I have heard of your misfortune and lament it, but will say nothing, ha[ving] learnt from experience that time, silence, & occupation are the only medicines… I should have regretted the necessity of writing to you on a subject of business, did I not believe it useful to withdraw the mind from what it is too apt to brood over, to other objects.
You know the importance of our being enabled to announce in the message that the interest of the Louisiana purchase (800,000. D) can be paid without a new tax … to be quite secure. the [budget] estimate recieved from your office, which I inclose you, amounts probably to 770, or 780. & were it possible to reduce it to 600. it would place us at ease.
To Robert Smith, October 10, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders know life goes on even when it does not.
In a recent post, the President encouraged Secretary of the Navy Smith’s attendance at an important Cabinet meeting about the purchase of Louisiana and its funding, but acknowledged the illness in Smith’s family demanded his attention. Shortly after that request, Smith’s youngest daughter died.
Jefferson had experienced the death of four of his six children. (A fifth would die six months hence.) He knew from experience there was nothing he could say to his friend that would help. He would have preferred not to write at all, except that there was important business at hand, and he knew a diversion from tragedy was sometimes helpful.
The United States had only half of the $800,000 interest payment required by the new debt for the purchase of Louisiana. Asking Congress for a new tax would probably scuttle the sale. Thus, the President asked each of his department secretaries to tighten their belts to free up the needed cash. Other secretaries had done so. Jefferson asked Smith to cut $180,000 from his budget.
Not only did the President eventually get the funds he needed, he gave his friend a difficult task to distract his mind.