Our public oeconomy also is such as to offer drudgery and subsistence only to those entrusted with its administration, a wise & necessary precaution against the degeneracy of the public servants. In our private pursuits it is a great advantage that every honest employment is deemed honorable.
To Jean Nicholas Demeunier, April 29, 1795
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Enterprising leaders should look to the private sector.
Demeunier was a French writer and public official who emigrated to America to avoid the bloodshed sweeping France. He was living in New York and wrote to Jefferson inquiring about employment possibilities. Though Jefferson demurred, saying he was too far away and too unfamiliar to be of much help, he offered some observations about work in America.
1. Top government jobs paid a bare minimum and offered plenty of drudgery. This was both “wise & necessary.” It kept capable people from making a career of public employment, both to their detriment and the government’s.
Demeunier had been part of the King’s court in France and had a very privileged life. Jefferson discouraged him from thinking a similar position here held any value or status.
2. Just the opposite of public employment, the sky was the limit in private enterprise. All honest work in America was “deemed honorable.” This “great advantage” was as available to the immigrant Demeunier as it was to any other resident of any status.