Tag Archives: Washington D.C.
… for altho’ I too have written on politics, it is merely as a private individual, which I am now happily become. within two or three days I retire from scenes of difficulty, anxiety & of contending passions to the elysium [paradise] of domestic affections & the irresponsible [not accountable to anyone] direction of my own affairs. safe in port myself, I shall look anxiously at my friends still buffeting the storm, and wish you all safe in port also.
To John Armstrong, March 6, 1809
NOTE: I have excerpted most of Jefferson’s significant correspondence from the first year of each of his two Presidential terms (March 4, 1801 – March 3, 1802 and March 4, 1805 – March 3, 1806) for the most recent blog posts. I will now turn the clock ahead and work from the first year of his retirement, which began March 4, 1809, when James Madison succeeded him as President.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders look forward to retirement!
Armstrong (1758-1843) had been a U.S. Senator from New York and was now America’s ambassador to France. Jefferson wrote about America’s failed embargo, continued conflict involving American ships at sea and the prospect of war, and Napoleon’s attempts to subdue much of Europe. He also thanked Armstrong for acquiring a “dynamometer” for him, a device that measured pulling force, something he had wanted for many years.
He concluded by stressing, thankfully, that his views on politics were now simply as a private individual. Within days, he would leave the non-stop stress of Washington City for peacefulness of Monticello. There he would reside as a ship safely arrived at its final port and hope the same destiny for those he left behind.
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I consider … the making a good gravel road from the New bridge on Rock creek along the Pensylva & Jersey avenues to the Eastern branch as the most important objects for ensuring the destinies of the city which can be undertaken … 4000. D. for 4 miles of road were then estimated to be sufficient. but from your statement 3695.99 D have been expended, and half the distance (tho not half the work) remains to be finished.
To the District of Columbia Commissioners, August 29, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What do honest leaders do in the face of cost overruns?
Washington City was still mostly a rural village being carved out of a Potomac River swamp during Jefferson’s administration. (John Adams was the first executive to live in the President’s house, moving in just 10 months before this letter.) New gravel roads were the most basic infrastructure element, a considerable improvement from dirt or plank roads.
Two of the projected four miles of paving had been completed, but it did not represent one-half of the work. So, less than half done, they’d already spent 92% of their budget.
Rather than continuing the work regardless, Jefferson proposed:
1. Postpone one portion of the road where a lesser road already existed
2. Apply the small balance left to the most important segment
3. Consider what portion of a $20,000 Navy appropriation could be applied to roads
4. Complete an accurate estimate of the cost to finish the four miles
5. Assess what additional city funds might be available.
Jefferson was too liberal in spending his own money (see the last post on 500 gallons of wine for an example!) but tight-fisted with federal funds. In this example, it was strictly pay-as-you-go.