Your letter of the 10th. came to hand yesterday evening. it is written with frankness and independance, and will be answered in the same way. you complain that I did not answer your letters applying for office. but if you will reflect a moment you may judge whether this ought to be expected. to the successful applicant for an office the commission is the answer. to the unsuccessful multitude, am I to go with every one into the reasons for not appointing him?
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders do not owe everyone an explanation.
Smith’s letter of November 10 was the third he had written to the President, complaining that he had not been notified of being passed over for a government appointment. Smith thought his service during the war for independence and his political orientation merited his selection. (Founders Archives, my source for Jefferson’s correspondence, does not contain Smith’s first two letters. Either the letters never reached Jefferson or did and were then lost.) Jefferson promised he would now reply in the same vein Smith had used with him.
Did Smith have a right to be notified that the office had gone to another? No. The announcement that someone else was appointed was the only notification anyone would receive. Was Jefferson obligated to explain his reasoning to the many unsuccessful applicants? Again, no. The reasons will be in Part 2.
In a churlish aside to his complaint, Smith said he had just recently married well, and no longer needed or wanted the job. He wouldn’t have pursued it in the first place had he not been in dire financial straits.