We pay elected officials so that, theoretically, you don't have to be rich to serve.
And, today, there are a handful of Senators, and a decent number of Representatives, who probably couldn't afford to serve if they weren't paid. But what about Presidents? I was wondering how many Presidents could have afforded to be a President without being paid.
At the beginning of the country, there's a definite sectional split. The Southern elected officials were generally plantation owners, which meant that they were effectively the CEOs of agribusiness concerns. They had to set policy and direction, and to authorize major capital investments, but their day-to-day operations were largely able to be handled by their subordinates. Washington and Jefferson, for instance, had to decide how much of what crop to grow, whether to put money into malting, fermenting, and distilling operations (Washington's distillery was among his most profitable operations), whether to buy more slaves, and so forth, and to oversee expenditures, but the actual day-to-day work was done by the people they hired or bought.
Adams, on the other hand, DID have a farm, but it was barely more than a subsistence concern. It didn't lose money -- well, most of the time, anyway -- but it wasn't a major income source. Abigail managed it well, but it was never more than a supplementary income, acting more as a seventy-five acre estate than an agribusiness. Besides, they didn't buy Peacefield until 1787. Most of their income came from Adams' work as a lawyer. He would never have been able to afford to serve as President if he hadn't been paid; same with his son John Quincy.
The Adams were rich, but not super-rich. And they didn't start out rich. They went from solidly middle-class to solidly wealthy. In modern terms, they would probably be part of the 1%, but not the 0.1% (and the 0.1% has, like, twenty times as much money as the 1%). Successful professionals with a solid investment portfolio, not hyper-wealthy tycoons.
So I was wondering which Presidents were in which category. Who really needed the salary in order to be able to be President, and who could have done without it and still been fine? It's only partly about how much money they had; it's more about how they got their wealth -- whether they needed constant hands-on involvement in their businesses.