Tag Archives: Consensus

I need everyone’s opinions!

General Dearborne has seen all the papers. I will ask the favor of you to communicate them to mr Gallatin & mr Smith—from mr Gallatin I shall ask his first opinions, preparatory to the stating formal questions for our ultimate decision.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, August 7, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know five heads are better than one.
The President was circulating a packet of correspondence and papers regarding a failed diplomatic effort toward Spain. He needed to formulate a new policy toward that nation that also considered U.S. relations with England and the rest of Europe.

Jefferson suggested what he thought that policy might be. He wanted the opinions of all his cabinet: Madison, Secretary of State; Dearborne, Secretary of War; Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury; and Smith, Secretary of the Navy. (The Attorney General’s office was vacant.)

With their opinions in hand, he would formulate a final list of questions they would all consider before he drafted the nation’s position. Even that summation would be subject to their review and comment. He wanted his administration to speak with a single, unified voice.

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Thomas Jefferson will be a pleasure to work with, too.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Is this what we agreed to?

We did not collect the sense of our brethren the other day by regular questions, but as far as I could understand from what was said it appeared to be
1. that an acknolegement of our right to the Perdido …
2. no absolute & perpetual relinquishment of right is to be made …
3. that a country may be laid off within which no further settlement …
To James Madison, July 5, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders make sure the team is all on the same page.
The President regularly polled his cabinet members, both in writing and in meetings, on positions or actions the government was to take. A July 3 cabinet poll regarding instructions to U.S. negotiators in Spain did not reach a consensus. The issue was Spanish claims to land along the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans. This region, known as West Florida, was in dispute over whether it was conveyed to the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

While all cabinet secretaries were involved in these discussions, this matter fell under the jurisdiction of Secretary of State Madison. Thus, not being sure of his cabinet’s position, Jefferson wrote to Madison for clarification. The three points he made are not the subject of this post. The subject is that the President wanted to be sure he had the correct sense of his leadership team before he acted.

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