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To James Monroe, June 5, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders loathe leaks!
Jefferson hated having his correspondence made public. That may have been why he loved ciphers, devices or schemes that would allow him to send coded messages. This is his entire letter to his new ambassador to France. This code was one Secretary of State James Madison had given Monroe for diplomatic communication while the latter was still in the United States. I cannot tell if the code is the same one Jefferson developed and gave to Meriwether Lewis.
Why the President felt the need to encode this letter is unclear, unless he was just practicing. The letter explained a canister of tea he was sending to a friend, Madame de Corny, in France. The link for that letter includes the full text, but their deciphering the first part of it yielded this:
“tho mas je fer son to ja mes mon ro june 5 eighteen hundred three this can is ter of te a is for my fri end mad dam de cor ny I ad dre s it to you for del iv ery …”
This seven year old post will tell you more about Jefferson and his ciphers. (The Wall Street Journal link works only if you have a subscription.)
“It was heartening to see our members and guests so engaged during your portrayal
as well as in the many individual conversations they had with you during the day.”
Executive Director, Nevada Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson delights to engage your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
… the idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave …
To Meriwether Lewis, April 27, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do all leaders hedge the truth occasionally?
Meriwether Lewis left Washington for Philadelphia where some of the nation’s preeminent scientists would tutor him further in mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine. It was common knowledge that Lewis was mounting some type of exploration, but very few knew that he was heading west, up the Missouri River. The President dribbled out some misdirection, that Lewis was going north, up the Mississippi.
Diplomatic overtures to Spain and France over New Orleans and shipping on the lower Mississippi had not been resolved. It was common knowledge that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France, and that had serious repercussions for America. (France had not yet offered to sell Louisiana, and that possibility had never been considered on this side of the Atlantic.) Jefferson wanted to avoid offending other nations unnecessarily with the idea of sending American explorers through foreign lands without permission.
Lewis was the President’s personal secretary. With all of his travel, it was obvious Lewis was up to something. Thus, Jefferson deliberately promoted something less than the truth … a lie? … to protect his diplomatic maneuvering, provide cover for Lewis, and satisfy “public curiosity.”