In the first Congress, after ratification of the Constitution, House members had to address many important issues. Their deliberations included such things as figuring out how the new government would fund itself, the size of the House of Representatives and, thanks to James Madison, amending the Constitution with a Bill of Rights. They also addressed the issue of Congressional compensation.
This first group of representatives believed that government officials should not personally profit from government service and they were worried about how it would look if they set their own salary.
In perhaps one of the biggest miscalculations of all time, Theodore Sedgwick of Pennsylvania thought that a future Congress might set its pay too low – to get “popularity at home”. This would result in a system where only the wealthy would be able to serve. Consequently, “men of shining and disinterested abilities” wouldn’t be able to get elected.
We now have an Congress of elites of neither “shining” nor “disinterested” ability. The rank and file member “earns” $174,000/year, not including perks – not bad for part-time employment.