Tag Archives: Ambassador

What in the world does plenipotentiary mean?

Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America,
Greeting:      To
Reposing especial Trust and Confidence in Your Integrity, Prudence and Ability I have appointed Minister Plenipotentiary for the United States of America at the Court of His Britannic Majesty, authorizing you hereby to do and perform all such matters and things as to the said place or office do appertain … said office to Hold and exercise during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being, and until the end of the next Session of the Senate of the United States, and no longer.
Commission for Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, 18 April 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A plenipotentiary possesses his leader’s full confidence.
To this blank form, President Jefferson added James Monroe’s name with full authority as ambassador to act on behalf of the United States. From an earlier post, we learned Monroe was dispatched to Europe to help negotiate American rights to free shipping down the Mississippi River and through New Orleans. In a time when round-trip communication between London or Paris and Washington, D.C. was at least two months, a trusted diplomat had to have the legal authority to act on his own.

That’s what plenipotentiary means, having full authority to act independently.

The President left no room for doubt about Monroe’s status. This blank form to the British Court was the first of six completed for him. Another was to the French Court, two to Napoleon, and one each to King George III and Queen Charlotte of Britain.

(While my 50 year old Webster’s Dictionary divides that 14 letter word into just five syllables, modern online versions give it seven!)

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Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
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Travel is not what it used to be!

On the 7th. of May Congress resolved that a Minister Plenipotentiary [Webster’s 7th New Collegiate: “a diplomatic agent invested with full power to transact any business”] should be appointed in addition to Mr. [John] Adams & Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin for negotiating treaties of commerce with foreign nations, and I was elected to that duty. I accordingly left Annapolis on the 11th … proceeded to Boston in quest of a passage. While passing thro’ the different states, I made a point of informing myself of the state of the commerce of each, went on to New Hampshire with the same view and returned to Boston. I sailed on the 5th. of July … after a pleasant voyage of 19. days from land to land, we arrived at Cowes on the 26th … On the 30th. we embarked for Havre, arrived there on the 31st. left it on the 3d. of August, and arrived at Paris on the 6th.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson was recalled to Congress in late 1782, an attempt by his friends to draw him out of his depression following the death of his wife in September. A year and a half later, he was appointed as a minister to France, to help negotiate commercial treaties. He used his travels from Annapolis to Boston to gain first hand information on the commerce of the states.

His journey to France required these times:
– 19 days from Boston to Cowes, on the Isle of Wright, off England’s south coast
– An overnight to sail 100 miles from Cowes to Havre, on France’s north coast
– Four days coach ride for the 100 miles from Havre to Paris

He spent five years in France, greatly broadening his leadership experience. He would return from that assignment to a much larger stage, Secretary of State for President Washington.


“The presentation as Thomas Jefferson was by far the most original,
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Oklahoma Society of Land Surveyors
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Sorry, but the snuff is stuffed.

I have duly received your favor accompanying that of Mr. Van bram Houckgeete on the subject of a cask of snuff sent by him to Bordeaux. The importation of that article is prohibited by the laws of France on pain of fine and forfeiture of the article to the Farmers general. His snuff was seized and condemned on due process of law. He sais [says] he was ignorant of the law, and I believe it: his captain having reported the article on his entry is a proof. But ignorance of the law is a plea in no country and in no case.
To David Ramsey, August 8, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Much of leadership is simply routine and being responsive.
Mr. Ramsey had written Jefferson on behalf of someone whose shipment of snuff into France had been seized. Even though there was no dishonesty on the shipper’s part, there was nothing Jefferson could do. France’s law was clear, and the legal process had been followed.
Much of Jefferson’s correspondence covered such routine matters. This letter is one of eight he wrote on the same day. Most were his responses to others’ inquiries. The other seven letters dealt with:

1. Non-payment of a debt & denial of more credit
2. Modifications to navigation equipment
3. Recruiting tenant farmers for the American west
4. Inquiring about a hostage kept in Dunkirk
5. The pending arrival of a harpsichord he ordered from England
6. Acknowledging another’s correspondence
7. A request for France’s compensation for a boat seized in Guadeloupe

Five of these eight letters were personal requests made of him in his official role as America’s Ambassador to France. In none of those five could he give the writer what he asked. All he could do is thank them for writing, explain why the matter was out of his hands, or write another letter to someone who was in a position to act. Not Declaration-of-Independence-type-stuff but essential to being a servant leader and a good steward.

All were impressed with your ability … to actually assume the role of President Jefferson.”
President, Arkansas Bar Foundation

The authentic Mr. Jefferson will convince (and inspire!) your audience.
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