Tag Archives: Public trust

There is no need to justify the motives of honest men.

I have duly recieved your favor of Mar. 10. explaining the motives of the Commissioners … but they needed no explanation. when gentlemen, selected for their integrity, are acting under a public trust, their characters and consciences are sufficient securities that what they do, is done on pure motives. I had the less reason in this case to refuse credit to their sense of official duty, as some of them were known to me personally, and possess my confidence.
To John Trumbull, July 14, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders should be able to trust other leaders.
Jefferson had recommended a certain action to American representatives on a U.S.-Great Britain commission that was mediating shipping disputes between the two nations. The commissioners did the opposite of what he asked. Trumbull, one of the commissioners, felt the need to explain their action to the President.

No need to explain, Jefferson replied. The commissioners were selected for their integrity and given a public trust. Their character and conscience assured him their motives were pure, even when they disagreed with him. Even if he knew none of the commissioners, he trusted the process that selected them. But he did know some of them personally, and that gave him even more confidence in their judgment.

Trumbull was better known as a painter. His famous tableau, “The Declaration of Independence” hangs in the U.S. Capitol and also adorns the back of the $2 bill.

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No cousins on the payroll, please.

the public will never be made to believe that an appointment of a relative is made on the ground of merit alone, uninfluenced by family views. nor can they … see with approbation [approval] offices, the disposal of which they entrust to their president for public purposes, divided out as family property … but the public good which cannot be effected [accomplished] if it’s confidence is lost, requires this sacrifice.
To George Jefferson, March 27, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders sacrifice personal preferences to preserve the public trust.
George Jefferson, at his brother’s request, had written to their cousin, the new President, about a job the brother was seeking through his family connection. George’s letter was convoluted, but it appears he wrote out of regard for his brother, but the same time, out of regard for his cousin, suggested the President not award the position. George cited President Washington’s admirable example of never appointing a relative to a job and the damage President Adams did to his reputation by not following suit.

The President concurred and repeated the examples of the previous Chief Executives. Even if a relative was the best qualified, the public would not believe that. It was important to retain the public’s good will. If he lost their confidence, he could no longer accomplish any good on their behalf. He would make whatever sacrifices necessary to maintain that good will.

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