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Category Archives: Constitutional issues

Ooops! We cannot do this unless …

Amendment to the Constitution to be added to Art. IV. section III.
The Province of Louisiana is incorporated with the US. and made part thereof …
Revised Amendment to the Constitution, July 9, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders respect the limits on their authority.
Six days prior to this draft, Jefferson received word that France would sell its North American holdings known as Louisiana to the United States. He was delighted! He also knew the Constitution did not provide full authority for this action.

Jefferson always maintained the national government had only those limited powers specifically granted by the Constitution. Adding Louisiana to the United States was not one of those powers. The solution was obvious, an amendment to that founding document that would grant that authority.

The President’s proposed amendment went on to provide all the necessary authorization to explore, police, develop and defend the new land, as well as to maintain “peace and good understanding with the Indians residing there.”

The amendment would go nowhere.

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Swat the nose of that camel before it is too late!

You know my doubts or rather convictions about the unconstitutionality of the act for building piers in the Delaware, and the fears that it will lead to a bottomless expence, & to the greatest abuses …
… I well remember the opposition, on this very ground, to the first act for building a lighthouse. the utility of the thing has sanctioned the infraction. but if on that infraction we build a 2d. on that 2d. a 3d &c. any one of the powers in the constitution may be made to comprehend every power of government.
To Albert Gallatin, October 13, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders recognize a power grab when they see one.
In 1789, early in his first administration, President Washington signed a bill authorizing lighthouses, piers, buoys and beacons. Federally funded lighthouses were built on the coast. New legislation proposed building piers. Jefferson, Secretary of State in the first instance and now President in the second, opposed both efforts as not authorized by the Constitution.

He recognized the value of a lighthouse and suggested its “utility,” as he phrased it, was the justification for going beyond the Constitution. But if Congress can exceed the Constitution once, even for a worthwhile purpose, then it’s simpler to do it again, and even simpler a third time. The result would be a Constitution stretched to justify whatever government wanted to do. The Constitution, created to limit the national government’s authority, would come to mean nothing. Abuse of power and “bottomless expense” would be the natural results.

Jefferson’s position was always to amend the Constitution to provide necessary authority rather than do an end run around it, with questionable justification.

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Individual enterprise is smarter than government!

I have recieved the specimens of straw-plaiting which you were so kind as to inclose & …the possibility that you may establish the manufacture in some of the states. but the distribution of powers by our general [US] & state constitutions has placed in the general government no authority to embark in or to encourage … state governments can do it; but they generally leave them to individual enterprize, trusting that the sagacity of private interest will generally discover those pursuits which may be entered on to advantage.
To George White, August 18, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know who knows best.
White’s wife had perfected a process for braiding straw that in turn would be used to make straw hats. That product was imported from England, and White asked the President’s patronage for establishing an American manufacture. White thought it could pay its own way once operational.

Jefferson declined any help because the U.S. Constitution made no provision for it. Always a proponent for American made goods, he deferred to state action. Even so, states usually deferred to private individuals. Why? Because the wise businessman was far better able to determine economic feasibility than any government ever could.

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Great idea. Not gonna do it.

In answer to M. De la Coste’s letter of the 27th Th: Jefferson is bound to observe to him that no authority has been given for the establishment of a Museum at this or any other place on account of the General government: indeed that this is not among the objects enumerated in the constitution to which Congress are authorised to apply the public monies. whenever the revenues of the Union shall be liberated from calls of the first urgency, it is probable that an amendment of the constitution may be proposed, to authorise institutions for the general instruction. in the mean time it is the duty of the public authorities to keep themselves within their legitimate powers.
To G. C. Delacoste, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even visionary leaders have limits to their authority.
The recipient had closed his natural history museum in New York for lack of public support. He offered to sell his collection of hundreds of animal species for the formation of a National Museum in Washington City [D.C.].

This was the type of venture that Jefferson, the private citizen, would have supported wholeheartedly. As President, he had to decline. Why? Because the Constitution gave neither authority to establish a museum nor power to Congress to spend public money on one. Case closed.

Jefferson speculated that once America’s debt from the revolution had been paid off, the Constitution might be amended “to authorize institutions for the general instruction,” such as museums. Until that time, federal power was limited to those few responsibilities specifically listed in that Constitution.

Delacoste’s letter is most interesting. He repeatedly addressed the President as “Your Excellency,” a phrase Jefferson probably found repugnant though he was far too polite to mention it. The writer also admits to hard times, having lost his property in “Dutch Guyana,” a result of the French Revolution. Thus, he was looking for a job, too, hoping the President would hire him to acquire more specimens for that National Museum. The letter concluded with an enclosure listing the many specimens he was offering, including “1 black ostrich and 1 Uppoe [Hippo?] from Africa” and “37 individuals from the coast of Guyana among which a patira a Jaguar, several monkeys, a three toed, and a two toed Sloth, a coendou, a Tatou, a great ant-eater or Tauranoir, a middle and a least ant eater &ca”

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Leave a comment Posted in Constitutional issues, Natural history (science)

Religion is none of our business.

In matters of Religion, I have considered that it’s free exercise is placed by the constitution independant of the powers of the general government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it: but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction & discipline of the state or church authorities acknoleged by the several religious societies.
Second Inaugural Address, March 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders respect firm boundaries on their authority.
Jefferson reiterated a familiar theme, that the Constitution prohibited the federal government’s involvement in religion, either to promote or inhibit its exercise. That authority was left to the states and the churches within them. For that reason, as President, he had proclaimed no national days of prayer, fasting or thanksgiving.

Twenty years before, Jefferson’s ban on state involvement in religion was adopted in Virginia. He claimed that as one of three accomplishments for which he wished to be remembered and had it recorded on his tombstone. He held that government authority extended only to an individual’s actions, not his thoughts or beliefs. That left religious practice entirely to the individual.

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How will we spend the surplus?

that redemption once effected [paying off the national debt], the revenue thereby liberated may, by a just repartition of it among the states, & a corresponding amendment of the constitution, be applied, in time of peace, to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, & other great objects within each state. in time of war, if injustice by ourselves or others must sometimes produce war, increased as the same revenue will be by increased population & consumption, & aided by other resources reserved for that crisis, it may meet within the year all the expences of the year, without encroaching on the rights of future generations by burthening them with the debts of the past. War will then be but a suspension of useful works; & a return to a state of peace a return to the progress of improvement.
Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know being debt free opens lots of doors.
Jefferson anticipated a budget surplus and suggested this for the excess:
1. Some would be returned to the states on fair basis.
2. With a Constitutional Amendment, some would be spent on infrastructure, arts, education and commerce in peacetime.
3. In war time, increased consumption by an increasing population, along with other sources of income, would provide the revenue necessary for fighting.
4. War would be only “a suspension of useful works,” and peace would bring their return.
4. The present generation must not cripple the ones to come by passing present debt into the future.

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I would LOVE to, but …

no person on earth can entertain a higher idea than I do of the value of your collection … and I very much wish it could be made public property … you know that one of the great questions which has divided political opinion in this country is Whether Congress are authorised by the constitution to apply the public money to any but the purposes specially enumerated [listed] in the Constitution? those who hold them to the enumeration, have always denied that Congress have any power to establish a National academy …
To Charles Willson Peale, January 16, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Constitutional leaders limit their authority, emotion notwithstanding.
Peale (1741-1827), noted artist and friend of Jefferson’s, established Peale’s American Museum in Philadelphia, to chronicle the nation’s natural (scientific) history. Peale asked his friend if the nation might purchase his museum and move it to Washington to become a national academy.

Jefferson the scientist would have jumped on such an offer but for the Constitution. Instead, he referred to the debate in Congress whether the national government was limited in spending money only on the purposes listed in that document. His opinion was that the majority of Congress agreed with a very limited role.

Though Jefferson loved the idea of acquiring Peale’s museum for the national capital, he held the same opinion as Congress, expressed in a recent post. Perhaps it was his friendship with Peale that kept him from declining the offer personally, as he did in that post, laying the responsibility with the Congress.

Peale’s museum did become the nation’s premier repository of natural history specimens, though it remained a private endeavor. Many plant and animal specimens collected by Lewis & Clark found their permanent home there. Some years later, one of Peale’s sons moved the museum to Baltimore.

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Originally posted at http://ThomasJeffersonLeadership.com/blog/

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You are barking up the wrong tree.

Th: Jefferson … acknoleges … [your letters] proposing that persons should be employed by the general government to explore mines of metal & coal, to assay ores … designate canals, roads &c but observes to him that these objects not being among the powers transferred by the States to the General government, nor among the purposes for which the latter is authorized to levy money on the people, the State governments alone are competent to the pursuits proposed.
To Benjamin Henfrey, January 5, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Constitutional leaders understand the limits of their authority.
The British scientist and businessman had written Jefferson at length recommending the hiring of a geologist/engineer to study mineral ores and design roads and canals in the various states. He also introduced a teaser, volunteering the demonstrate for the President a process of his own, capturing gas vapor from coal and using it to provide lamp lighting.

Henfrey then offered his own services for hire, to do what he proposed.

Jefferson the scientist would have loved the new information Henfrey’s proposal might provide. No doubt he was intrigued by gas lighting. Still, he shut Henfrey down cold. Why?
1. Such exploration was not a power given by the states to the national government.
2. Nor was it one of the purposes for which the government could tax its citizens.
The Constitution clearly left that authority and expense to the individual states.

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Who cut the cheese?

I concur with you … that the constitution of the United States is a Charter of authorities and duties, not a Charter of rights to it’s officers; and that among it’s most precious provisions are the right of suffrage, the prohibition of religious tests, and it’s means of peaceable amendment. nothing ensures the duration of this fair fabric of government so effectually as the due sense entertained, by the body of our citizens, of the value of these principles, & their care to preserve them.
To the Committee of Cheshire, Massachusetts, January 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Astute leaders recognize the value of symbolism.
The President confirmed the assertons of Cheshire Baptists in their addresses to him, namely:
1. The Constitution confers duties on its officers, not rights.
2. Rights were conferred, instead, on the citizens. These included the right to vote, of freedom from a religious requirement, and to peacefully amend that Constitution.

What, more than anything else, protects the government and the rights it confers? It is the belief of its citizens that these rights are valuable and must be preserved.

What was the occasion of these high-minded remarks? It was the presentation by the Cheshire Baptists of a 1,200 pound cheese, four feet in dimater, descibed in a 2012 post. (Thus, the title of this post …)

The editors of the Thomas Jefferson letters provide a lengthy (!) explanation of the “mammoth cheese” and its symbolism. Buried in that account is that Jefferson, who wrote out his response, may have read it aloud to his gathered guests. If so, it would have been one of his very few public addresses. Jefferson dealt in written words, not spoken ones.

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Do THIS only, and the vast majority will support us.

… that all should be satisfied with any one order of things is not to be expected: but I indulge the pleasing persuasion that the great body of our citizens will cordially concur in honest and disinterested [objective, lacking a personal agenda] efforts, which have for their object to preserve the general & state governments in their constitutional form & equilibrium; to maintain peace abroad, & order & obedience to the laws at home; to establish principles & practices of administration favorable to the security of liberty & property; & to reduce expences to what is necessary for the useful purposes of government.
First Annual Message, November 27, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders limit and define their goals, and make them very clear to all.
This ends President Jefferson’s first annual address, known now as the State of the Union Address, from which the last few posts have been taken. Such a report is required by the Constitution, Article II, Section 3. (This requirement is not an annual one. The Constitution says only the President shall do so “from time to time.” I suppose President Washington established the precedent of a yearly address, and his successors continued it.)

Just preceding this exceprt, Jefferson praised Congress for its “collected wisdom … prudence & temperance” as they worked for the good of their citizens. He concludes with these observations:
1. Not everyone will be pleased with each of their actions.
2. Yet, if they are honest and objective, they will enjoy great public favor, so long as they remember their limited responsibilities to:
– Preserve the national and state governments as outlined in the Constitution
– Maintain peaceful relations with other countries
– Maintain order and respect for the law within the nation
– Continue to establish and secure the rights of personal liberty and property
– Reduce the cost of the national government, limiting it to its Constitutional principles

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