… I do not at all wonder at the condition in which the finances of the US. are found. Ham[ilton]’s object from the beginning was to throw them into forms which should be utterly undecypherable. I ever said he did not understand their condition himself. I ever said he did not understand their condition himself, nor was able to give a clear view of the excess of our debts beyond our credits, nor whether we were diminishing or increasing the debt. … The accounts of the US. ought to be, and may be, made, as simple as those of a common farmer, and capable of being understood by common farmers.
To James Madison, March 6, 1796
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders want the finances clear to every citizen.
Jefferson, retired as Secretary of State and a year before becoming Vice President, expressed these thoughts to Madison, a member of the House of Representatives:
1. Treasury Secretary Hamilton intended to confuse the nation’s finances.
2. Succeeding at that, he created a system even he didn’t understand.
3. It was impossible to understand the nature or extent of our debt.
4. Always fond of the farmer, Jefferson used him as the measuring stick. The nation’s finances should be understandable by “common farmers.”
Jefferson expressed the same thoughts five years later to his Albert Gallatin, who would serve as his Treasury Secretary for eight years. He eventually credited Gallatin with creating the first clear record of the nation’s finances since its founding.
Too bad Jefferson couldn’t be as tough on his personal finances! From the late 1780s on, he continually spent money he didn’t have. He often had to borrow more to pay debts as they came due. In 1825, at age 81, near the end of his life and hopelessly indebted, he would write to a youngster, “Never spend your money before you have it.”
“Clearly the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”
Indiana Historical Society, Director of Education
Thomas Jefferson will maintain a high standard for your audience!
Invite him to speak: Call 573-657-2739