Tag Archives: Diplomacy

Make love (dispassionately), not war.

That nations should, in friendship & harmony, take liberal & dispassionate views of their interfering interests, and settle them by timely arrangements, of advantage to both undiminished by injuries to either, is certainly wiser than to yield to short-sighted passions, which, estimating neither chances nor consequences, prompt to measures of mutual destruction, rather than of mutual benefit.
To the Mississippi Territory Legislative Council, December 29, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Diplomatic leaders trump undiplomatic ones.
The President acknowledged the Council’s congratulatory message on the peaceful addition of Louisiana, an achievement it called second only to our 1776 independence. In this long, run-on sentence, Jefferson expressed the highest goals for international diplomacy, that nations should:
1. Proceed from a basis of friendship
2. Look for the best in the other nation’s motivation
3. Even in disagreement, keep emotion out of it
4. Take time to settle issues in advance of a crisis
5. Seek solutions that will benefit both and hurt neither

These principles guided Jefferson in his negotiations with France over open navigation on the Mississippi River. He contrasted them with the “short sighted passions” of his political opponents, who wanted war rather than diplomacy.

“It was a pleasure to have you perform as Thomas Jefferson.
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Showing personal kindness to ones you dislike …

Th Jefferson presents his respects to Mrs. Merry, and sends her a few seeds of the Dionaea muscipula, or Flytrap, so much celebrated as holding the middle ground between the animal & vegetable orders. tho’ a native of Carolina, this is the first he has been able to recieve after a course of six years efforts & all the interest he could make there. he recieved it the last night by post & sends mrs Merry the half of what he recieved. the plant will be best in pots because it will need some shelter in winter.
To Elizabeth Leathes Merry, December 26, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders separate personal interests from political ones.
Mrs. Merry was the wife of Anthony Merry, the new and highly disliked ambassador from England. Merry expected preferential treatment from the President and was greatly incensed not to receive it. His wife was gregarious, presumptuous and loved being the center of attention. Still, she was intelligent, a conversationalist and had an interest in botany, qualities Jefferson admired.

So, when a six year quest for seeds of the Venus flytrap was finally successful, he immediately shared half of his supply with her. He found some of her personal traits distasteful but overlooked those to cultivate the common ground they shared.

Two weeks later, in a letter to James Monroe, Jefferson disparaged both husband and wife, referring to her as a “virago.” Wikipedia describes a virago as a manly woman, a female warrior or heroine, but acknowledges a later, more common usage, found in another online search, an ill-tempered, domineering woman. Chances are Jefferson meant the latter definition.

Regardless, Mrs. Merry penned her thanks to the President later that day.

“Thank you for your appearance at Jefferson College …
It was extremely enjoyable and educational.”
President, Jefferson College
Mr. Jefferson will both teach and entertain.
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The “court of the US” is dead and buried! Part 2 of 2

The Washington Federalist … has published what he calls the ‘Etiquette of the court of the US.’ in his facts, as usual, truth is set at nought, & in his principles little correct to be found.

In the first place there is no ‘court of the US’ since the 4th. of Mar. 1801. that day buried levees, birthdays, royal parades, and the arrogation of precedence [an unjustified claim of superiority] in society by certain self-stiled friends of order …

In social circles all are equal, whether in, or out, of office, foreign or domestic; & the same equality exists among ladies as among gentlemen. no precedence therefore, of any one over another, exists either in right or practice, at dinners, assemblies, or on any other occasions. ‘pell-mell’ and ‘next the door’ form the basis of etiquette in the societies of this country.
Response to the Washington Federalist, February 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know all are created equal and should be treated that way.
The previous post referenced President Jefferson’s guidelines for etiquette in America with regard to foreign diplomats. An opposition newspaper belittled those guidelines, as if the President’s goal was to create dissension with other nations.

Jefferson very rarely responded publicly to political opponents, but the Washington Federalist must have really gotten his goat. His response was printed in the Philadelphia republican paper, the Aurora. First, he wrote there was no longer any “court of the US,” as that had ended with his inauguration on March 4, 1801. On that day, all privilege previously associated with Washington society ceased to be recognized within the government.

He concluded with a ringing affirmation of equality for all in social circles.

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So much of your presentation was appropriate both to your days and to current times.”
President, Missouri City Clerks and Finance Officers Association
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NOT in America! Part 1 of 2

When brought together in society all are perfectly equal, whether foreign or domestic, titled or untitled, in or out of office…
No titles being admitted here, those of foreigners give no precedence.
Difference of grade among the diplomatic members gives no precedence…
At public ceremonies to which the government invites the presence of foreign ministers & their families, a convenient seat or station, will be provided for them with any other strangers invited, & the families of the national ministers, each taking place as they arrive, & without any precedence…
Memorandum on Official Etiquette, January 12, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders treat everyone equally.
Secretary of State Madison had asked America’s ambassador to England about the rules of etiquette that governed diplomats there. Ambassador King replied with a lengthy list, noting the many distinctions made between peoples of varying rank and the procedures governing each.

President Jefferson then drafted his own list for etiquette on this side of the pond. We allowed no titles, no special privileges. With one exception granted to foreign ministers on their first visit to America, all diplomats and their families were to be regarded equally.

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Haters gonna hate. *

I find our opposition is very willing to pluck feathers from Munroe [James Monroe], although not fond of sticking them into Livingston’s coat. the truth is, both have a just portion of merit, & were it necessary or proper it could be shewn that each has rendered peculiar services, & of important value. these grumblers too are very uneasy lest the administration should share some little credit for the acquisition, the whole of which they ascribe to the accident of war. they would be cruelly mortified could they see our files from May 1801, the first organisation of the administration, but more especially from April 1802.
To Horatio Gates, July 11, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Like the tortoise, smart leaders know the value of slow and steady.
Gates (1727-1806), a controversial Revolutionary War general, wrote an effusive letter praising the President’s acquisition of Louisiana. He also made a strong recommendation for William Smith, son-in-law of former President John Adams, to be named as head of a new government to be formed in New Orleans.

Jefferson acknowldeged Gates’ praise, and in turn, gave credit to both of his ambassadors, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, for their essential roles in securing Louisiana. He noted the Federalist opponents not only criticized both men but were also unwilling to give his administration any credit for the happy result. They claimed it had come about as an accident, a by-product of pending war between France and England. What the detractors didn’t know was that for the previous two years, Jefferson’s administration had actively pursued every possible diplomatic effort to secure New Orleans and avoid war with France over use of the Mississippi River.

Jefferson did not comment on Gates’ recommendation of Smith, nor did he appoint him to the position.

“… should you wish to use us as a reference, feel free to do so.”
President, Linn State Technical College
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*Songwriters: Taylor Swift / Max Martin / Karl Johan Schuster
Shake It Off lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
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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.”

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… for his first person portrayal of President Thomas Jefferson.”
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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?)

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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.

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Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association 
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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.

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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.

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A number had seen his
[earlier]
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