Mr. Stone.--I am for giving such salaries to the officers of this Government, as will render them easy in their situation. But we are confined by the constitution; salaries are to be given for services performed; they are considered in no other light. The Vice President cannot be viewed in any other light than that of the President of the Senate. I am for his being paid per diem, but would allow him a generous support. I do not think five thousand dollars are sufficient; I would allow him a larger sum, which allowance, per diem, would amount to what would be fully adequate.

Mr. Smith, of South Carolina, said, that by the constitution, the Vice President could not be considered as a Senator, and therefore could not, with any propriety, be paid as such. Considering him as an officer in the Government, next in dignity to the President, and particularly designated by the constitution, he must support a correspondent dignity in his style of living, and consequently ought to have a competent allowance for that purpose. He did not think five thousand dollars would be considered too much, and would vote for that sum. The idea of a daily allowance must be given up, as inapplicable to the situation assigned him by the constitution. He is there recognised as Vice President, and as such ought to be provided for. A daily pay of twenty-five or thirty dollars would appear a large compensation; yet if Congress sat but one hundred days, which, in all probability, would be the length of their future sessions, it would be insufficient for his support. But suppose it one hundred and fifty days; this, at thirty dollars per day, would come so near the proposed salary, that the saving would be an inconsiderable trifle; but if the session was longer, it might amount to more than is contemplated by any gentleman.

Mr. Page was clearly for making the allowance by annual salary, because the office was permanent; a daily allowance could not be relied upon, because if the Senate sat but a few days, it would be incompetent, even at one hundred dollars per day; whereas, if the session was of long continuance, that sum would be more than the services could require, if they are to hold a comparison with those of the President. If the House agreed to strike out the five thousand dollars, he would propose eight thousand, which was not one-third of what was given the President.

Mr. Boudinot.--The question seems to turn merely on this point, whether the Vice President shall receive a per diem allowance, or an annual salary? The constitution ought to serve as the ground on which to determine it; therefore we are to consider the point of view in which this office is placed by that instrument. The second article calls him into view with the President; he is to be elected in the same manner as the President, in order to obtain the second best character in the Union to fill the place of the first, in case it should be vacated by any unforeseen accident. The constitution considers him a respectable officer; he is to supersede the President, when it shall happen that the First Magistrate dies, or is removed on impeachment and conviction. These are the great objects of his appointment. His duty as President of the Senate is only collateral; consequently he ought to be respected, and provided for according to the dignity and importance of his principal character. If still inferior duties were attached to him, would it be an argument for reducing the compensation to an equality with what ought to be granted, if he performed such inferior duties only? I apprehend it is a principle of this nature which urges gentlemen on to press the amendment. I cannot see any reason for differing with the constitution on a point in which I think it ought to guide our decision.

I think there is an affinity between the duration of the office and the compensattion. The constitution establishes the office for four years; the compensation ought to be made commensurate with that idea.

The question on Mr. White's motion was taken and lost, as was Mr. Page's motion for striking out 5,000 and inserting 8,000 dollars.

The proposition being then agreed to. . . .

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 7, Document 4
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

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