Gifts from Foreign Dignitaries

As President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson maintained a strict policy of not excepting valuable gifts from foreign dignitaries.

He wrote in 1806, "I had laid it down as a law for my conduct while in office, and hitherto scrupulously observed to accept of no present beyond a book, a pamphlet or other curiosity of minor value; as well to avoid imputation on my motives of action as to shut out a practice susceptible to such abuse."[1]

In one famous incident in 1805, the Tunisian ambassador gave Jefferson several Arabian horses. Jefferson later sold the horses at a public auction to offset the cost of the ambassador's visit.

However, Jefferson is known to have made an exception to his policy in at least one instance. In 1804, the Russian government presented the American consul, Levett Harris, with a bust of Tsar Alexander I. Mr. Harris in turn gave this bust to Jefferson. In explaining his departure from his own rule regarding gifts, Jefferson cited his "particular esteem" for the Tsar. The bust can be seen at Monticello today.

Footnotes

  1. Jefferson to Levett Harris. April 18, 1806. L&B, 11:101.

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