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It was early established in the colonies that a man ought not to be out of pocket for serving the public. He ought to be reimbursed at least for his living expenses while away from home. So we find the Massachusetts General Court ordering, March 4, 1634 /5, "that the charges of dyett for the Governor, Deputy Governor, Assistants, and Deputyes of severall townes, dureing the time of every Court, as also the dyet for the commissioners of martial discipline, att the tymes of their meeteings, shalbe paid out of the tresury.” When the Body of Liberties came to be framed (1641), the matter was deemed of importance enough to be treated in the fundamental law. Paragraph 63 reads: “No Governor, Deputy Governor, Assistant, Associate, or grand Jury man at any Court, nor any Deputie for the Generall Court shall at any time beare his owne chardges at any Court, but their necessary expences shall be defrayed either by the Towne or Shire on whose service they are, or by the Country in generall."
It would seem that the towns tried to evade the duty thus prescribed, for it was found necessary in 1645 to enact: “The Court, considering of the difficulties that such meete with that make provisions for the Court, at his motion who now maketh provision for the same, for some such proportionable pay to be made him out of the next country rate as may enable him comfortably to go through with that which he is called to, & may be expected from him, do order, that whatsoever charge for dyet shalbe expended for the time to come by the present session of the Courts it shalbe satisfied by the severall townes, according to their equal proportions, in cattle, wheate, mault, or barly, within three months from the date hereof."
Three years later there was occasion for further ordering, to this effect: “For the avoydinge of all unnecessary charges by the expences of the deputies in theire comings to, continuance at, or returnes from, the General Court, its ordered, that * Records of the Colony of the Mass. Bay in N.E., 1, 142. 2 Ibid., 11, 101.
henceforth, from time to time, the first day of the session of this howse after the Speaker is chosen, that there shalbe two of their members chosen for stewards for that session of Court, who shall order & regulate the dyet of the howse, & to take care that there be no further charges put on the country account, but the just & necessary expences of the members only, except of such persons as shalbe invited by the Speaker or stewards, or at least brought in by their consents.” 1
Read between the lines of this and you may see our venerable ancestors fussing over the menu, ordering delicacies at the public expense, asking a friend to get a free meal, entertaining constituents, imposing on the people, just as some of us do to-day. They ate together, not a bad idea for tempering the acerbities of legislation, as the Deputies showed they believed when they voted in 1654: “Whereas it is judged most comly, convenient, and conduceable to the dispatch of publicke service, that the Deputies of ye Generall Court should dyett together, especially at dynner, it is therefore ordred, that the Deputyes of the Generall Court, the next ensuing yeare, viz. 1655, shall all be provided for at the Shipp Taverne, at Boston, in respect of dynner, and that they shall all accordingly dyne together."
The order went on to direct that from time to time before the dissolving of each session, some like course should be taken, so that the Deputies of the next Court might not have to make arrangements.
Lieutenant Phillips, the keeper of the tavern, agreed that at the next Court the Deputies should sit in the new court chamber, and "be dyeted with breakfast, dynner, and supper, with wine, and beere between meales, with fire and beds, at the rate of three shillings per day,” but he stipulated that only such as had all their “dyet" there should have beer between meals, and it was set forth that “by wine is intended a cupp each man at dynner & supper, and no more.'
In Virginia as early as 1636 the inhabitants of each county were strictly enjoined by statute to defray all the charges incurred by their lawmakers. The burden was by no means trifling. The figures of one county in 1659 show expense payments for the two Burgesses amounting to about ten thousand pounds of tobacco, which meant at least one thousand dollars in buying value. The bill of particulars presented by the Bur
1 Records of the Colony of the Mass. Bay in N.E., I, 122. ? Ibid., 352, 353.
gesses of Lower Norfolk in 1641 suggests almost a feudal retinue, there being charges for four hogs, twenty pounds of butter, two bushels of peas, a hogshead of beer, and a case of strong spirits. Also there was a claim for the wages of the cook who had dressed the food. It seems not to have been uncommon for the costs of servants to be paid out of the public treasury an illustration of the aristocratic ways of the Southern colonies. A delightful Virginia privilege was that of getting credit for drinks at the Williamstown ordinaries during sessions. Prudently enough, this was not permitted when the Assembly was not in session.
Only one colonial instance has come to my notice where the costs of travel were independently recognized. The General Court of Massachusetts, in its laws about ferries, enacted from 1641 to 1647, “ordered, that all Magistrates, and such as are, or from time to time shall be chosen Deputies of the General Court, with their necessary attendance, viz. a Man and a Horse at all times, during the time of their being Magistrates or Deputies (but not their Families) shall be Passage-free over all Ferries, that pay no Rent to the Country.”
It is altogether probable that traveling expenses were generally cared for out of the public treasury. Their payment had been the origin of wages for members of Parliament, a practice not yet abandoned when the first American colonies were founded. The Massachusetts vote of 1648 spoke of the expenses of the Deputies "in theire comings to, continuance at, or returnes from, the General Court."
With the gathering of the Continental Congress the matter became of importance. To reach Philadelphia from the remoter settlements, was a journey of weeks. Each State paid its own delegates and the rates varied. Jefferson wrote to M. de Meusnier in 1786 : “Some are on fixed allowances, from 4 to 8 dollars a day. Others have their expenses paid & surplus for their time. This surplus is two, three, or four dollars a day.” 2 The Southern States were the more liberal. Jefferson estimated that the Virginia allowance averaged seven thousand dollars a year in gold. Fortunes were fewer in the North, habits were simpler, and the allowances much less. Thrifty States economized. Connecticut was in the habit of electing six delegates and providing that only three should be in attendance at any one time at the public expense, though others might go if they paid their own way.
1 E. I. Miller, The Legislature of the Province of Virginia, 89, 96. P. A. Bruce, Institutional Hist. of Virginia, 11, 435–38.
: Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. L. Ford ed., iv, 155.
When the first Federal Congress put the pay of members at six dollars for every day's attendance, it granted an equal amount for every twenty miles of travel going to and returning from the "seat of Congress.” It was believed that every member should net the same amount for his services, whether he lived in New Hampshire or Georgia or near by. When in 1818 the compensation of each Senator and Representative was fixed at eight dollars for every day's attendance, eight dollars was allowed "for every twenty miles of estimated distance, by the most usual road from his place of residence to the seat of Congress, at the commencement and end of every such session and meeting.” In 1866, mileage at the rate of twenty cents a mile to and from each regular session, was to be "estimated by the nearest route usually travelled.” What was known as the salary-grab law of 1873 gave actual individual traveling expenses to and from each session “by the most direct route of usual travel.” The repeal of 1874 put mileage at the rate of twenty cents a mile to and from each regular session. There has been no general law allowing mileage for attendance upon special or extraordinary sessions. When authorized, it has been by special act applicable to the particular session.
The earliest of State Constitutions paid no attention to the expenses of lawmakers. Massachusetts, however, making no constitutional provision for wages, oddly enough gave thought to travel costs, saying that “the expenses of traveling to the general assembly, and returning home, once in every session, and no more, shall be paid by the government, out of the public treasury.” In those days all but a small part of the members stayed in Boston until they went home for good. Long after railroads made it possible for members to go home every night, the old provision remained; not until 1893 was it annulled and the matter left to statute. Nearly half the States now specify in their Constitutions the number of cents to be paid for each mile of one journey each way; five others specify a maximum. Ten cents a mile is the favorite figure; South Carolina and Louisiana allow only five cents a mile. When Connecticut, in 1876, made constitutional provision for payment of members, with the pitiful maximum of three hundred dollars a year, it was so inconsistently extravagant as to set the mileage at twenty-five cents a mile. Such an outrage on Yankee notions of thrift was endured for forty years, and then economy got at least the chance of a hearing, for in 1916 the Constitution was so amended that the General Assembly should "provide by law for the transportation of each member by public conveyance by the most convenient route between his home station and the place of meeting." Even the lavishness of Connecticut was miserly compared with the bounty of California in the flush times when that State framed her Constitution, for it gave sixteen dollars for every twenty miles going and coming, but now the California lawmaker is not to get more than ten cents a mile. No mileage figure specified in a Constitution to-day exceeds twenty-five cents a mile.
Those who defend the putting of such things in Constitutions can buttress their argument by citing the Massachusetts Legislature of 1919, which, not content with two dollars and a half a mile (figured on the one-way distance), changed the statute to make it read three dollars. Or they can point to Illinois, where the Legislature, in addition to the constitutional allowance of ten cents a mile, tried to get two cents a mile for each of twenty-one round trips between the capital and home - a scheme balked by the Supreme Court, which said it violated the provision expressly limiting allowances to members for incidental expenses. The same plan seems not to have met constitutional obstacles in Ohio, where every member gets mileage at the rate of two cents a mile each way by the most traveled route once a week through the session.
Maine in 1819 for some singular reason restricted the payment of traveling expenses to members of the lower House. Perhaps it was thought Senators would be wealthy men who could pay their own bills without sacrifice.
Mileage looked like so much clear gain to many lawmakers while the evil of free railroad passes flourished. That era has now passed into history, but for the sake of the record the evil should be here set down as having reached a demoralizing pitch after the Civil War, and having required a generation for its mastery by public opinion. The Pennsylvania Convention
1 Fergus v. Russel, 270, IN, 626 (1915).