Tag Archives: Portrayer

What will herding cats do to you? Part 3

They [the Algerines] have taken two of our vessels, and I fear will ask such a tribute for a forbearance of their piracies as the U.S. would be unwilling to pay. When this idea comes across my mind, my faculties are absolutely suspended between indignation and impotence.
To Nathanael Greene, Jan. 12, 1785

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Herding cats is hard on leaders.
Jefferson was trying both to promote American trade with European nations and recruit those nations to combat the Barbary pirates. Those city-states on the North Africa coast had preyed on other nations’ ships in the Mediterranean for centuries. The action of those pirates worked against his efforts to increase trade.
He had reached an accommodation with the Moroccans, who had seized an American ship. He feared he would not be as successful with the Algerians. The price they would demand for two ships and their crews would be more than the U.S. government would pay. What was he to do?
I’ve always loved the line he used to describe his impossible situation, that his mind was “absolutely suspended between indignation and impotence.”
That’s what herding cats can do to you. It  leaves you both frustrated and incapable of fixing the problem.

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How do you herd cats? Part 2

… nothing was now wanting to bring it into direct and formal consideration, but the assent of our government … I communicated to them the favorable prospect of protecting our commerce from the Barbary depredations … however it was expected they would contribute a frigate, and it’s expenses to be in constant cruise. But they were in no condition to make any such engagement. Their recommendatory powers for obtaining contributions were so openly neglected by the several states that they declined an engagement which they were conscious they could not fulfill with punctuality; and so it fell through.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Subduing terrorists is far more challenging than one might think.
The United States proved to be the hardest cat of all to herd!
Spain had already paid a $3 million bribe to the Algerines. They were not interested in Jefferson’s effort to create a united naval front against the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean. With France’s assurance that England would not oppose them, a number European city-states signed on. All that remained was to recruit his own nation’s support. It was not to be.
Jefferson painted a favorable picture of protected shipping, but there was a cost. The U.S. needed to contribute one of six larger ships needed and pay for its continual operation.
In the mid-1780s, the Confederation Congress was America’s “national” government. It had no taxing authority and no ability to require states to support its actions. The states were already negligent toward “contributions” for other needs and would treat this recommendation in the same way. Knowing they could not fulfill their obligation, Congress declined to participate.
It would be almost 20 years before President Jefferson would send a small American navy to confront the pirates. It would have some success but did not solve the problem. American payments for “peace” would continue until 1815. European payments until the 1830s.

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How do you herd cats? Part 1

Our commerce in the Mediterranean was placed under early alarm by the capture of two of our vessels and crews by the Barbary cruisers. I was very unwilling that we should acquiesce in the European humiliation of paying a tribute to those lawless pirates, and endeavored to form an association of the powers subject to habitual depredations from them. I accordingly prepared and proposed to their ministers at Paris, for consultation with their governments, articles of a special confederation in the following form.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is very hard to herd cats.
For centuries, pirate ships from the North Africa ports of Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers (the Barbary Coast) had preyed on other nations’ ships in the Mediterranean. The pirates demanded annual tribute from those nations, or they would seize their ships and hold their sailors for ransom. Most nations paid the bribes. Jefferson led by proposing a united front of 10 or more nation-states against the terrorists, in a way that maximized effectiveness and minimized potential for conflict :

  1. A union of two more nations acting together, beginning against Algeria.
  2. The union would remain open for other nations to join their effort.
  3. The object was a guaranteed “perpetual peace,” with no bribes.
  4. A continuous naval patrol of six mid-range ships and six smaller ones
  5. The effort or cost proportioned equitably among the nations
  6. Nation’s shares to be contributed in cash for outfitting the brigade
  7. Each nation’s ambassador to France a member of the governing council
  8. The council was to have no officers and pay no salaries.
  9. War between council members shall not interrupt its work.
  10. When Algiers was subdued, the effort would turn toward another city.
  11. Existing treaties with Barbary States took precedence over this agreement.
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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.

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What should one expect from the King?

Mr. Adams wrote to me pressingly to join him in London immediately …I accordingly left Paris on the 1st. of March, and on my arrival in London we agreed on a very summary form of treaty … On my presentation as usual to the King and Queen at their levees [receptions], it was impossible for anything to be more ungracious than their notice of Mr. Adams & myself. I saw at once that the ulcerations in the narrow mind of that mulish being left nothing to be expected on the subject of my attendance;
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is hard, but often wise, for leaders to overlook past offenses.
In June 1785, John Adams was appointed Minister to England. A month later, Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as Ambassador to France. Adams thought he saw a softening of England’s position toward the U.S. and asked Jefferson to join him in hopes of negotiating a new commercial treaty between the two nations.

Those hopes were dashed when the two ministers were presented to the King. He ignored them. Jefferson concluded he could expect nothing from the King, whom he called stubborn, narrow-minded, and damaged in his thinking.

Not sticking up for the King, you understand, but consider the situation: In the preceding nine years, America had savaged the King in the Declaration of Independence, beaten him on the battlefield, deprived him of wealthy colonies and humiliated him before the world. Now, two representatives of those same upstart colonies stood before him seeking a trade agreement. It would have taken a very wise and open-minded leader to accept them.

Jefferson and Adams were willing to leave the past behind and move forward in a manner that would benefit both nations. The King was not.

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20,000 letters but only one book …

… in the year 1781. I had received a letter from M. de Marbois, of the French legation in Philadelphia … addressing to me a number of queries relative to the state of Virginia. I had always made it a practice whenever an opportunity occurred of obtaining any information of our country, which might be of use to me in any station public or private, to commit it to writing. These memoranda were on loose papers, bundled up without order, and difficult of recurrence when I had occasion for a particular one. I thought this a good occasion to embody their substance, which I did in the order of Mr. Marbois’ queries, so as to answer his wish and to arrange them for my own use … On my arrival at Paris I found it could be done [printed in book form] for a fourth of what I had been asked here [in America]. I therefore corrected and enlarged them, and had 200. copies printed, under the title of Notes on Virginia.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders kill at least two birds with one stone.
Over the years, Jefferson collected a great quantity of material about his native Virginia, unorganized and difficult to access. This French inquiry gave him the opportunity to both gratify the request and bring order to his mess. The result was the only book Jefferson completed, Notes on Virginia. It came to be regarded as an authoritative scientific source, a third bird.

Primarily a compilation of natural history of Virginia, Jefferson answered 23 “Queries” on these topics: 1. Boundaries, 2. Rivers, 3. Sea Ports, 4. Mountains, 5. Cascades, 6. Productions, 7. Climate, 8. Population, 9. Military force, 10. Marine force, 11. Aborigines, 12. Counties and towns, 13. Constitution, 14. Laws, 15. Colleges, buildings and roads, 16. Proceedings as to Tories, 17. Religion, 18. Manners, 19. Manufactures, 20. Subjects of commerce, 21. Weights, Measures and Money, 22. Public revenue and expences, 23. Histories, memorials, and state papers

 

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Travel is not what it used to be!

On the 7th. of May Congress resolved that a Minister Plenipotentiary [Webster’s 7th New Collegiate: “a diplomatic agent invested with full power to transact any business”] should be appointed in addition to Mr. [John] Adams & Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin for negotiating treaties of commerce with foreign nations, and I was elected to that duty. I accordingly left Annapolis on the 11th … proceeded to Boston in quest of a passage. While passing thro’ the different states, I made a point of informing myself of the state of the commerce of each, went on to New Hampshire with the same view and returned to Boston. I sailed on the 5th. of July … after a pleasant voyage of 19. days from land to land, we arrived at Cowes on the 26th … On the 30th. we embarked for Havre, arrived there on the 31st. left it on the 3d. of August, and arrived at Paris on the 6th.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson was recalled to Congress in late 1782, an attempt by his friends to draw him out of his depression following the death of his wife in September. A year and a half later, he was appointed as a minister to France, to help negotiate commercial treaties. He used his travels from Annapolis to Boston to gain first hand information on the commerce of the states.

His journey to France required these times:
– 19 days from Boston to Cowes, on the Isle of Wright, off England’s south coast
– An overnight to sail 100 miles from Cowes to Havre, on France’s north coast
– Four days coach ride for the 100 miles from Havre to Paris

He spent five years in France, greatly broadening his leadership experience. He would return from that assignment to a much larger stage, Secretary of State for President Washington.

 

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What do you expect from a bunch of lawyers?

If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150. lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, & talk by the hour? That 150. lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected. But to return again to our subject.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This is the 5th and final post taken from one long paragraph in Jefferson’s autobiography, where he interrupted his orderly progression to describe how the Confederation Congress members conducted themselves in debate.

Jefferson was a lawyer, but unlike most, he was never a debater, never openly contentious. How did he describe his fellow lawyers?
– They question everything.
– They yield nothing.
– They talk by the hour.
– It is unrealistic to think a group of lawyers could cooperate with one another enough to accomplish anything.

Jefferson’s last sentence acknowledged he had gotten off-task. Today, he might say, “But I digress …”

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Great leaders stick to the great issues.

I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution, and, during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders deal in great things, not little ones.
Note the two characteristics Thomas Jefferson ascribed to both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin when they spoke to persuade others:
– They always spoke for less than 10 minutes.
– They devoted themselves only to the main point, the deciding point of an issue.

Jefferson seldom spoke in public debate, and he was impressed by those who could do so effectively. While legislators ranged from people like him, who spoke rarely, to ones like Patrick Henry, who spoke movingly and at length, Jefferson reserved his praise for those who spoke briefly and directly.

And what about the side issues, “the little ones,” Jefferson called them, the ones that distracted lesser men? Those would fall in line by themselves when great men focused on the great issues.

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Heard the one about two men in a lighthouse?

 
… speaking with Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin of this singular disposition of men to quarrel and divide into parties, he gave his sentiments, as usual, by way of apologue [a story with a moral]. He mentioned the Eddystone lighthouse in the British channel, as being built on a rock in the mid-channel, totally inaccessible in winter from the boisterous character of that sea, in that season; that, therefore, for the two keepers, employed to keep up the lights, all provisions for the winter were necessarily carried to them in autumn, as they could never be visited again till the return of the milder season; that, on the first practicable day in the spring a boat put off to them with fresh supplies. The boatmen met at the door one of the keepers and accosted him with a “How goes it, friend”? “Very well”. “How is your companion”? “I do not know”. “Don’t know? Is he not here”? “I can’t tell”. “Have not you seen him to-day”? “No”. “When did you see him”? “Not since last fall”. “You have killed him”? “Not I, indeed”. They were about to lay hold of him, as having certainly murdered his companion: but he desired them to go upstairs and examine for themselves. They went up, and there found the other keeper. They had quarreled, it seems, soon after being left there, had divided into two parties, assigned the cares below to one, and those above to the other, and had never spoken to, or seen one another since.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders recognize factions are just a way of life.
Since I’m excerpting Jefferson’s autobiography, this is the next noteworthy passage, even though it was a post more than three years ago.
The Continental Congress was having difficulty governing. Men divided into factions and refused to cooperate. As minister to France, Jefferson witnessed the same problem there. He used Franklin’s story to illustrate “this singular disposition of men to quarrel and divide into parties.”
If we bemoan how our political leaders now seem to divide into separate camps and refuse to talk with one another, this story reminds us it was that way in the late 1700s, too. The light keepers in Franklin’s story had an advantage, though. They didn’t have to cooperate to get the job done.
Benjamin Franklin often told a story to make a point, the meaning of “apologue,” the word Jefferson used in the first sentence above.

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