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Category Archives: Government’s proper role

What is meant by a gift given to an office-holder?

…. The inviolable rule which I have laid down for myself never while in a public character to accept presents which bear a pecuniary [monetary] value … it is the duty of every friend of republican government to fence out every practice which might tend to lessen the chastity [purity] of the public administration.
To Phillipe Reibelt, October 12, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Equality-minded leaders avoid everything that undermines confidence in the organization.
The opening sentence is one featured before in this space, that Jefferson refused to accept any gift of value while in office. He would either return the gift or make a return offering of equal value. The second sentence gives the reasoning.

By “republican government,” in its simplest form, he referred to the foundational principle expressed in the Declaration of American Independence, “all men are created equal.” No one was to have any bestowed or artificial preference over anyone else. Any aristocracy was to arise from integrity and talent, not from wealth, ancestry, or other privilege.

A leader who accepted a gift, even with no-strings-attached, could give the appearance of impropriety, that the giver was seeking favor from the recipient, a preferred position above others. That is why Jefferson said it was the duty of every citizen of honest government “to fence out” or prohibit anything that could undermine the people’s confidence in their leaders.

“Thank you so much for your outstanding performance of Thomas Jefferson …
inspiring and very appropriate for our audience of leaders …”
Executive Director, Missouri School Boards Association
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Go for it! vs. Tread very carefully here!

… He [I, Granger writing in third person] cannot therefore wish a Sentence changed, or a Sentiment expressed equivocally—A more fortunate time can never be expected.—
Gideon Granger to Thomas Jefferson, December 31, 1801

… The people of the five N England Governments … have always been in the habit of observing fasts and thanksgivings in “pursuance of proclamations from their respective Executives.” This custom is venerable being handed down from our ancestors. The Republicans of those States generally have a respect for it … I think the religious sentiment expressed in your proposed answer of importance to be communicated, but that it would be best to have it so guarded, as to be incapable of having it construed into an implied censure of the usages of any of the States.
Levi Lincoln to Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know when to stifle their own strongly-held opinions.
Jefferson hoped to use a letter from the Danbury Baptists for a purpose of his own. Although they hadn’t asked, he wanted in reply to explain why he had not proclaimed national days of prayer or thanksgiving as Washington and Adams had done.

He usually sought the opinions of his top advisors, so he sent his draft reply to two New Englanders, to assess the reaction of Republicans to what could be a sensitive issue. Granger, of Connecticut, was Postmaster General. Lincoln, of Massachusetts, was Attorney General.

Granger acknowldeged their would be backlash but advised Jefferson to go ahead with his response exactly as written. Lincoln was more guarded. He didn’t disagree with Jefferson’s position but suggested the wording could be softened so as to give no offense to their New England supporters. He even suggested how Jefferson might do that.

What did Jefferson do in response to conflicting opinions from two top lieutenants on an issue he felt very strongly about? He omitted the matter entirely from his now famous “wall of separation” response.

“Your performances during our annual summer conference
were exactly what our conference needed to take it over the top.”
Minnesota Rural Electric Association
Thomas Jefferson will take your audience over the top.
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Does government help or hurt?

when we consider that this government is charged with the external & mutual relations only of these states, that the states themselves have principal care of our persons, our property, & our reputation, constituting the great field of human concerns, we may well doubt whether our organisation is not too complicated, too expensive; whether offices & officers have not been multiplied unnecessarily, & sometimes injuriously to the service they were meant to promote.
First Annual (State of the Union) Address, November 27, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders understand the limits of their responsibility.
Jefferson’s understanding of the U.S. Constitution was that the job of the federal government was two-fold:
1. Foreign relations and national defense (“external …relations”)
2. Promoting commercial relationships and mediating issues between the states (“mutual relations”)

Instead, he saw a national government, desiring to do all manner of good for its citizens, that had expanded its reach far beyond those limited Constitutional responsibilities. The result was a government that was:
1. Too complicated
2. Too expensive
3. Had too many offices and too many employees
4. Sometimes hurt the very causes they intended to help

Jefferson went on in his State of the Union message to explain what he was doing to limit Washington’s overreach.

“The presentation as Thomas Jefferson was by far
the most original, educational and interesting program
I have seen in many years involved with OSLS.”

Executive Director, Oklahoma Society of Land Surveyors
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How strong should the government be?

… those who will be satisfied with a government of energy enough to protect persons & property sacredly, will not, I trust, be disappointed: while no effort will be spared to prevent unnecessary burthens to the labouring man.
To William Bingham, July 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Self-limiting leaders free their followers from unnecessary burdens.
Bingham (1751-1804) was a very prosperous Pennsylvania businessman and Federalist poltician. As U.S. Senator, he administered the oath of office when Jefferson assumed the Vice-Presidency in 1797.

The previous post contained correspondence between them. Bingham was leaving America for a time after the death of his wife. Though a political opponent, he wished Jefferson success in his Presidency and hoped for America’s continuing prosperity.

Jefferson thanked Bingham for his kind remarks. Those who believed, as he did, that the only function of the national government was a sacred responsibility to protect its people and their property would not be disappointed in his Presidency. The government had to be strong enough to do that but no more. In limiting his administration to that goal, he pledged a very light burden on the laboring man, whose taxes would be necessary to support anything more.

“… thanks for your excellent program … being our 50th year …
we wanted to make the meeting very special …”
Past President, Cole County Historical Society
Mr. Jefferson will make the program for your audience very special.
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Can government REALLY be made smaller?

Levees [formal parties hosted by the President] are done away.
The first communication to the next Congress will be, like all subsequent ones, by message to which no answer will be expected.
The diplomatic establishment in Europe will be reduced to three ministers.
The Compensations to Collectors depend on you, not on me.
The army is undergoing a chaste reformation.
The navy will be reduced to the legal establishment by the last of this month.
Agencies in every department will be revised.
We shall press you to the uttermost in economising.
To Nathaniel Macon, May 14, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is the rare leader who voluntarily reduces the size of his team.
North Carolina Congressman Macon (1757-1837) was a strong supporter of the new President and limited government. In an April 20 letter, Macon laid out a list of his constituents’ expectations for a less intrusive and costly federal government.

Jefferson addressed that list, one by one, and expressed his concurrence. Items 4 & 8 depended on Congress, and he placed the responsibility for those where it should be. He was already addressing the other six, which were within his responsibility.

“The decision to bring Patrick Lee was a wise one.”
Schoor-DePalma (a 650 employee engineering firm in New Jersey)
Similarly, your audience will regard wisely your decision to host Thomas Jefferson.
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Do limited plans indicate a small vision?

… when we reflect how difficult it is to move or inflect the great machine of society, how impossible to advance the notions of a whole people suddenly to ideal right, we see … that no more good must be attempted than the nation can bear, and that will be chiefly to reform the waste of public money, & thus drive away the vultures who prey on it, and improve some little on old routines. some new fences for securing constitutional rights may, with the aid of a good legislature, perhaps be attainable.
To Walter Jones, March 31, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know how little influence they really have over major issues.
Jefferson thanked another congratulatory writer and acknowledged “how difficult it is” to make great changes, no matter how obvious or necessary. Given that limitation, what could he do? Only what people would accept:
– End “the waste of public money”
– Deprive “the vultures” who fed on that waste
– Make minor improvements to things they were already doing
– Strengthen constitutional rights if the legislature would be so inclined

To address the question in the title: Jefferson had a vast vision for America’s future, but that potential rested with its citizens, not its government. His limited plans didn’t indicate a small vision but the opposite. He recognized where the responsibility lay, and it wasn’t with him or the government.

“You really had the audience interacting with you
as if you were Thomas Jefferson himself.”

Owner, Lanit Consulting
It is Thomas Jefferson himself who will be inspiring your audience.
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Governments grab power. Elections slap government’s hands.

I perfectly agree with you that while it is necessary to clothe public magistrates with powers sufficiently nervous [strong] for order & defence that every surrender of power beyond that is improper. I believe too that a great deal more than usually is, might be left to private morality in the regulation of our own nature … it is a general truth that legislatures are too fond of interposing their power & of governing too much. the right of election by the people shews itself daily more and more valuable. it is a peaceable means of producing reformation … [otherwise, the people] will have no resource but in the sword … I wish them [elections] more frequent than they are, especially in some of the public functionaries.
To Isaac Weaver, Jr., March 21, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Minimalist government leaders appreciate frequent elections.
  The President agreed with the Republican Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who wrote him that elected officials should have enough authority to enforce order at home, and to protect the citizen from invasion from abroad,” but no more.
Jefferson made these minimalist observations:
1. Citizens should not yield any more authority than for these two causes.
2. People should more often be “left to private morality” for self-governance.
3. Legislatures usually sought more power and control, not less.
4. “Election by the people” brought reform peacefully and avoided armed rebellion.
5. To keep a tighter rein on politicians, elections should be held even more often.

“Patrick was a pleasure to work with. He is professional, timely and accurate …”
Manager, Conference and Travel, Kansas City Life Insurance Company
 Mr. Jefferson, too, is professional, time and accurate.
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 8 (OR What makes America exceptional?)

[This is the 8th interchange in Jefferson’s internal dialog between his head and his heart, anguishing over Maria Cosway’s departure.]

Head. … another point. When you consider the character which is given of our country by the lying newspapers of … [Europe] … that all Europe is made to believe we are a lawless banditti, in a state of absolute anarchy, cutting one anothers throats, & plundering without distinction, how can you expect that any reasonable creature would venture among us?

Heart. But you & I know that all this is false: that there is not a country on earth where there is greater tranquillity, where the laws are milder, or better obeyed: where every one is more attentive to his own business, or meddles less with that of others: where strangers are better received, more hospitably treated, & with a more sacred respect.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
American leaders should defend America’s exceptionalism.
Jefferson’s rational Head gave another reason why the Cosway’s would not visit him in America. European newspapers painted the U.S. as a lawless place. Why would anyone come?

Heart dismisses the argument out of hand, claiming more tranquility in America than any other country in the world? Why?
1. Less government intrusion
Since there are fewer laws, citizens more readily comply with them.
Everyone is more attentive to his own affairs and “meddles less” in others.
Strangers are welcome and treated with hospitality and “sacred respect.”

Jefferson considered these four qualities as hallmarks of republican (small r) government.

Thomas Jefferson will encourage your audience with America’s exceptionalism.
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What invites corruption in public officials?

our country is too large to have all it’s affairs directed by a single government. public servants at such a distance, & from under the eye of their constituents, will, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer & overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizen; and the same circumstance by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder & waste …
To Gideon Granger, August 13, 1800

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders know a lack of accountability invites corruption.

To answer the question in the headline: Too much distance from one’s constituents.

Jefferson was addressing the Federalist effort to consolidate more and more power in the national government. The nation, only 16 states at the time, was already too large to have all of its affairs directed from its capital, soon to be Washington City. The same distance that made overseeing “all the details necessary for good government” impossible set the stage for corruption.

Why? That distance also made it impossible for constituents to keep a close eye on those public servants. Without that control, the temptation to “corruption, plunder & waste” was just too great. Jefferson always favored state, county and ward rulers over national ones. Those were governments nearest the people, ones citizens could watch very closely.

“Your costume and staying in character prior, during and after the presentation
while answering questions and posing for pictures added a special dimension.”
Refrigeration Service Engineers Society Annual Conference, Biloxi, MS
Let Mr. Jefferson bring that “special dimension” to your audience.
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Where is power exercised most wisely?

But it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within it’s local bounds; each county again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by it’s individual proprietor … It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders don’t consolidate power. They delegate it broadly.
This excerpt builds on the previous two posts, where Jefferson lamented:
1.The Constitution let federal judges serve for life, effectively answerable to no one, and
2. Even honest judges could be swayed toward maximizing their control.

For the nation’s first 12 years, all of its federal judges were appointed by Presidents Washington and Adams, who favored a strong, activist national government. Any such government naturally seeks more power, more control. With lifetime appointments, judges’ tenure extended far beyond those administrations

Jefferson’s Presidency was served under an occasionally hostile judiciary, judges who aided in the consolidation of power in the national government.

Jefferson believed exactly the opposite. Good government was not consolidated but diffused and apportioned throughout, from the national level to states to counties to townships and finally, down to the individual land owner. Each entity should do what it could do best for itself.

Where is power exercised most wisely? At the level where people are most affected by it and by those people for themselves.

“I would stress that you really connected with our members
as you brought Thomas Jefferson to life…”
CEO, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
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