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Category Archives: Congress

We are all equal here. Fooey on them!

On Friday Congress give a dinner on the acquisition of Louisiana. they determine to invite no foreign ministers, to avoid questions of etiquette, in which we are enveloped by Merry’s & Yrujo’s families. … [their conflict will continue] until they recieve orders from their courts to acquiesce in our principles of the equality of all persons meeting together in society, & not to expect to force us into their principles of allotment into ranks & orders.
To Martha Jefferson Randolph, January 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Just leaders do not show favoritism, especially when it is expected.
President Jefferson disdained the aristocratic expectations of England’s and Spain’s ambassadors to America. They insisted on favored treatment and were incensed not to receive it. Thus, they were excluded from a Congressional dinner.

Although Jefferson wished his elder daughter could be with him in Washington City, it was better for her that she was absent. His Cabinet Secretary’s wives had already been abused in the press for not fawning over the ambassadors’ wives. His daughter would receive even worse treatment from foes who wanted to distress him.

The President was clear. Other nations:
– Must acquiesce to America’s equality for all in society.
– Should keep their privileged society, “allotment into ranks & orders,” to themselves.

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1 Comment Posted in Congress, Diplomacy Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Smoke ’em if you got ’em? (NO!)

I now lay before Congress the annual account of the fund established for defraying the Contingent [random, unforseeable] charges of government. No occasion having arisen for making use of any part of it in the present year, the balance of eighteen thousand five hundred and sixty dollars, unexpended at the end of the last year, remains now in the Treasury.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the US. of America, December 31, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Self-limiting leaders exercise restraint with money not their own.
In May 1802, Congress approved $20,000 for “defraying the contingent expenses of government.” By the end of that year, the President reported a single expenditure of $1,440, to return to the United States 72 American seamen stranded abroad. The balance in that fund stood at $18,560.

A year later, the President reported again to Congress on the status of that fund. He had “no occasion” in 1803 to use any part of it. The full balance of $18,560 remained in the nation’s treasury.

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Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Debt, Presidency Tagged , , , , , , , |

This is gonna be BIG!

the river Missouri, & the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desireable by their connection with the Missisipi, & consequently with us … an intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men … might explore the whole line, even to the Western ocean, have conferences with the natives on the subject of commercial intercourse, get admission among them for our traders as others are admitted, agree on convenient deposits for an interchange of articles, and return with the information acquired in the course of two summers … The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars ‘for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the US,’ [is needed] …
To the Senate and House of Representatives, January 18, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know huge accomplishments have humble beginnings.
Tucked in near the end of a long letter to the Congress on improving relations with the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River was this innocent-sounding suggestion: We should know more about the Missouri River and the people who live along it. He proposed a dozen men led by a single officer to explore the whole length of the Missouri and perhaps all the way to the Pacific Ocean at a cost of $2,500. He stated four goals:
1. Confer with the Indians about commercial opportunities
2. Arrange for American traders to come among them
3. Scout locations for trading posts
4. Gather information about the land along the river.

What the President had in mind, of course, was what he would call the Corps of Discovery, known to us as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. His message to Congress was confidential, and he wanted it kept that way for the time being.

The Louisiana Purchase, not even imagined by the visionary Jefferson when this letter was written, would change the entire scope of this exploration. Instead of a small company quietly exploring Spanish territory, it would become a military venture of some four dozen men, led by five officers, establishing their claim to American soil. (The $2,500 Jefferson requested here would be dwarfed by the cost of the much larger mission, about $38,000.)

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Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Exploration, Lewis & Clark Tagged , , , , , , , |

Businessmen get it on!

Congress is not yet engaged in business of any note. we want men of business among them. I really wish you were here. I am convinced it is in the power of any man who understands business, and who will undertake to keep a file of the business before Congress & to press it as he would his own docket in a court, to shorten the sessions a month one year with another, & to save in that way 30,000. D. a year. an ill-judged modesty prevents those from undertaking it who are equal to it.
To Caesar A. Rodney, December 31, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders appreciate the focus businesspeople bring to government.
Rodney (1774-1822) was a Delaware politician, Jefferson partisan and namesake nephew of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was not a businessman but a lawyer and was about to take his place as a member of Congress after years of service in the Delaware legislature.

Jefferson thought Congress would benefit from having more successful businessmen as members. They knew how to organize, prioritize and remain focused. If they would bring those same skills to Congress, those bodies would accomplish more in less time and at less expense.

The President thought businessmen were being unfairly modest, “ill-judged” he termed it, in staying from public service.

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Leave a comment Posted in Congress Tagged , , , , , , |

Pissing THEM off a little can help US behave.

… nor do I foresee a single question which ought to excite party contention. still every question will excite it, because it is sufficient that we propose a measure, to produce opposition to it from the other party. a little of this is not amiss, as it keeps up a wholesome censorship on our conduct;
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Shrewd leaders appreciate the value of opposition.
In a previous post, Jefferson wrote that the country was doing so well, there was little to recommend to Congress in his annual report (State of the Union Address as we know it today).  He expressed the same sentiment to Kirby, with nothing on the horizon to divide the republican party.

Yet they were bound to propose something, and it would of necessity cause the Federalist party to rally in opposition. That opposition in turn would keep the republican party on its toes, united in its focus and proper in its conduct.

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1 Comment Posted in Congress, Politics, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Things are going so well, let us do nothing at all!

Our busy scene is now approaching. the quiet tract into which we are endeavoring to get, neither meddling with the affairs of other nations, nor with those of our fellow citizens, but letting them go on in their own way, will shew itself in the statement of our affairs to Congress. we have almost nothing to propose to them but ‘to let things alone.’
To Joseph Priestley, November 29, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know the best course of action can be no action at all.
Priestley (1733-1804) was a renowned English-born scientist, philosopher and theologian. He was one of Jefferson’s closest confidantes.

The “busy scene” in Jefferson’s letter was the convening of the Congress for their legislative session. The “statement of our affairs” was what we now call the annual State of the Union Address. The “quiet tract” was the ongoing adoption of the republican vision for a smaller, frugal, hands-off  national government focused on two priorities:
1. Staying out of other nations’ business, and
2. Staying out of the lives of its citizens.
So successful had they been toward these ends, he could propose little to Congress other than to do nothing at all!

Further on in this letter, Jefferson wrote “the only speck in our horizon which can threaten anything” was the pending transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France. He was already addressing that issue in diplomacy, and its successful resolution the next year would change the course of America’s future.

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1 Comment Posted in Congress, Government's proper role Tagged , , , , , |

Let us eat and play games!

Th: Jefferson requests the favor of Mr. Clinton’s company to dinner and chess on Tuesday next at half after three, or at whatever later hour the house may rise [adjourn].
Saturday Apl. 3. 1802.
The favor of an answer is asked.
To Dewitt Clinton, April 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders use social gatherings and games to build relationships.
Jefferson regularly invited people to join him for dinner, which was usually at 3:30 pm. When Congress was in session, his dinner guests often were Representatives and Senators, of both parties, except perhaps for the High Federalists, who wouldn’t have dined with him, regardless.

Clinton (1769-1828) was a New York politician, serving briefly in the U.S. Senate. He is credited with being the primary inspiration for the Erie Canal, connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. He was also the nephew of George Clinton, who would become Vice-President during Jefferson’s second term.

Jefferson’s correspondence is sprinkled with these dinner invitations. This is the first one I’ve seen that mentioned playing chess as part of the evening’s activity. He loved chess! This link demonstrates that. Near the end of those references, is this 1853 excerpt from his granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge:
“So he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of ‘four hour games’ with Mr. [James] Madison.”

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1 Comment Posted in Congress, Intellectual pursuits, Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |

Everyone should have a clue! Especially YOU. Part 2 of 2

we might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to controul them. our predecessors have endeavored by intricacies of system, and shuffling the investigator over from one officer to another, to cover every thing from detection. I hope we shall go in the contrary direction and that by your honest and judicious reformations we may be able, within the limits of our time to bring things back to that simple & intelligible system on which they should have been organised at first.—
To Albert Gallatin, April 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders encourage transparency and want citizen oversight.
In the first post from this letter, Jefferson complained that former Treasury Secretary Hamilton had so complicated federal financing that Congress and the President had no idea what was happening. That labyrinth grew to where Hamilton himself could figure it out.

In that post, Jefferson wanted his Treasury Secretary to simplify the nation’s books so every member of Congress could understand them. In this post, going even further, he wanted a system so clean and transparent that any thinking person could understand them. Where previous administrations wanted to conceal and confuse, he wanted citizens empowered to investigate and control abuses.

Jefferson proposed what should have been created a dozen years before at the nation’s founding, a “simple & intelligible system” for the government’s receipts and disbursements.

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1 Comment Posted in Congress, Federal finances Tagged , , , , , , , |

No one has a clue, not even the author! Part 1 of 2

I think it an object of great importance, to be kept in view, and to be undertaken at a fit season, to simplify our system of finance, and bring it within the comprehension of every member of Congress. Hamilton set out on a different plan. in order that he might have the entire government of his machine, he determined so to complicate it as that neither the President or Congress should be able to understand it, or to controul him. he succeeded in doing this, not only beyond their reach, but so that he at length could not unravel it himself.
To Albert Gallatin, April 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great leaders SIMPLIFY.
A year into his Presidency, he hoped to up-end the incomprehensible financing system created by a previous Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. He wanted Gallatin, now in that role, to simplify that system to the point where every member of Congress could understand it.

There was no love lost between Jefferson and Hamilton. The new President thought the former Secretary wanted to control the entire government. To do that, Hamilton had deliberately created a system so obtuse “that neither the President or Congress should be able to understand it.”

It followed that no one would be able to control the one person, Hamilton, who understood the whole process. Eventually it backfired, Jefferson claimed, becoming so convoluted that Hamilton “could not unravel it himself.”

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Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Federal finances Tagged , , , , , , , |

Shut up, quit and go home.

I observe the house [House of Representatives] is endeavoring to remedy the eternal protraction [prolonging] of debate by setting up all night … I have thought that such a Rule as the following would be more effectual & less inconvenient. ‘Resolved that at [VIII.] aclock in the evening (whenever the house shall be in session at that hour) it shall be the duty of the Speaker to declare that hour arrived, whereupon all debate shall cease.”
To John Wayles Eppes, January 17, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders understand the value of a deadline.
A previous post from this letter complained about long-winded speeches in the House, and the ill effects they had on its members and the public. Here, Jefferson observed that Congress was trying to deal with the problem by letting the debate go into the wee hours of the morning, wearying everyone involved. He offered a solution.

Why not have the House agree in advance to end all debate at a designated hour? He suggested a mechanism for disposing of whatever was being considered at that moment, and then they could adjourn and go home for the day.

Jefferson asked his former son-in-law to use his idea in any way he could, but not to reveal him as the source of the suggestion.

The House of Representatives did not change its ways.

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