Did George Washington embezzle funds?

John Beckley famously wrote an article in 1796 accusing Washington of embezzling. I was wondering if the accusation was ever proven true or false.

I don’t know about outright embezzling, but I do recall reading he padded his expense account something awful. Much has been made of his forgoing a salary – as general, I suppose – accepting “only” an expense account instead. But said account covered such stuff as Martha’s carrriage rides to the theater etc.

Does anyone else remember this?

Did’nt he have a salary forced down his throat in his second term because they could not afford his expenses?

Yes. Marvin Kitman published the expense account with commentary a decade or so ago. George padded the account generously. When he became President, he offered to serve without a salary; just expenses. Congress, who knew about his expense account, refused and set a salary for him (this was his first term).

Washington had his faults, but he didn’t pad his expense account. One of his most noted biographers, James T. Flexner, wrote that as between a salary and an expense account during his service as commanding general of the Continental Army, “Financially, the distinction proved to be a bookkeeping one, as he received in expenses what he would have received in salary.” By the time he was elected President, Congress thought it was important to establish the principle that the Presidency should not be occupied only by the independently wealthy (which Washington really wasn’t anyway; he was land-rich but cash-poor), and insisted he draw a salary. See Ron Chernow’s recent biography Washington, pp. 187-188, 552.

Glad to hear that then. The wife and I visited Mount Vernon in April and paid our respects to George and Martha, whose tombs are on the premises. Man, but that’s a great river frontage they had. Theere are rocking chairs lined up on the porch facing the river for visitors to sit in and imagine what it must have been like to pass a lazy while like that back in the day. Very nice.

The accusation made by “A Calm Observer” was that Washington had overdrawn his presidential salary from the treasury. I don’t know how famous the accusation is, at least these days. Beckley is given short shrift in most of the books I have. Only America Afire by Bernard Weisenberg mentions the accusation or relates much about that man’s career. It starts off by stating that the man’s name is not familiar in history books. (And ends by misnoting the embezzlement accusation in its index.) Even the recent reprint of selected stories from the very newspaper that published the accusation (American Aurora) doesn’t include the “A Calm Observer” articles and only mentions Beckley at all as Bache’s companion when he was mobbed on the Philly docks.

Given what information I have it looks like we aren’t even sure that Beckley wrote the article in question. As for it’s accuracy, I would think that if there were evidence that it were true it would be given more attention.

Do Chernow or Flexner give any figures? Because the figures from the book RealityChuck has cited are pretty lopsided. As in his expenses were almost an order of magnitude higher than his prospective salary. Nearly half a million dollars compared to nearly $50,000.

One thing to consider is how it was common for people to be dropping by and staying for days, eating them out of house and home, plus all the travel he had to do etc. He had extraordinary expenses just because he was G effin W. However, most accounts portray him as a big spender. At least he wasn’t a deadbeat like Thomas Jefferson… :slight_smile:

That’s what they pointed out at Mount Vernon. They said the guest rooms were often occupied by visitors, and it would have been poor manners to ask trivial details such as how long they thought they might be staying.

Siam Sam, glad you had a good visit to Mount Vernon. A beautiful and historic place; I’ve been there several times. The Mount Vernon Ladies Assn., which owns and runs the estate (without ever accepting even a penny of government money), has made great efforts to keep the view across the river much as GW would’ve seen it.

The Washingtons indeed had a reputation for open-handed hospitality. He wrote a letter to a friend, late in life, remarking that that particular evening was one of the few when he and Martha didn’t have anyone visiting, or a stranger at their dinner table.

2sense, Flexner is quoted by Chernow, and no, he gives no figures. Remember that the new republic was virtually broke at the end of the Revolution, and Washington certainly had his enemies in Congress. If he could’ve been embarrassed by the exposure of a padded expense account, someone would surely have done so. I don’t know of any contemporary criticism of Washington as to his wartime expense account - other issues, certainly, but not that.

Calling Washington’s congressional critics his enemies is overstating the case I would say. The opposition to his leadership was that he appeared to be losing. Obviously by the end of Revolution that was no longer the case. Washington was considered above public criticism from then until his 2nd term as president. So just because he was never called on it doesn’t mean he didn’t overstate his expenses.

Let me point out though that there is a difference between saying that his expenses were reasonable and that his expenses ended up being what he would have been paid anyways. The latter assertion is extremely dubious given the difficulties Continental officers had in maintaining what they considered an appropriate lifestyle on their salary. If the numbers Kitman gives are even close to accurate then Flexner’s statement is ridiculous. But you find that a lot even with respected historians. You could build a ladder to the Moon with the filiopietistic nonsense that fills histories.