… if you appoint all the members of the legislature to be members of the institution, it will gratify no particular member, nor lead him to feel any more interest in the institution than he does at present. on the other hand, a judicious selection of a few, friends of science, or lovers of the military art, will be gratifying to them inasmuch as it is a selection, and inspire them with the desire of actively patronising it’s interests.
The contingent fund of the war department, is applicable only to objects known to the law. it cannot be applied to any thing merely voluntary & unauthorised by the law.
Thomas Jefferson to Jonathan Williams, July 14, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
If all are “leaders,” none will lead.
Williams (1751-1815) had been appointed by Jefferson to be the first superintendent of the new military academy at West Point, NY. He wanted to establish separate a military scientific society and asked the President which esteemed persons should be appointed to promote it. He suggested all members of Congress, so as not to give offense by leaving someone out.
Jefferson replied that if all were appointed, the position wouldn’t gratify any of them. Better to pick a few qualified people with a particular interest in science or “the military art,” confident they would be active boosters.
Williams also asked, citing the public benefit of the society, that a small allowance from the war department’s contingency fund be allocated to cover the expenses of creating that society. The President said no. Those funds could not go to anything outside the Constitution or unapproved by Congress.