I have recieved a letter from Governor Strong on the subject of their cannon &c. which concerning the War department principally, I inclose to Genl. Dearborne, and must ask the favor of you to be referred to him for a sight of it. I think, where a state is pressing, we should yield in cases not very unreasonable, and treat them with the indulgence and liberality of a parent.
To Robert Smith, September 3, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know when to yield, even when right is on their side.
In 1798, Massachusetts transferred ownership of a fort in the Boston harbor to the federal government. A provision in that transfer called for the state to be reimbursed for the value of armaments within the fort. Massachusetts submitted its claim, and the national government had disputed the extent and amount of that reimbursement. The state’s governor, a moderate Federalist, was pressing the Republican administration to pay the bill in full.
The President involved the Secretaries of the Navy (Smith, the recipient of this letter) and War, Henry Dearborne, in this discussion. It appears that the Federal position might have been stronger, but Jefferson asked a favor of his subordinate. Massachusetts was pressing their case strongly but not unreasonably. It would be better, the President wrote, to treat the state as a parent would their child, with “indulgence and liberality,” rather than enforcing parental authority, regardless.