If I can at any time be of any Service to you, I hope you will command me, and permit me to assure you, it will give me unmixed pleasure to Serve you at any time
William Clark, Louisville, to Thomas Jefferson, June 8, 1808
… the world has, of right, no further claims on yourself & Govr Lewis, but such as you may voluntarily render according to your convenience or as they may make it your interest.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Extraordinary leadership earns one the right to say no.
In 1803, President Jefferson commissioned his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition of discovery though Louisiana and on to the western sea. Lewis wanted a co-commander, and he chose a close friend from army days, William Clark of Kentucky. Together, the two men successfully completed Jefferson’s assignment, leading a company of about 30 in a danger-filled 2 1/2 year journey through the wilderness to the Pacific Ocean and back.
After their return, the President named Clark Brigadier General of the militia and principal Indian agent for northern Louisiana. In his 1808 letter, Clark told the President he was about to leave for St. Louis to take up his new duties. He offered, with “unmixed pleasure,” to be at Jefferson’s command for any future service.
Clark’s letter was delayed 13 months in its delivery, and it was three more months before the retired President could respond. He turned aside Clark’s offer to serve wherever commanded. The service he had already given his country earned Clark the unqualified right to say no, unless it was convenient or personally desirable for him to say yes.