On the 10th. inst. I wrote you on the subject of Louisiana, and mentioned the question of a supplement to the constitution on that account. a letter recieved yesterday renders it prudent to say nothing on that subject, but to do sub silentio [in silence] what shall be found necessary. that part of my letter therefore be so good as to consider as confidential.
To Thomas Paine, August 16, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Practical leaders know when to walk back their previous positions.
Six days earlier, the President had written Paine about Louisiana and how Congress would need to pass an authorizing constitutional amendment at the same time they ratified the treaties. The day before, Jefferson received a letter from his Ambassador Livingston in France, saying Napoleon was looking for any excuse to cancel the sale.
The President updated his friend in this letter, but only to this extent: Make no mention of a constitutional amendment. The President and Congress would do whatever they had to do to complete the deal, but they would do it quietly. Thus, he warned his friend not to reveal that portion of his August 10 letter, lest his political opponents use it to scuttle the purchase of Louisiana.