Seeing into the future of human behavior

Thomas Jefferson made a prediction to James Madison in a letter dated March 6, 1796, challenging Madison’s proposition for improvements to roads used in a system of national mail delivery.  Jefferson wrote: “Have you considered all the consequences of your proposition respecting post roads?  I view it as a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress & their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money.  You will begin by only appropriating the surplus of the post office revenues; but the other revenues will soon be called into their aid, and it will be a scene of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are meanest.”

From such small seeds great oaks grow.  In 1803, as President Jefferson amidst sharp political divisions and without any other approval, signed a treaty purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France which the Senate speedily approved and the House appropriated money for the purchase.

 We were off and running.

 (Please look at comments and respond or leave your own for everyone’s enjoyment.)

  1. #1 by Ralph Soule on November 17, 2013 - 12:23 am

    One of the things I always find awe inspiring about the framers of the Constitution and leaders of the Revolutionary/Founding era is how well they seemed to understand human nature and how people functioned in groups and responded to incentives. Thank you for the reminder.

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