Tag Archives: Corruption

This is the worst sin of all.

another object still more important is that every officer of the government make it his peculiar object to root out that abominable venality [willingness to be bribed or corrupted], which is said to have been practised so generally there heretofore. every connivance [willingness to be involved in an illegal act] at it should be branded with indelible infamy, and would be regarded by the General government with distinguished severity.
To William C.C. Claiborne, August 30, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
T
olerating dishonesty is the worst kind of favoritism in a leader.
The previous post stressed the importance of including the French in the new American government of Louisiana at New Orleans and giving both English and French languages equal status. But there was something more important than including and respecting the political opposition.

The Spanish, who had governed Louisiana for decades, and the French, the majority population, had earned the reputation of being susceptible to bribery. Jefferson denounced it in the strongest language, and made it the responsibility of every government official to root it out.

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What do we owe, & where does the money go?

… [Should we present to] Congress at some time of every session a Calendar of 1. the interest of the public debt paid in each year. 2. the principal paid, or added. 3. the principal remaining due at the end of each year …  also …  a similar calendar of the expenditures 1. for the civil, 2. the military, 3. the naval departments, in a single sum each? the greatest security against the introduction of corrupt practices & principles into our government, which can be relied on in practice, is to make the continuance of an administration depend on their keeping the public expences down at their minimum. the people at large are not judges of theoretic principles, but they can judge on comparative statements of the expence of different epochs.
To Albert Gallatin, February 11, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders help their constituents hold them accountable.
The President decried the undecipherable mess of government finance created by the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. He wanted Gallatin, his Secretary, to make sense of it, not just for Congress but for the common man. Thus, he asked Gallatin about the wisdom of an annual report to Congress related to national debt and annual expenditures:
Debt –
1. How much interest was paid on the debt?
2. How much the debt was reduced or increased?
3. Was is the total debt at the end of the year?
Annual expenditures, a single total for each –
1. Civil government (all non-military expenditures)
2. Military (land-based forces and defenses)
3. The navy

Jefferson also asked if these numbers could be established annually from the nation’s founding. A protection against corruption was an on-going effort to keep government spending at a minimum. The public would be well able to judge of their government by comparing these totals year by year.

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We must subdue the debt, or it will subdue us!

I consider the fortunes of our republic as depending, in an eminent degree, on the extinguishment of the public debt, before we engage in any war. because, that done, we shall have revenue enough to improve our country in peace, & defend it in war, without recurring either to new1 taxes or loans, but if the debt shall2 once more be swelled to a formidable size, it’s entire discharge will be despaired of, and we shall be committed to the English career of debt, corruption & rottenness, closing with revolution.
To Albert Gallatin, October 11, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Far-sighted leaders know growing debt is a ticking time bomb.
Swiss-born Gallatin (1761-1849) was Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury for eight years, and he was filling the same role for President Madison. Jefferson had utmost confidence in Gallatin’s skill, crediting him with bringing the nation’s indecipherable financing from opaque under Presidents Washington and Adams to transparent in his administration.

The former President thought America would stand or fall according to its national debt. If it were paid off, the resulting surplus could be used for internal improvements in peace time or defense if war came, without more borrowing or increased taxes. However, if the debt were allowed to grow to the point where paying it off was impossible, we would become like the British. There, perpetual debt led to “corruption & rottenness,” and the inevitable result would be “revolution.”

Curiously, Jefferson didn’t apply the same rigor to his own finances. His personal debt grew throughout his life to the point where it was unmanageable.

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How do you keep an honest man honest?

It is not enough that honest men are appointed Judges. All know the influence of interest on the mind of man, and how unconsciously his judgment is warped by that influence. To this bias, we add that of esprit de corps, of their peculiar maxim and creed that “it is the office of a good Judge to enlarge his jurisdiction” … I repeat that I do not charge the Judges with wilful and ill-intentioned error, but honest error must be arrested, where its toleration leads to public ruin … so judges should be removed from their bench, whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution.
Autobiography, 1821
Taken from Koch & Peden’s Life & Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 78-79

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know that even honest people must be held accountable.
Jefferson had been concerned for years that federal judges had no check on their authority. They were appointed for life. Even honest men could be drawn astray. Unlike members of Congress and the President who were accountable to the voters, judges had no such limitation on their authority. They could be impeached, but several instances had convinced Jefferson that impeachment provisions were toothless.

In order to keep an honest man honest (a judge or any other person), he must be held accountable in a realistic and practical manner. While affirming the judiciary and its practitioners in general, he wanted a way to remove judges who got carried away with personal or political interests that threatened the republic.

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Does Uncle Sam really know best?

Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens, and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder, and waste.
To Gideon Granger, 1800, 1825

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders recognize the need for close public scrutiny.

Jefferson always opposed a strong, centralized (and necessarily large) federal government. Why?
– Public servants in Washington were too far removed from much of the nation to be able to govern effectively.
– At such a distance, the public couldn’t keep a close eye on them.
– Without close supervision, those “servants” would be tempted into dishonesty and waste.

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