… [Should we present to] Congress at some time of every session a Calendar of 1. the interest of the public debt paid in each year. 2. the principal paid, or added. 3. the principal remaining due at the end of each year … also … a similar calendar of the expenditures 1. for the civil, 2. the military, 3. the naval departments, in a single sum each? the greatest security against the introduction of corrupt practices & principles into our government, which can be relied on in practice, is to make the continuance of an administration depend on their keeping the public expences down at their minimum. the people at large are not judges of theoretic principles, but they can judge on comparative statements of the expence of different epochs.
To Albert Gallatin, February 11, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders help their constituents hold them accountable.
The President decried the undecipherable mess of government finance created by the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. He wanted Gallatin, his Secretary, to make sense of it, not just for Congress but for the common man. Thus, he asked Gallatin about the wisdom of an annual report to Congress related to national debt and annual expenditures:
1. How much interest was paid on the debt?
2. How much the debt was reduced or increased?
3. Was is the total debt at the end of the year?
Annual expenditures, a single total for each –
1. Civil government (all non-military expenditures)
2. Military (land-based forces and defenses)
3. The navy
Jefferson also asked if these numbers could be established annually from the nation’s founding. A protection against corruption was an on-going effort to keep government spending at a minimum. The public would be well able to judge of their government by comparing these totals year by year.