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.