Speaking on leadership & wisdom
                       ... from the past ... to the present ... for your future
"Were we directed from Washington
when to plant and when to reap,
we would soon want bread."
Thomas Jefferson, 1821
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I … confine my contributions of this kind to the state in which my property lies, & to the district in which the seat of government makes me a resident. within this district, where every thing is to be done, the calls are quite sufficient to absorb every thing which it’s inhabitants can spare. for these considerations I withold with regret the act you desired, and I trust you will think the ground sufficient.
To J. P. G. Muhlenberg, February 24, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The practical leader cannot support everyone’s worthy cause.
Muhlenberg, president of a Pennsylvania wine production company, solicited a subscription (contribution) from one of the nation’s premier wine fanciers. Jefferson declined.

Jefferson received many such solicitations when he became President. He lent his support broadly and soon discovered he did not have the personal funds to continue. Of necessity, he limited his contributions to causes where he owned property and to those in the nation’s capital. He regretted not being able to help a favored cause and hoped Muhlenberg would understand.

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The fake news possibilities are endless!

I … learnt the death of Dr. Priestly … [and] request that you will be so kind as to take measures to prevent my letter & syllabus from ever getting into other hands. you know that if I write as a text that two and two are four, it serves to make volumes of sermons of slander and abuse.
To Thomas Cooper, February 24, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thin-skinned leaders shouldn’t add fuel to the fire.
Jefferson had sent his comparison of Jesus and other philosophers to Joseph Priestly, who had since died. The President guarded closely his personal views on religion and shared them only with very few trusted friends. Both Cooper and Priestly were in that select company. He asked Cooper’s help in keeping those private papers private.

Jefferson was always sensitive to criticism, convinced his political opponents would twist anything against him. In this example, he claimed that if he wrote publicly two plus two equaled four, his enemies would make that the basis for volumes of abuse.

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I’d rather not herd cats.

… I rode to the Hamburg hill from whence you suppose a bridge [over the Potomac River] … it will rest with the legislature to decide at which place … in this clashing of interests between different points of the territory to all of which I sincerely wish prosperity, I hold myself aloof from medling, no law calling on me to do otherwise. should it be made my duty to take any part in it, I shall certainly place every local interest out of view and regard the general interest only.
To George W. P. Custis, February 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders don’t meddle.
Congress was considering a bridge from the nation’s capital across the Potomac River. Competing interests were making their preferences known for the location.
George Washington Parke Custis (1781 – 1857) was the adopted grandson of the late President George Washington. The estate he owned across the Potomac from the nation’s capital would eventually pass to his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, and later become the site of the Arlington National Cemetery. Custis lobbied the President for a specific location, which the city of Georgetown opposed as detrimental to their interests.
Jefferson summarized this sticky-leadership-wicket as follows:
– If, when and where to build a bridge was Congress’ responsibility.
– Since he wished all the competing interests well, and his involvement was not required, he was staying out of it.
– If the time came when his input was required, he would keep “every local interest out of view,” and concern himself only with the overall public welfare.

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Thomas Jefferson had a copy machine?

I communicate to Congress, for their information, a report of the Surveyor of the public buildings at Washington, stating what has been done under the act of the last session concerning the city of Washington, on the Capitol and other public buildings and the highway between them.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of US, February 22, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders embrace new technology.
The content this letter, reproduced in its entirety, has no particular significance. How it was written does. The notes accompanying this letter in the Founders Archives relate this was Jefferson’s “first recorded use of the polygraph machine.”

The polygraph was a copy machine. A wooden frame suspended two ink pens over two sheets of paper. The pens were held together by a series of wooden arms and hinges. When the writer wrote with one pen on one sheet, the other pen followed along, making an identical copy on the other sheet. Some polygraphs had three ink pens, some four. Jefferson found those difficult to keep in adjustment and used one with just two.

Jefferson, always intrigued with machines and inventions, loved the new device! He referred to it as “the finest invention of the present age.” Since he kept copies of all his correspondence, some 20,000 letters over a lifetime, the polygraph represented a major advance over the letter press. This letter was written on a borrowed polygraph. It would be 1806 before he owned one of his own.

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How much do you trust that person?

Th: Jefferson … returns him Govr. Mc.kean’s letter;  … [the content of the original accusation] was so little noted that neither the person, nor manner can now be recollected …Th:J. has been entirely on his guard against these idle tales, and considers Govr. Mc.kean’s life & principles as sufficient evidence of their falsehood, and that he may be perfectly assured that no such insinuations have or can make an impression on his mind to the Governor’s disadvantage.
To Henry Dearborn, February 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders affirm other principled leaders.
A letter by someone unidentified claimed that Pennsylvania’s Governor McKean was heading a group to oppose President Jefferson’s re-election. McKean denied the charge but was concerned to learn the rumor was circulating in the nation’s capital.

McKean wrote an impassioned letter to Dearborn, Jefferson’s Secretary of War, perhaps knowing Dearborn would share the denial with the President. Dearborn did just that, and Jefferson laid the matter to rest for both men with this reply:
1. He was somewhat aware of the original accusation but paid so little attention to it that he could no longer remember the accuser or the details of the charge.
2. He was “entirely on his guard against these idle tales.”
3. Gov. McKean’s “life & principles” rendered this accusation baseless.
4. Nothing past, present or future would alter his confidence in McKean.

Thank you for, yet another, outstanding performance.”
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You do not know what you are talking about.

In social circles all are equal, whether in, or out, of office, foreign or domestic; & the same equality exists among ladies as among gentlemen. no precedence therefore, of any one over another, exists either in right or practice, at dinners, assemblies, or on any other occasions. ‘pell-mell’ and ‘next the door’ form the basis of etiquette in the societies of this country. it is this last principle, maintained by the administration, which has produced some dissatisfaction with some of the diplomatic gentlemen.
Response to the Washington Federalist, February 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders make their priorities straight-forward and public.
An opposition newspaper claimed diplomatic strife was caused by the etiquette policies of the new President. Not so, wrote Jefferson in a response printed on this date in the Philadelphia republican paper, Aurora. He usually ignored political and personal attacks in the federalist press, but this one he met head on.

He gave six specific examples of how and when foreign dignitaries would be received by various members of the Executive and Legislative Branches. He affirmed Senators and Representatives had equal standing. He wrote that all preferences shown previously were “buried in the grave of federalism, on the same 4th. of March,” the day of his inauguration.

Once he defined official diplomatic etiquette, he proceeded in this passage to proclaim there was no etiquette in social (non-governmental) settings. All individuals, foreign and domestic, in office or out, male and female, were treated equally. “Pell mell” and “next the door” would be the equivalents of the 21st century’s “first come, first served.”

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What do we owe, & where does the money go?

… [Should we present to] Congress at some time of every session a Calendar of 1. the interest of the public debt paid in each year. 2. the principal paid, or added. 3. the principal remaining due at the end of each year …  also …  a similar calendar of the expenditures 1. for the civil, 2. the military, 3. the naval departments, in a single sum each? the greatest security against the introduction of corrupt practices & principles into our government, which can be relied on in practice, is to make the continuance of an administration depend on their keeping the public expences down at their minimum. the people at large are not judges of theoretic principles, but they can judge on comparative statements of the expence of different epochs.
To Albert Gallatin, February 11, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders help their constituents hold them accountable.
The President decried the undecipherable mess of government finance created by the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. He wanted Gallatin, his Secretary, to make sense of it, not just for Congress but for the common man. Thus, he asked Gallatin about the wisdom of an annual report to Congress related to national debt and annual expenditures:
Debt –
1. How much interest was paid on the debt?
2. How much the debt was reduced or increased?
3. Was is the total debt at the end of the year?
Annual expenditures, a single total for each –
1. Civil government (all non-military expenditures)
2. Military (land-based forces and defenses)
3. The navy

Jefferson also asked if these numbers could be established annually from the nation’s founding. A protection against corruption was an on-going effort to keep government spending at a minimum. The public would be well able to judge of their government by comparing these totals year by year.

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Cancer is not within the federal government’s authority.

… with respect to any application to Congress, it would be inefficient, because the Constitution allows them to give no other reward for useful discoveries but the exclusive right for 14. years: and the care of the public health is not among those [powers] given to the general government, but remains exclusively with the legislatures of the respective states …
To James Houston, February 10, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders accept limits on their authority.
In a long curious letter to the President, Houston, a 52 year old farmer described being in Philadelphia for treatment of a cancer he’d suffered from for many years. He claimed to have been mostly healed and wanted to make the doctor’s cure known publicly. The doctor refused, because the pills he compounded to treat the cancer were a major source of income. Still, for $50,000, the doctor would release the formula.

Houston had written a “pamphlet,” some lengthy, rhyming narrative of his treatment and cure, and sent a portion of it to the President. He hoped to publish and sell it to raise funds toward that $50,000 goal. He sought a patent on his pamphlet. The President acknowledged a 14 year patent “for useful discoveries,” but that did not apply to Houston’s effort. Neither was the national government authorized by the Constitution to guard public health. Under the 10th Amendment, that authority remained with the individual states.

While he could not help his petitioner, Jefferson remained gracious. He concluded his letter by congratulating Houston “on his prospect of recovery, and sincerely wishes it may be compleated.”

Two months later, Houston filed for a copyright on his pamphlet in the federal court in Philadelphia and published it with the title, “A Plan for the Ladies Fund, in the United States of America, for the Relief of Those Afflicted with Cancers.”

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This is what I think. Now, you make the decision.

… I submit all this to your discretion …
To Henry Dearborn, February 9, 1804

… will you be so good as to consider this, and to do finally what you think best?
To Henry Dearborn, February 9, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders let trusted subordinates make the decisions.
These excerpts are Jefferson’s concluding thoughts to his War Secretary on two entirely unrelated matters. One dealt with a family’s petition for the early release of a soldier. The other pertained to opening negotiations with the Creek Indians for a road to New Orleans through their lands in Georgia and Alabama. In each case, the President expressed an opinion and the reasons for it.Then he left the decision in the hands of his lieutenant.

Jefferson feared most of all the consolidation of all powers into the hands of a very few in the federal government, far removed from the lives of those affected by their decisions. Thus, he was a devoted delegator of decision making. He had no qualms about making the call when he had to, but if a matter could be resolved by someone under his authority, he eagerly left the matter in their hands.

In his retirement, Jefferson wrote to Destutt de Tracy in 1811,“… I have never been so well pleased as when I could shift power from my own, on the shoulders of others …”

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Your opening keynote presentation … had the audience spellbound …”

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This is what I think. Now, you make the decision.

… I submit all this to your discretion …
To Henry Dearborn, February 9, 1804

… will you be so good as to consider this, and to do finally what you think best?
To Henry Dearborn, February 9, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders let trusted subordinates make the decisions.
These excerpts are Jefferson’s concluding thoughts to his War Secretary on two entirely unrelated matters. One dealt with a family’s petition for the early release of a soldier. The other pertained to opening negotiations with the Creek Indians for a road to New Orleans through their lands in Georgia and Alabama. In each case, the President expressed an opinion and the reasons for it. Then he left the decision in the hands of his lieutenant.

Jefferson feared most of all the consolidation of all powers into the hands of a very few in the federal government, far removed from the lives of those affected by their decisions. Thus, he was a devoted delegator of decision making. He had no qualms about making the call when he had to, but if a matter could be resolved by someone under his authority, he eagerly left the matter in their hands.

In his retirement, Jefferson wrote to Destutt de Tracy in 1811, “… I have never been so well pleased as when I could shift power from my own, on the shoulders of others …”

“I would like to express my thanks to you for your outstanding presentation …
Your opening keynote presentation … had the audience spellbound …”
Program Co-Chair, MO Organization for Clinical Laboratory Science, St. Louis Chapter
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