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Category Archives: Congress

It’s a crap shoot!

Still I have not learnt how a stranger is to know into what houses he may venture, as not having had the disease at all. In fact the members have ventured into both taverns and lodging houses, where they have had it. Francis’s hotel near the Indian Queen has never had it, therefore you may safely land there. Mrs. Trist intends to take a small house and a few of her acquaintances: but I believe she has not got a house yet. In the one she formerly occupied, a person died of the fever: but Mr. Giles and Mr. Venable are there, and Stockdon has lived in the very room where the person died for a considerable time.
Thomas Jefferson to John F. Mercer, December 7, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes,  leaders have no answers, only information.
The Virginia-born Mercer (1759-1821) was now a Maryland lawyer and member of Congress. He had asked the Secretary of State about the status of the yellow fever in Philadelphia, where Congress had been called to reconvene. He also asked about the health risk of staying at certain inns or taverns.

Jefferson knew of no way a visitor might learn what Mercer asked. He reported other members of Congress were staying in both “taverns and lodging places.” He thought Francis’ hotel should be safe as none of their boarders had had the disease. A friend, “Mrs. Trist,” was moving from a boarding house where the disease had been, but two other acquaintances were there now, one living in the same room where another had died.

Mr. Jefferson will bring a healthy perspective to your audience!
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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We are struggling to get back to normal.

MY 1,oooth POST SINCE BEGINNING IN FEBRUARY, 2011!

No letter yet from my dear Maria, who is so fond of writing, so punctual in her correspondencies! I enjoin as a penalty that the next be written in French.—Now for news. The fever is entirely vanished from Philadelphia. Not a single person has taken infection since the great rains about the 1st. of the month, and those who had it before are either dead or recovered. All the inhabitants who had fled are returning into the city, probably will all be returned in the course of the ensuing week. The President has been into the city, but will probably remain here till the meeting of Congress to form a point of union for them before they will have had time to gather knolege and courage …
Follow closely your music, reading, sewing, house-keeping, and love me as I do you, most affectionately.
Thomas Jefferson to Maria Jefferson, November 18, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This letter to his 15 year old daughter gently chided that he had not heard from her recently. (Ten weeks before, she had been living with him outside Philadelphia.) Ever mindful of his daughter’s education, she could correct her error by writing her next letter in French!

The yellow fever epidemic appeared to be at an end. There had been no new infections in two-and-a-half weeks, and all who had been ill were “either dead or recovered.” Those who fled were returning, and he expected all would be back within the next week.

President Washington had taken quarters in Germantown, where Jefferson was also living temporarily, about six miles northwest of Philadelphia. While the President had been into the city, he would yet reside there. Congress was being called back into session, and they needed the encouragement of knowing they would not be gathering in the disease-ravaged city.

Thomas Jefferson has a wealth of wisdom for your audience!
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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I give the credit to others. Part 9

In giving these outlines, I do not mean, fellow citizens, to arrogate [claim without justification] to myself the merit of the measures. that is due in the first place to the reflecting character of our citizens at large … it is due to the sound discretion with which they select … those to whom they confide the legislative duties. it is due to the zeal & wisdom of the characters thus selected, who lay the foundations of public happiness in wholsome laws … and it is due to the able and faithful auxiliaries, whose patriotism has associated them with me in the executive functions.
Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders credit others freely and widely.
Thomas Jefferson had recited his administration’s accomplishments in curtailing government and taxes, spending wisely, acquiring Louisiana, staying out of religion and work on behalf of the Indians. Now, he refused to take claim that success as his own but acknowledged where true credit belonged:
1. First, the wisdom of America’s citizens
2. Then, the Congressional Representatives chosen by those citizens
3. The “zeal & wisdom” of those Representatives
4. His “able & faithful” co-laborers in the Executive Branch

He put citizens first, Congress and its work next, and then his capable lieutenants. He didn’t mention himself.

“Thank you for making this year’s Annual Meeting a success!
… hopefully we will work together in the future.”
Associate Executive Director, Arkansas Bar Association
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, go to FoundersArchives.gov. Cut a few words from the letter in the post, paste them into the search box at the top, with beginning and ending quotation marks, and click the GO button. The correct letter … should … come up.
Or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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There will be no early end to slavery.  Part 1 of 2

I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us. there are many virtuous men who would make any sacrifices to effect it. many equally virtuous who persuade themselves either that the thing is not wrong, or that it cannot be remedied. and very many with whom interest is morality. the older we grow, the larger we are disposed to believe the last party to be. but interest is really going over to the side of morality.
Thomas Jefferson to William Armistead Burwell, January 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What causes a leader to give up on an essential cause?
Burwell, President Jefferson’s private secretary, wrote a thoughtful analysis of two slavery related bills in Congress. One would prohibit their importation from abroad as well as their transport from one state to another. The other bill provided for emancipation. The second had already been defeated. He feared the first would be, too.

Thomas Jefferson championed emancipation for almost 35 years since his service in the colonial House of Burgesses. Since his every effort met with defeat, Jefferson retreated, not from the cause but from the timing. The nation was not ready to accept it.

He explained there were virtuous men totally opposed to slavery and virtuous men who either justified it or resigned themselves to it. The longer people lived, the more they came to accept the second group, that slavery was either necessary or inevitable.

The President held to the first position, that it was morally wrong and public interest was slowly moving in that direction. So slowly, though, that any attempt to hurry it along would hurt the cause rather than hasten it.

“…thank you for attending our Annual Convention …
I have had many positive comments about your presentations.”
Administrative Secretary, Utah Council of Land Surveyors
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I’ve shown you mine. Show me yours. (Part 3 of 3)

Whether the great interests of agriculture, manufactures, commerce or navigation, can, within the pale of your constitutional powers be aided in any of their relations? whether laws are provided in all cases where they are wanting? whether those provided are exactly what they should be? whether any abuses take place in their administration or in that of the public revenues? whether the organisation of the public agents, or of the public force is perfect in all it’s parts? in fine, Whether any thing can be done to advance the general good? are questions within the limits of your functions
To United States Congress, November 8, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders respect jurisdictional lines.
In the first post from Jefferson’s fourth annual message, he reported on 10 areas under his authority. In only two of those did he invite Congress’ input. The second post summarized income, expense and debt. This excerpt suggested areas where Congress might act:
1. Within constitutional limits, could they aid agriculture, business and navigation?
2. What new laws are needed?
3. What existing laws need improving?
4. Are the laws or public finances being abused?
5. Is the federal government and its workforce “perfect in all it’s parts”?
6. In summary, what could they do, constitutionally, to advance the public good?

Jefferson understood that the legislature’s role was to make the laws. His role, as head of the Executive Branch, was merely to carry them out while he saw to the nation’s defense and foreign relations.

“… thank you for your participation in [RCA’s]
“Understand the Revolution” Seminar in Boston, Massachusetts…”
Business Chair, Rural Cellular Association
Understanding your past can guide your present and protect your future!
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THIS is how to get U.S. out of debt! Part 2 of 3

The state of our finances continues to fulfill our expectations. Eleven millions & an half of Dollars recieved in the course of the year ending on the 30th. of Sep. last, have enabled us, after meeting all the ordinary expences of the year to pay 3,600,000. Dollars of the principal of the public debt. This paiment, with those of the two preceding years, has extinguished upwards of twelve millions of principal and a greater sum of interest within that period, and, by a proportionate diminution of interest, renders already sensible the effect of the growing sum yearly applicable to the discharge of principal.
To United States Congress, November 8, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders make debt their servant, not their master.
President Jefferson’s annual report to Congress detailed in simple fashion the nation’s financial health.
1. Income for the fiscal year ending September 30 was $11.5 million.
2. Expenses were $7.9 million.
3. The $3.6 million surplus was applied to paying down the national debt.
4. $12 million had been applied to that debt in the previous three years.
5. Interest saved and applied to the debt would lower it even faster in coming years.

Jefferson reduced the size of the federal government, including its army and navy, repaying debt with the savings. His administration reduced that debt in seven of its eight years, from $83 million to $57 million.  The one exception was 1803, when the U.S. borrowed $11.25 million to finance the purchase of Louisiana.

“We have also had Mr. Lee portray [Lewis & Clark’s] Captain Clark
and were so impressed that we had to have him back to witness his other characters.”
President, Nevada Association of Land Surveyors
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What in the world is happening? Part 1 of 3

… These, fellow citizens, are the principal matters which I have thought it necessary at this time to communicate for your consideration & attention. some others will be laid before you in the course of the session.
To United States Congress, November 8, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The Constitution (Art. II, Sect. 3) requires the President to report to Congress from “time to time” on the “State of the Union.” It never was a yearly requirement but has evolved into what we know as the annual “State of the Union Address,” when the President makes a report to the opening session of Congress. In the early 1800s, Congress traditionally convened in late fall for four to five months.

Jefferson delivered his reports in writing. This lengthy account included his thoughts on these subjects:
1. War in Europe and its affect on America
2. Private U.S. citizens preying on the shipping of other nations
3. Misunderstanding with Spain regarding the Bay of Mobile
4. Satisfying France on terms of U.S. purchase of Louisiana
5. Diplomatic relations with European nations
6. Success against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean
7. Establishing the new government in Louisiana
8. Relations with the Indians
9. Expanding the navy
10. Federal receipts, expenses & debt (Part 2 of 3)
11. Actions Congress might take on its own (Part 3 of 3)

On only #2 and #7 did the President invite Congress’ action. All the rest fell within his Constitutional duty, either in foreign affairs or executing the law already established by the Congress.

“It was impressive to notice the entire banquet hall silent with everyone,
including the hotel banquet staff,
paying rapt attention to your portrayal.”
IT Administrative Coordinator, Missouri Department of Conservation
Mr. Jefferson will hold your audience spell-bound.
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I hate the thought of four more years of this!

my heart fails me at the opening such a campaign of bustle & fatigue: the unlimited calumnies [untrue accusations designed to damage another’s reputation] of the federalists have obliged me to put myself on the trial of my country by standing another election. I have no fear as to their verdict; and that being secured for posterity, no considerations will induce me to continue beyond the term to which it will extend. my passion strengthens daily to quit political turmoil, and retire into the bosom of my family, the only scene of sincere & pure happiness. one hour with you & your dear children is to me worth an age past here.
To Martha Jefferson Randolph, November 6, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders sacrifice personal happiness for a greater good.
The President wrote his daughter that Congress was convening, and the political season was about to begin. The opposition attacks on him required him to prove them wrong, by standing for re-election. He knew the vote would vindicate him and cement the reforms his first term had established. (There was no single election day in Jefferson’s time. Results dribbled in over a period of weeks, as each state chose its delegates to the electoral college.)

There was no constitutional limit on the number of terms the President could serve. Jefferson would have none of that. He would serve a second term only and be out of there! He had no happiness in Washington, and all of his time there wasn’t worth one hour with his daughter and grandchildren.

“Our people attend lots of conferences and hear lots of speakers.
We wanted something different.
We knew you would grab their attention with your unique portrayal.”
President, Excellence in Missouri Foundation / Missouri Quality Award
Mr. Jefferson will grab your attendees’ attention!
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I’d rather not herd cats.

… I rode to the Hamburg hill from whence you suppose a bridge [over the Potomac River] … it will rest with the legislature to decide at which place … in this clashing of interests between different points of the territory to all of which I sincerely wish prosperity, I hold myself aloof from medling, no law calling on me to do otherwise. should it be made my duty to take any part in it, I shall certainly place every local interest out of view and regard the general interest only.
To George W. P. Custis, February 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders don’t meddle.
Congress was considering a bridge from the nation’s capital across the Potomac River. Competing interests were making their preferences known for the location.
George Washington Parke Custis (1781 – 1857) was the adopted grandson of the late President George Washington. The estate he owned across the Potomac from the nation’s capital would eventually pass to his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, and later become the site of the Arlington National Cemetery. Custis lobbied the President for a specific location, which the city of Georgetown opposed as detrimental to their interests.
Jefferson summarized this sticky-leadership-wicket as follows:
– If, when and where to build a bridge was Congress’ responsibility.
– Since he wished all the competing interests well, and his involvement was not required, he was staying out of it.
– If the time came when his input was required, he would keep “every local interest out of view,” and concern himself only with the overall public welfare.

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You do not know what you are talking about.

In social circles all are equal, whether in, or out, of office, foreign or domestic; & the same equality exists among ladies as among gentlemen. no precedence therefore, of any one over another, exists either in right or practice, at dinners, assemblies, or on any other occasions. ‘pell-mell’ and ‘next the door’ form the basis of etiquette in the societies of this country. it is this last principle, maintained by the administration, which has produced some dissatisfaction with some of the diplomatic gentlemen.
Response to the Washington Federalist, February 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders make their priorities straight-forward and public.
An opposition newspaper claimed diplomatic strife was caused by the etiquette policies of the new President. Not so, wrote Jefferson in a response printed on this date in the Philadelphia republican paper, Aurora. He usually ignored political and personal attacks in the federalist press, but this one he met head on.

He gave six specific examples of how and when foreign dignitaries would be received by various members of the Executive and Legislative Branches. He affirmed Senators and Representatives had equal standing. He wrote that all preferences shown previously were “buried in the grave of federalism, on the same 4th. of March,” the day of his inauguration.

Once he defined official diplomatic etiquette, he proceeded in this passage to proclaim there was no etiquette in social (non-governmental) settings. All individuals, foreign and domestic, in office or out, male and female, were treated equally. “Pell mell” and “next the door” would be the equivalents of the 21st century’s “first come, first served.”

“What a wonderful session you provided …
I thank you for your well-received keynote address.”
Conference Co-Chair, Missouri School-Age Care Coalition
Let Thomas Jefferson set a high standard for your audience.
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