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… I rode to the Hamburg hill from whence you suppose a bridge [over the Potomac River] … it will rest with the legislature to decide at which place … in this clashing of interests between different points of the territory to all of which I sincerely wish prosperity, I hold myself aloof from medling, no law calling on me to do otherwise. should it be made my duty to take any part in it, I shall certainly place every local interest out of view and regard the general interest only.
To George W. P. Custis, February 23, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders don’t meddle.
Congress was considering a bridge from the nation’s capital across the Potomac River. Competing interests were making their preferences known for the location.
George Washington Parke Custis (1781 – 1857) was the adopted grandson of the late President George Washington. The estate he owned across the Potomac from the nation’s capital would eventually pass to his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, and later become the site of the Arlington National Cemetery. Custis lobbied the President for a specific location, which the city of Georgetown opposed as detrimental to their interests.
Jefferson summarized this sticky-leadership-wicket as follows:
– If, when and where to build a bridge was Congress’ responsibility.
– Since he wished all the competing interests well, and his involvement was not required, he was staying out of it.
– If the time came when his input was required, he would keep “every local interest out of view,” and concern himself only with the overall public welfare.