General Dearborne has seen all the papers. I will ask the favor of you to communicate them to mr Gallatin & mr Smith—from mr Gallatin I shall ask his first opinions, preparatory to the stating formal questions for our ultimate decision.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, August 7, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know five heads are better than one.
The President was circulating a packet of correspondence and papers regarding a failed diplomatic effort toward Spain. He needed to formulate a new policy toward that nation that also considered U.S. relations with England and the rest of Europe.
Jefferson suggested what he thought that policy might be. He wanted the opinions of all his cabinet: Madison, Secretary of State; Dearborne, Secretary of War; Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury; and Smith, Secretary of the Navy. (The Attorney General’s office was vacant.)
With their opinions in hand, he would formulate a final list of questions they would all consider before he drafted the nation’s position. Even that summation would be subject to their review and comment. He wanted his administration to speak with a single, unified voice.