Benjamin Franklin – Salaries and Public Office

I have been toying with the idea of getting involved in local government. And I keep getting asked why I want to donate my time and energy in public office. I think that this speech given by Benjamin Franklin expresses one of the main reasons why. I am going to give a summary of his speech, and then explain why it illustrates one of the reasons I want to get involved in local government. He speech was given on June 2, 1787, and the full text of the speech can be found here: franklinpapers.org.

Ben starts of by identifying the two main motivators that influence the affairs of Men. They are “Ambition and avarice; the Love of Power, and the Love of Money.” And he says that if you give a man both, then they will “move Heaven and Earth to obtain it”.

He then discusses why this is a bad idea. Instead of having “wise and moderate, the lovers of Peace and good Order, the men fittest for the Trust”, you will attract the “Men of strong Passions and indefatigable Activity in their selfish Pursuits”. Not only will you attracted the type of people you don’t want as public servants, but you will then also create competitors that will “perpetually be endeavoring to distress their Administration, thwart their Measures, and render them odious to the People.”

Have we not seen this. We now have politicians that are not considered patriots, but they bash each other as much as possible, and try to move themselves up the ladder above their fellow public officers. Instead of building the country, they are trying to build their Wealth and Power.

He then talks about how once these people are in power (for the lust of money and power), they will not want to leave. And in the process, they will never be “satisfied, but always in want of more.” He states, “we may set out in the Beginning with moderate Salaries, we shall find that such will not be of long Continuance.” (Look into the packages that government have given themselves. They can retire as kings after serving one term in congress. They have a very generous retirement plan, and medial plan. Just look at it, they are saying that the CEOs are greedy, but they do have some nice golden parachutes.) Then to get more, they will then have to tax the people heavily. And in turn the people will become “discontented with the Oppression of Taxes”, and will then start to resist. And to keep their power, they will then need to raise more money to “pay the Troops that are to suppress all Resistance.” These may not be physical troops, but money spent to keep people in stations that require them to give them their basic needs (we now call them entitlement programs).

Now this is the part that I think hits home the most with me and my desire to serve in local government. If you take away the salaries, and limit the power, then why do people want to serve in public offices? Ben answers this question with this statement: “that the Pleasure of doing Good and Serving their Country, and the Respect such Conduct entitles them to, are sufficient Motives with some Minds to give up a great Portion of their Time to the Public, without the mean Inducement of pecuniary Satisfaction.”

He gives several examples of offices that do not get salaries, or that cost the office holder money. And he then concludes talking about the recent revolutionary war. He states that the “General of our Armies, executed for Eight Years together, without the smallest Salary, by a Patriot whom I will not now offend by any other Praise.” He then goes on to say “I have a better Opinion of our Country. I think we shall never be without a sufficient Number of wise and good Men to undertake and execute well and faithfully the Office in question.”

To answer the question I posed at the first of this post. I want to be one of those men that find Pleasure in doing Good and Serving my Country and Community.

Comments

  1. I am always impressed with your posts and intelligent take on life. I think you would do great in local politics.

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