Should facts or fears govern us?

THOMAS JEFFERSON LEADERSHIP

For observe, it is not the possibility of danger, which absolves a party from his contract: for that possibility always exists, & in every case. It existed in the present one at the moment of making the contract. If possibilities would avoid contracts, there never could be a valid contract. For possibilities hang over everything.

Source: Opinion on the French Treaties, April 28, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Leaders should govern by what is, not what might be.
President Washington asked Secretary of State Jefferson and Secretary of Treasury Hamilton to submit opinions on whether the United States was still obligated by its treaties with France. Those treaties were made when France was a monarchy, and the king had since been beheaded. In fact, it wasn’t clear what kind of government would result from all of France’s internal turmoil.

Hamilton’s opinion was that the U.S. made treaties with a government that no longer existed. Either we were not bound by them, or we had a right to suspend them until the issue of their government was settled. He raised a lot of “what ifs” and speculated what future danger those treaties might pose to America.

Jefferson didn’t buy it. He described the “what ifs” as possibilities of danger, not danger itself. Those possibilities existed when they treaties were made. They still existed. He said we should governed by the facts and the commitments we had made (the treaties), not by fears of what might happen.

In a larger sphere, Jefferson would advise one to be governed by what is, not what might be. Very late in life (1825, age 81) he would write as #8 in his Decalogue of Canons, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.”


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The Moral Liberal Thomas Jefferson Editor, Patrick Lee, is a professional speaker, actor and writer. Since 1990, he has inspired, entertained and educated audiences from Maine to Hawaii with his authentic, first person leadership presentations as President Thomas Jefferson, Frontiersman Daniel Boone, and Lewis & Clark Co-Leader William Clark. He also appears as himself, The Hopeful Humorist™, with a program of motivational humor, patriotism and inspiration.

His business address is ThomasJeffersonLeadership.com.

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