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Category Archives: Government’s proper role

I cannot do this worthwhile thing.

… the theatre is proposed to be built by private individuals, it is to be their private property, for their own emolument, & may be conveyed to any other private individual. to cede to them public grounds for such a purpose1 whether appropriated, or open spaces, would be a donation of it: and I do not find that the President has a power to make such a donation of the public lands … knowing, as I do, that this enterprise is undertaken with no view to their private benefit, but is really a sacrifice to advance the interest of the place, I am sorry that the accomodation desired cannot be obtained from the public, and that their funds are to be diminished either by a purchase of the site, or a ground rent for it. but I see no remedy…
To Thomas Munroe, April 7, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Conscientious leaders respect the limits to their authority.
Munroe was Superintendent of the nation’s capital city. He had written a letter to the President with proposed designs for streets and tree-plantings. He concluded with an appeal made to him by private citizens seeking a donation of public land for the building of a theater.

Jefferson responded that it was a private endeavor in every way, including the opportunity for profit. He had no power to donate public lands for private use. He acknowledged that the purpose of the theater was not for “private benefit” but public good, that his denial of a land donation meant some of the funds that could have gone toward that public good must be used instead on a building site. Yet, “I see no remedy,” he replied.

The theater was subsequently built on land donated by an individual.

“It was a great pleasure to have you return to the Old Courthouse …
We look forward to working with you again …”
Superintendent, Jefferson National Expansion Museum, St. Louis
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak at your meeting,
either for the first time … or again.

Call 573-657-2739
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A strong militia is our first and best defense!

… I take the liberty of urging on you the importance and indispensible necessity of vigorous exertions … [to] render the militia a sure and permanent bulwark of national defence.

None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. to keep ours armed and disciplined, is therefore at all times important. but especially so at a moment when rights the most essential to our welfare have been violated …

… that I may have a full and correct view of the resources of our country in all it’s different parts, … [furnish me with a report of the] militia, & of the arms & accoutrements of your state, and of the several counties, or other geographical divisions of it.
Circular to the Governors of the States, February 25, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A ready defense of the nation is a leader’s first responsibility.
The U.S. had no standing army, and the President didn’t want one, for two reasons. First was the cost to maintain it. Second, an army, created to fight, would want to fight and might cause provocations for that reason alone. Far better was a well-armed and trained militia, private citizens ready to provide a first line of defense. If the militia proved inadequate, their existence would provide time to raise a standing army.

Militias were the responsibility of the states. Jefferson wrote to the Governors, reinforcing their role in providing for a militia that was “armed and disciplined.” He asked each Governor to report to him on the men and arms available from each state, county and territory.

The particular violation referenced by Jefferson was at New Orleans, where a Spanish agent had suspended America’s treaty-guaranteed right of free shipping through that essential river port.

“Without question, you enjoy an actor’s sense of timing and theater
that makes a lasting impression.
You demonstrated a steady and clear delivery without relying on histrionics.”

Executive Director, Western Coal Transportation Association
No exaggeration from Mr. Jefferson! Only a “steady and clear delivery.”
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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.

“Please accept my thanks …
for a most interesting and highly information presentation…”
Program Committee, 101 Rotary Club of St. Louis
Mr. Jefferson awaits to inform and captivate your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
1 Comment Posted in Congress, Government's proper role Tagged , , , , , |

If at all possible, keep government out of it!

With respect to the 5th. section, taking from coasting vessels employed in this trade the privilege of carrying any foreign articles, if yourself & mr Steele concurred in this, I should be content with it. but if you were of a different opinion, I should join you on the general principle of never imposing a restriction which can be done without.
To Albert Gallatin, August 14, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders keep their hands off when they can.
Gallatin, Jefferson’s Secretary of Treasury, had critiqued regulations regarding shipping in the coastal regions surrounding Spanish-controlled New Orleans. One of those regulations required American vessels to carry only American goods. The President deferred to Gallatin’s judgment in the matter.

If Gallatin favored the restriction, Jefferson would support his decision. If, however, Gallatin favored a hands-off policy, allowing ships to carry foreign goods, too, that was more to Jefferson’s liking. He preferred staying out of a matter that didn’t require government’s intervention.

“The question and answer aspect of your program …
kept our members in their seats until the very end.”
Executive Director, Association of Indiana Counties
Mr. Jefferson delights to answer your members’ questions after his remarks. No holds barred!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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How much freedom for man? How much power for government?

… Can man govern himself? … [This is] the one great object of proving that a government may be so free as to leave every man in the unrestrained exercise of all his rights, while it has energy enough to protect him from every wrong …
To Nathaniel Macon, July 17, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Self-governing leaders promote a self-limiting government.
Jefferson held strongly that America was an experiment that all the world was watching. That experiment was summed in the first four words, “Can man govern himself?”

Man could govern himself, provided government would keep to its essential constitutional role. Government needed enough power to protect its citizens from other nations, and that was all. Doing so would “leave every man in the unrestrained exercise of all his rights.” In other words, man would indeed be left in the position of doing what only he could do best, govern himself.

“Were it not for time constraints, the Q&A session
might have continued for hours …”
Director of Operations, Indiana Telecommunications Association
Mr. Jefferson delights to answer your audience’s questions! All of them.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
2 Comments Posted in Government's proper role, Independence Tagged , , , , , , |

We said we would do it, and we kept our word!

the session of the first congress, convened since republicanism has recovered it’s ascendancy [in the election of 1800], is now drawing to a close. they will pretty compleatly fulfil all the desires of the people … the people are nearly all united, their quondam [former, i.e. Federalist] leaders infuriated with the sense of their impotence … and all is now tranquil, firm and well as it should be. I add no signature because unnecessary for you.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, April 2, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A measure of true leadership is accomplishing what you said you would do.
With the republicans (small r) in control of the Congress and Presidency, they worked together to accomplish the goals Jefferson had laid before the people. Deleted from this excerpt, but available in full at the link above, those successes were:
1. Reduced the army and navy to only what was necessary for defense
2. Curtailed the President’s patronage powers and cut Executive Branch offices in half.
3. Suppressed taxes on ordinary citizens
4. Economized in a way that would still honor payments on the national debt and eliminate that debt in 18 years
5. Reduced the size of the judicial branch, enlarged pre-1801 to increase Federalist power
6. Welcomed refugees from other countries
7. Eliminated all public governmental ceremonies patterned after England’s

Jefferson claimed near unity of the citizenry, to the fury of their former leaders.

He didn’t sign this letter, saying Kosciuszko would know who wrote it. There was another reason. Political opponents regularly pilfered the mails. Since Jefferson apparently could not send this letter by private courier, his preferred method, he would omit his name so his straightforward assertions could not be used against him.

“Thank you so much for the great job you did as Thomas Jefferson …
I really appreciated the way you did the research on our association.”
Missouri Mappers Association
Mr. Jefferson will research your interests to make the best presentation possible.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What are the ONLY objects of a legitimate government?

… a part of my occupation, & by no means the least pleasing, is the direction of the studies of such young men as ask it. they place themselves in the neighboring village, and have the use of my library & counsel, & make a part of my society. in advising the course of their reading, I endeavor to keep their attention fixed on the main objects of all science, the freedom & happiness of man. so that coming to bear a share in the councils and government of their country, they will keep ever in view the sole objects of all legitimate government.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, February 26, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retired leaders can still shape the future.
Nearing the end of a long letter to a like-minded friend, Jefferson explained yet another aspect of his retirement life. He mentored young men who asked his help, welcoming them into his home, library and society.

He advised which books to read, ones that furthered the cause of “all science,” man’s freedom and happiness. The young men he mentored would be from the privileged class, ones most likely eventually to take an active role in government. By directing their studies in this direction, he would nurture future leaders who would understand what “the sole objects of all legitimate government” truly were.

“As a meeting planner, it was a pleasure to work with you…
Thank you for a job well done.”
Legislative Services Manager, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives
Mr. Jefferson is low-maintenance. (So is Patrick Lee.)
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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
Engage a leader to inspire and teach your leaders.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
1 Comment Posted in Government's proper role, Human nature Tagged , , , , , , |

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.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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
Does the Oklahoma Surveyors’ response appeal to you?
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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