Tag Archives: Diplomacy

If something is not the truth, is it a lie?

… 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.”

“I am writing to offer a solid and enthusiastic recommendation of Mr. Patrick Lee
… for his first person portrayal of President Thomas Jefferson.”
Executive Director, Missouri Humanities Council
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Are you liberal? Why or why not?

I am in all cases for liberal [straight-forward, open-minded, even-handed, reciprocal] conduct towards other nations, believing that the practice of the same friendly feelings & generous dispositions which attach individuals in private life will attach societies on the large scale, which are composed of individuals.
… the thermometer is at 29°. with us this morning. the peach trees in blossom for a week past.
To Albert Gallatin, March 28, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders use the Golden Rule, with nations as with individuals.
The President proposed “liberal” conduct always by America toward other nations. That conduct could only come from the individuals comprising America. We should not be liberal with one another, and il-liberal with other nations. Nations are comprised of individuals. Our relationships with other nations will be a reflection of how we treat one another.

This letter to his Treasury Secretary covered diplomacy, the navy, Pennsylvania politics and patronage. Gallatin was also his friend, so he ended with a personal observation about the weather and his peach trees. (Perhaps a subsequent letter will make mention of the year’s peach crop being lost to the freezing weather?)

“Patrick Lee has presented three times at our Annual Conference …
Our members have given Mr. Lee standing ovations,
an honor awarded to very few presenters.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will impress your audience!
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Chess, anyone?

Th: Jefferson asks the favor of Mr. E. Thornton’s company to dinner and chess on Monday next, the 8th. Inst., at half after three.
Friday Novr. 5th. 1802.
The favor of an answer is requested.
To Edward Thornton, November 5, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Strategic leaders practice thinking strategically.
Jefferson was well-known for inviting people to join him for his typical mid-afternoon dinner. (He ate only two meals a day, breakfast at 9:00 and dinner at 3:00 or 3:30, and perhaps a light snack in the evening.) He shared his dinner table with friends, fellow scientists and elected officials, those who supported him and some who did not. He used it as a time of friendship, intellectual stimulation and diplomacy. Thornton was a British diplomat serving in America.

Jefferson enjoyed chess! I have featured his dinner invitations and companions before. This is the second one I’ve seen where he invited someone to come to the President’s house for both dinner AND chess. (This is the first.) The President had many strong reservations about the way England conducted itself toward the United States. Yet, he could set those aside to dine and play a favored game. Jefferson usually took the long view, and the game kept his instincts sharp.

Since this was written on December 5 for dinner that afternoon, it would have been hand-delivered to the diplomat who would use the same courier to convey his answer.

“Your wonderful presentation as Daniel Boone
was well-received and appropriate to the interests of our group.”
Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association 
Sometimes, Mr. Jefferson sends Frontiersman Daniel Boone in his stead.
Invite either man to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Diplomacy has to trump personal preferences.

Great and Good Friend,
I have lately received the letter of your Majesty … announcing that contracts of marriage … between your much beloved son … and the Infanta of Naples Donna Maria Antonia; and between your very dear daughter … and the hereditary Prince of that Kingdom Don Francis Genaro … we pray your Majesty to receive our cordial congratulations on these occasions which we fervently hope may promote both the happiness of your Majesty and of your August family … we pray God to have you great and good Friend always in his holy keeping.
To Carlos IV, King of Spain, October 15, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders stuff their personal views for the greater good.
Jefferson congratulated the King of Spain, whom he called his “Great and Good Friend,” on the engagements of both his son and daughter. Beyond that, he offered a benediction that the King would always be in God’s “holy keeping.”

Flowery rhetoric for a man who despised the concept of royalty as contrary to nature’s law! Both of the King’s children were marrying people also of royal status, further cementing hereditary control.

Not only that, Carlos had restricted America’s right of duty free shipping through New Orleans, dismissed American entreaties to remain in possession of Louisiana, transferred Louisiana to France, and set up the very real possibility of war between the U.S. and France over traffic on the Mississippi River.

Nonetheless, Jefferson, the consummate diplomat, always looked for common ground. He had two married daughters and multiple grandchildren. He could set aside political considerations to congratulate the King on this new joy in his family. There could be diplomatic advantages in making nice, too.

“Your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was very enjoyable and …
made a significant contribution [to] our Annual Conference.”
Executive Director, Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio
Mr. Jefferson will make a significant contribution to your meeting!
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Let us do this to avoid war.

I think therefore, that while we do nothing which the first nation on earth [France] would deem crouching, we had better give to all our communications with them a very mild, complaisant, and even friendly complection, but always independant. ask no favors, leave small & irritating things to be conducted by the individuals interested in them, interfere ourselves but in the greatest cases, & then not push them to irritation. no matter at present existing between them & us is important enough to risk a breach of peace; peace being indeed the most important of all things to us, except the preserving an erect & independant attitude.
To Robert Livingston, October 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders take pains to avoid giving offense to one’s adversaries.
While France had not yet taken possession of Louisiana, it was only a matter of time before she would influence shipping on the Mississippi River and control all goods flowing through the port of New Orleans. Jefferson foresaw the potential for great conflict with France and very likely, war.

While diplomatic efforts proceeded to eliminate that conflict, the President gave these pointers to his ambassador in France to minimize unnecessary aggravation:
1. While not acting in any way subservient, the U.S. should be calm, agreeable and friendly, but always independent.
2. Don’t put us in their debt by asking any favors.
3. Leave minor disputes to be worked out by those affected by them.
4. Concern yourself only with the largest disputes or issues.
5. Be diplomatic even in those great issues, giving no cause for irritation.
6. Nothing should jeopardize our greatest goal of peace, except this one thing, maintaining America’s unflinching independence.

Jefferson’s skilled diplomatic dance resulted the following year in acquiring Louisiana from France and eliminating the conflict that could have resulted in war.

“… many participants remarked on the value of Lee’s presentation.
A number had seen his
[earlier]
performance …
and expressed that it was equally compelling.”

Executive Director, Greater St. Louis Federal Executive Board
Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom and compelling presentation will bring value to your meeting!
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I am sorry, my old friend. We really tried.

It is with much concern I inform you that the Senate has negatived [vetoed] your appointment [as ambassador to Russia] … mr Madison, on his entering into office, proposed another person (John Q. Adams.) he also was negatived … our subsequent information was that, on your nomination, your long absence from this country, & their idea that you do not intend to return to it had very sensible weight … I pray you to place me rectus in curiâ [innocent] in this business …
To William Short, March 8, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes circumstances conspire to defeat a leader’s best intentions.
William Short (1759-1849) was Jefferson’s protégé and friend. He served in various diplomatic roles in Europe from 1785-1802, including five years as personal secretary to Ambassador Jefferson in France. After a few years back in America, Short returned to Europe in 1808 on a temporary assignment in Russia. Jefferson proposed to the U.S. Senate to make Short’s appointment permanent. The Senate turned him down cold. There were several reasons.
1. Short’s 17 year residency in Europe had made his allegiance suspect.
2. Elsewhere in this letter, Jefferson explained the Senate was interested both in detangling America from European matters and reducing the size of the diplomatic core.
3. While not stated, Jefferson’s influence was waning. He was a lame duck President when Short was nominated.
4. The Senate was equally independent-minded in vetoing John Quincy Adams, President Madison’s nominee for the same position.

Jefferson began this letter with, “It is with much concern I inform you …” That is probably a great understatement. Most likely, he would have been mortified that  his faithful friend and supporter for a quarter century,a well-qualified man, had been cast aside.

” …what a magnificent and delightful job you did as President Thomas Jefferson
in our substantive program…”
Substantive Program Chair, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Mr. Jefferson even impresses constitutional lawyers and judges!
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I can neither reject nor accept the gift. Part 2.

Another case has occurred of greater difficulty. mr Harris, our Consul at Petersburg has sent me as a present, a small marble bust of the emperor Alexander. I had concluded to reject it; but mr Madison advises it’s being recieved for the President’s house, as destined for the office & not the officer; and this because of the relation between the thing & the person of the emperor, whose unequivocal … friendship to our country should privilege him against any thing which might seem to be a slight. his bust is in the warehouse of Smith & Buchanan, and has been since sometime last year. will you be so good as to direct it to be forwarded here
To Robert Smith, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need subordinates who will disagree with them.
Taken from the same letter as the previous post about the difficulty of receiving a gift of wine, Jefferson had another gift dilemma. A government employee serving as consul in St. Petersburg, Russia, sent his boss a marble bust of Russia’s Emperor Alexander. Jefferson wanted to return it but knew the diplomatic difficulty that could cause.

His Secretary of State came to his rescue with an alternative view. The bust could not be separated from the leader it represented, a man who had been a steadfast friend of the United States. The Emperor must not be offended. James Madison counseled his boss to receive the gift, not as given to him personally (like the wine) but as a gift to the nation, to become part of the President’s House, the name of the White House prior to 1815.

With this Gordian knot untied, Jefferson requested the bust be retrieved from storage and forwarded to him for display in the nation’s capital.

“I have been in association management for over 20 years
and would highly recommend Mr. Lee
as an entertaining,
informative and educational speaker for all age groups.”

Executive Director, Missouri Concrete Association
Entertaining. Informative. Educational. For all.
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Four qualities of an excellent diplomat

I have now known you seventeen years … I have found you ever attentive to the interests & the rights of your own country & fellow citizens in the first place, but just and accomodating to the rights and the convenience those with whom you had to transact them. the stile of your applications has been such as always to produce a desire to comply with them: & your conduct in society has attached to you as much private esteem as your public transactions have of respect and satisfaction. it is with sincere regret therefore that we see you leaving our shores …
To Philippe de Letombe, July 27, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great leaders are also great diplomats.
de Letombe had been a French minister to America since 1781 and was now returning permanently to his native country. Jefferson admired him and expressed four reasons why:
1. His first concern was always properly for his country and its citizens.
2. Even so, he demonstrated equal concern for his host country and its ways.
3. His work on behalf of France was always conducted in such a way that his host country wanted to cooperate.
4. His consistent conduct earned him “respect and satisfaction” in the private sector as well as the public one.
Jefferson was sorry to see such an honorable man leave America.

Jefferson would commend the same principles to anyone working with people different from himself (which can be practically everybody).
1. Your own interests naturally come first.
2. The interests of others are as important to them as yours are to you and should be respected.
3. Promote your own interests in such a way that others want to cooperate with you.
4. Be consistently respectable in all your conduct, professional and personal.

“Thank you for your presentation at Jefferson College …
extremely enjoyable and educational.”
President, Jefferson College
Your audience will learn a great deal from Mr. Jefferson and enjoy the experience.
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Slippery & double-faced or The Golden Rule?

The Count de Vergennes had the reputation with the diplomatic corps of being wary & slippery in his diplomatic intercourse; and so he might be with those whom he knew to be slippery and double-faced themselves. As he saw that I had no indirect views, practised no subtleties, meddled in no intrigues, pursued no concealed object, I found him as frank, as honorable, as easy of access to reason as any man with whom I had ever done business …
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Servant leaders treat others the way they would like to be treated.
Charles Graves, Count de Vergennes, 1717-1787, was Frances’s Foreign Minister and an early advocate of French support for the American Revolution. He had been a French diplomat throughout Europe for over 40 years. As America’s Ambassador to France, Jefferson and the Count had regular contact.

Other nations’ diplomats found the Count “wary & slippery.” No doubt Jefferson knew about the French Minister’s reputation before they met. Jefferson could have approached him on that basis but chose to have an open mind, instead. In time, he suggested those nations’ diplomats were “slippery and double-faced” themselves and thus received like treatment in return.

Jefferson had no such difficulties with the Count. Why? Jefferson was straightforward with the French minister, had no hidden agendas and stayed out of matters that didn’t concern him. He was both honest and forthright with the Count, and received the same respectful treatment in response.

“One of our municipal officials even remarked he like Thomas Jefferson
better than
David Broder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist
who spoke on the following day.”

Director of Education, Illinois Municipal League
Mr. Jefferson will make a most positive impression on your audience, too!
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How quickly do you need an answer?

I received three days ago your favor [letter] of Apr. 12. You therein speak of a former letter to me, but it has not come to hand, nor any other of later date than the 14th of December. My last letter to you was of the 11th of May by Mr. Adams who went in the packet* of that month. These conveiances are now becoming deranged. We have had expectations of their coming to Havre [on France’s north coast] which would infinitely facilitate the communication between Paris & Congress: but their deliberations on the subject seem to be taking another turn. They complain of the expence … therefore talk of sending a packet every six weeks only. The present one therefore, which should have sailed about this time, will not sail until the 1st of July. I have hoped [for a] monthly system.
To James Monroe, from Paris, June 17, 1785

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Are leaders helped or hindered by instantaneous communication?
Jefferson was Minister to France. Monroe was in the Continental Congress. This was their international communication, late 18th century style:
– Jefferson received Monroe’s April 12 letter on June 14.
– Monroe wrote of an earlier letter, but Jefferson didn’t receive it.
– Jefferson’s last letter from Monroe was December 14 (which probably arrived in Paris mid-February).
-Jefferson’s last letter to Monroe, five weeks earlier on May 11, was still in transit (or lost).

Jefferson was exasperated with the delay. There had been more frequent delivery, but Congress complained “of the expence.” Apparently,  diplomatic mail had been slowed to every six weeks. Jefferson hoped for monthly transport.

At best, round-trip trans-Atlantic correspondence appeared to take four to five months. Today, it is instantaneous. Are we better off than Jefferson and Monroe, or worse?

* According to my Webster’s 7th New Collegiate (a high school graduation present from my younger brothers almost as long ago as the correspondence above), a packet is either “a number of letters dispatched at the same time,” or “a passenger boat carrying mail and cargo on a regular basis.” The context seems to indicate this packet is a boat, not a bundle of letters.

“You did a remarkable job of interpreting Jefferson’s character
and transplanting him, his thoughts and ideas into the 21st century.”
MFA Petroleum Company/Break Time Convenience Stores

Your audience will find Mr. Jefferson relevant to their lives & futures!
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