Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Congressional Stinginess

This is a story of Congressional stinginess. Obviously, I’m not talking about the current Congress.

This weekend my family went to visit the home of James Monroe, our fifth President. He was a remarkable man who served the nation in many capacities over a long career. And he wound up nearly broke. It started when he borrowed money to furnish the White House when he was President. The British had burned the White House a few years earlier in the War of 1812. Monroe decided to use his own money to refurbish the mansion (a big mistake).

He was enormously popular in his term of office. He ran unopposed for his second term. But when he left, the political climate changed. He petitioned Congress for compensation for the furniture he bought and they debated about it for a several years. Eventually, he got about 50 cents on the dollar for his purchases. He had to sell all of his belongings to retire his debt. It would seem a cruel way to treat a great President.

On the other hand, one has to marvel at how parsimonious the Congress was at that time. They treated spending the public’s money as if they were spending their own money. It may have been cruel on the ex-Presidents but not so bad for the taxpayers.


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