the warrant to your son as midshipman had been suspended for enquiry on a suggestion of too great a propensity in him to drink … it is sufficient that you are apprised of it … his warrant was therefore signed two days ago … such a doubt having been once excited, more circumspection & regularity will on that account be necessary from him, than from others; and that, were it to be strengthened, he would find himself in a cul de sac, without explanation. my friendly respect for you calls for this candor, because no circumstance of connection could permit an inattention to public duty in matters of appointment; & because also, being put on his guard, he will feel a stronger inclination to dissipate all doubt by a regularity of deportment.
To Thomas Cooper, April 9, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Conscientious leaders put responsibility ahead of friendship.
The England-born Cooper (1759-1839) emigrated to Pennsylvania, established himself as a chemist, one of the foremost scientists in America, and friend and confident of Thomas Jefferson. Cooper’s son’s appointment to midshipman, the lowest ranking office in the navy, had been held up on suspicions the young man drank too much. Cooper, Sr. wrote to Jefferson and vouched for his son.
The President’s “friendly respect” for Cooper required such straightforwardness:
1. Cooper, Sr. needed to know the concerns about his son.
2. Upon his father’s assurance, the warrant would be issued.
3. His son would be watched more closely than others because of his past.
4. A navy career would be a dead-end (cul de sac) if he abused alcohol.
5. Even the closest friendship was not sufficient for him to appoint an unqualified officer.
6. Once warned, the young man would “feel a stronger inclination” to remove any doubt about his behavior.
Cooper, Sr.’s faith in his son was unwarranted. Cooper, Jr. was dismissed from the navy 15 months later over issues of sobriety.