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George Washington's Expense Account

By Bob Barney

 A must read to all those history buffs out there that think they know all about George Washington..

 

I must admit that I get a little frustrated with Glenn Beck's view on history. Although I am in favor of his mission (too many of us just don't know our history) I just have a problem with some of his facts and conclusions. For the most part, Beck has done an honorable and admirable job with his mission. I think more people today, especially those who refer to themselves as members of the "Tea Party" are much more informed than we all were ten years ago.  I do notice however, that this tendency to portray our Founding Fathers as people greater than the rest of us.  There were devious people at the time of the Exodus, whom God Almighty killed off during 40 years of wandering, and there were devious and dishonest people around during the time of Christ. They were mainly the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Even among our founding fathers, we had decent men, and not so decent men.  We cannot gloss over some of the facts about these men when we are honestly discussing our history. It would be a disservice to our children, and many of our leaders today that just may measure up to some of those guys that helped formed this nation. Ben Franklin was a philanderer, a man who wasn't all that devout and may have truly been the father of many- literally! That's another story. Today I want to focus on George Washington. The man "who couldn't tell a lie."  Yes, he was a patriot- a great man of honor and very devout in his Christian beliefs. He was a great leader and a great man. However, he was human too! Do you know about his expense account? Not too many people do. Here is an article from "Put it on the Tab," that we may find worth reading:

It was June 16, 1775, and American statesman George Washington was feeling magnanimous. Or, at least, that's what he wanted everyone to think. Washington had just been appointed general of the Continental Army over the soaring hopes of John Hancock,[1] and, in order to not look too pleased with himself, America's future first president declined fiscal remuneration for his services. Well, almost. He said:

Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress that as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to have accepted this arduous employment, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. Those I doubt not they will discharge, and that is all I desire.

"Expenses", eh? Latter-day patriots, infused with nationalistic fervor, might assume this meant Washington would only take the barest hint of sustenance for his labors. As Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, Washington might expect a comfortable salary. For a little perspective, the very day Washington accepted his commission, Congress drew up the pay for officers and privates. A private made $6 2/3 a month, a captain $20, and a major general $166. Seems to us Washington was giving up a decent sum in exchange for this promise of discharging these expenses. He was well-regarded for stonily taking this economic hit for the team.

By contrast, George easily followed that maxim because he wasn't funny at all. The man was so spectacularly unfunny that when P.M. Zall tried to write a book called George Washington Laughing in an effort to prove otherwise, he had to stop after only 52 pages. As if that weren't bad enough, most of these episodes describe jokes being told in Washington's presence rather than being uttered by the man himself. The President appears to have enjoyed pratfalls and seeing the hats of clergymen get blown into lakes, but rare was the day a witticism passed his lips. Surely, such a stoic, servile man would be content with meager rations. So Congress must have thought when it approved his expense account. Fortunately for posterity, a complete record of Washington's account exists. You can even look at scans of it, in entirety, online.[2] The father of the United States, it seems, was magnificent at padding his accounts.

Take, for example, the entry on June 22, 1775:

To cash paid for Sadlery, a Letter Case, Maps, Glasses, &c &c &c. for the use of my Command... $831.45

Eight hundred dollars? Ten times what a private made for saddles? That must have been some pretty damn nice tackwork - about $81, went to the letter case, which was made of Russian leather. We're sure it kept his letters very dry. As for those "&c"s, they were probably worth a couple hundred each. Washington was a great fan of "&c" and "Ditto". There are innumerable "ditto"s in the account, most of which cost at least a hundred dollars. Other bits of finery are equally outlandish:

To sundry Exp.'s paid by myself at different times and places... on the Retreat of the Army thro' the Jerseys into Pennsylvania & while there... $3,776.

Yes, George Washington charged thousands of dollars to retreat from the enemy. He also gave loans to his friends that were never repaid, he bought limes by the crateload (400 at one point), and he treated himself to every "sundry" good available. From July 21-22 1775, he bought a pig, an unreadable number of ducks, "1 dozen pigeons, veal, 1 dozen squash, 2 dozen eggs, hurtleberries, biscuit and a cork cask."[3] The Washington family diet for the month of August included chickens, oysters, whortleberries, pears, cucumbers, veal, mutton, bread, and milk. In October, they bought nearly 32 dozen eggs. Washington's taste for Madeira wine shows up with mindnumbing regularity: from September 1775 to March 1776, Washington spent over six thousand dollars on booze.[4]] He was careful enough to note a change in his wine supplier no less than three times.   SOURCE

 

Another book,  "George Washington's Expense Account", first published in 1970, contains a faithful copy of General George Washington’s hand-written expenses from June 1775 to June 1783 as published by the Treasury Department in 1833.I remember reading this book in college and was amazed at the picture we get of Washington, at his own hand- or should I say ledger?  On a website that promotes tea, this exerpt has yet another good example of some of the history that we failed to disclose :

This book also contains a wonderfully humorous tongue-in-cheek look at how expenses were presented to Congress by the man the author Marvin Kitman calls not only The Father of Our Country, but also The Father of the Modern Expense Account.

According to Kitman, General Washington only used 42 of the 43 principles of modern expense account writing. For example, low cost items should include details, but expensive items should be vague:

    Describe in some depth the purchase of a ball of twine, but casually throw in the line, ‘Dinner for one army.’"

Washington’s purchases included the finest personal carriages and the costs of entertaining friends. He also charged for enemy reconnaissance and his own army’s retreat.

He loved the best gourmet green tea, and continued to buy the highest quality tea throughout the war and blockade of English ships carrying tea (Dutch ships carrying tea and supplies were allowed in).   SOURCE: 

 

The moral my dear Plain Truth readers is this. Don't place your hope in men, but in God, especially the God that is known as THE LORD, or Yahweh. You know Him as Jesus Christ. Now here is someone that will never let us down, cheat on his taxes, or just be human!  Respect those leaders like Washington, Jefferson, and Ronald Regan, who tried to make this nation a better place, but let's remember that we are a special people because we belong to the real God and not because of our Constitution, that was written by men.  I believe that it is a great document, and should be respected and followed, but I bet that every signer of the document reading my little blurb here, would agree with me!

 

Oh by the way: So, in the end, how much did Washington spend over his eight years of service?

$449,261.51, in 1780 dollars.

Taking into account 220 years of inflation that'd be worth over $4,250,000.00 today.[5]Four million dollars' worth of "expenses", and, after going over the account with a fine-toothed comb (at one point he was corrected for undercounting 89/90 of a dollar), Congress approved the lot of it.

 

In George's own handwritting!

 

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