Stories about John F. Kennedy, who served as President of the U.S. from 20 January 1961 until he was assassinated on 22 November 1963, frequently make their way around the internet devoid of citations. While memes cut from the same cloth are commonly either misinformation or outright lies, one tidbit — that Kennedy donated his entire presidential salary to charity — turns out to be true.
When Kennedy took office he was the richest man ever to do so. Born into wealth and prestige — the Kennedy family fortune was valued at approximately $1 billion and JFK himself lived off a $10 million trust fund, according to biographer Richard Reeves — Kennedy refused his presidential salary, deciding instead to donate the money to charity. The amount stated in the image displayed above isn’t quite accurate, however.
JFK earned $100,000 for his presidential services and also received a $50,000 a year expense account. Contemporaneous news reports confirm that President Kennedy donated his salary to charity but reserved the expense account for public entertaining:
President Kennedy’s entire salary is going to charity, duplicating a procedure followed three decades ago by President Herbert Hoover, the Minneapolis Tribune and Des Moines Register say.
Six charities benefited from the $94,583.32 the President received in 1961, the story said. Fletcher Knebel of the newspapers’ Washington bureau reported that all of the $100,000 Kennedy will receive this year will go to charity.
Knebel said that the $50,000 annual expense allowance Kennedy receives is used for public entertaining he must do as President. Actually, the reporter added, not much of the $50,000 probably is used because it is taxable and the president already is in a very high bracket. Private entertaining is financed out of Kennedy’s pocket.
At the same time that Kennedy’s presidential compensation is overstated in the image above, his charitable donations of salary are understated. According to a 1962 article from United Press International, he also donated the entirety of the salary he earned during his 14 years in the House and Senate:
During Kennedy’s six years as a congressman, eight years as a senator, and nearly two years as president, the total of his salary given to charity will approach $500,000.
Among the recipients of JFK’s largesse were the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, the United Negro College Fund and the Cuban Families Committee, according to Joseph P. Berry’s John F. Kennedy and the Media: The First Television President, published in 1987.
As noted above, JFK wasn’t the first U.S. president to turn down a salary. George Washington refused the $25,000 allotted him by the first Congress (or he did initially, at least — some sources say he later used some of it for travel expenses), and Herbert Hoover (also one of the personally wealthiest of American presidents) “banked his presidential salary and gave it entirely to charity,” according to the biography provided by his presidential library.
Kennedy may not be the last president to turn down a salary, either. In September 2015, billionaire Republican candidate Donald Trump announced that, if elected, he would forego the $400,000 insalary presidents have received since George W. Bush took office in 2001.
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