I have recieved the specimens of straw-plaiting which you were so kind as to inclose & learn with satisfaction the possibility that you may establish the manufacture in some of the states … the general government no authority to embark in or to encourage any in particular. the state governments can do it; but they generally leave them to individual enterprize, trusting that the sagacity [wisdom] of private interest will generally discover those pursuits which may be entered on to advantage.
Thomas Jefferson to George White, August 18, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know what government doesn’t do well.
White requested government support for the American manufacture of plaited straw, used for making hats. That straw was currently imported from England. He sent the President a sample produced by his wife and presented a well-thought-out plan for its manufacture.
Jefferson thanked White but declined assistance, explaining:
1. The federal government had no authority to help him.
2. State governments did have that authority.
3. State governments usually left such pursuits to the individual.
4. The individual entrepreneurial spirit was the best guide for such pursuits.