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 can say with truth that one act of mr Adams’s life …  and one only, ever gave me a moment’s personal displeasure. I did consider his last appointments to office as personally unkind. they were from among my most ardent political enemies, from whom no faithful cooperation could ever be expected, and laid me under the embarrasment of acting thro’ men whose views were to defeat mine; or to encounter the odium of putting others in their places. it seemed but common justice to leave a successor free to act by instruments of his own choice.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should a leader deliberately handicap his successor?
After appreciating her condolences on the death of his daughter and affirming his unflagging respect for Mrs. Adams, he turned to the differences between himself and her husband, the former President, John Adams. Those differences he described as political, not personal … except in one instance.

When Adams had been defeated for re-election by someone of the opposite party (Jefferson), but before he left office, he filled a number of vacancies with men he knew would be strong opponents of the new President. That left Jefferson in a no-win situation. He could try to work with people who would deliberately undermine him, or dismiss them and experience considerable public backlash.

Jefferson considered it “but common justice” to let him choose his own officers. That her husband sought to deprive him of that choice was the “one act of mr Adams’s life … and one only” that was “personally unkind.”

” … the Society received more favorable comments and inquiries …
than we have had about any other program …”
First Vice President, Boone County Historical Society
Mr. Jefferson will make a lasting impression on your audience!
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Death has opened a door for me. Part 2 of 4

… [I] am thankful for the occasion … of expressing my regret that circumstances should have arisen which have seemed to draw a line of separation between us. the friendship with which you honoured me has ever been valued, and fully reciprocated; & altho’ events have been passing which might be trying to some minds, I never believed yours to be of that kind, nor felt that my own was. neither my estimate of your character, nor the esteem founded in that, have ever been lessened for a single moment, although doubts whether it would be acceptable may have forbidden manifestations of it.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek to restore damaged friendships.
Earlier in this letter, Jefferson expressed his appreciation for Adams’ condolences on the recent death of his daughter, Maria. He used that opening to address another subject, his regret about any damage to their friendship which resulted from his replacing her husband as President.

He expressed appreciation for the honor of her friendship. He esteemed her highly. Although political differences took their toll on some friendships, he did not believe it had affected theirs. He had no doubts about the quality of her character, and his high regard for her remained unchanged.

He waffled a little at the end when he expressed doubt whether she would have received any earlier affirmation of his esteem. That doubt “may have forbidden” his making that position known. In other words, he had said nothing out of concern that she wouldn’t accept it, rather than taking the initiative to repair any misunderstandings.

“We have used Mr. Lee on various trips over the last five years …
We intend to use Patrick Lee on future trips …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
Audiences invite Mr. Jefferson back time and again.
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On the death of our children … Part 1 of 4

The affectionate sentiments … in your letter of May 20. towards my dear departed daughter, have awakened in me sensibilities natural to the occasion, & recalled your kindnesses to her which I shall ever remember with gratitude & friendship. I can assure you with truth they had made an indelible impression on her mind, and that, to the last, on our meetings after long separations, whether I had heard lately of you, and how you did, were among the earliest of her enquiries. in giving you this assurance I perform a sacred duty for her…
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Suffering leaders value encouragement from fellow sufferers.
Still smarting over grievances between her husband, the previous President, and his successor, the current President, Abigail Adams delayed acknowledging the death of his daughter. Finally overwhelmed by her affections for Maria Jefferson, she wrote a sincere letter of condolence. Three of her six children preceded her in death, and she knew what her former friend was experiencing. (Maria’s passing marked the fifth of Jefferson’s six children to die.)

Jefferson thanked Abigail, reminiscing about when she and Maria became close. Maria never waned in her affection for Mrs. Adams and always asked her father for news about her. Acknowledging Adams’ kindness to his daughter allowed him to “perform a sacred duty for her…”

The President had more to express to the former First Lady. That will be the subject of future posts.

” … please accept this letter of thanks and appreciation
for your outstanding presentation … “
Staff Advisory Council Chair, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
University of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson addressed the staff in a huge garage amidst multiple farm machines.
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My daughter died.

On the 17th. instant [i.e. April] our hopes & fears here took their ultimate form.
To James Madison, April 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders will be laid low now and then.
When Congress adjourned, the President returned to Monticello to see his daughter Maria. She had given birth to her third child in February and was not recovering.

Jefferson wrote six letters from the time of his arrival at Monticello through the date of this letter to Secretary of State Madison, his closest personal and political confidante. Five of those missives were devoted first to affairs of state and then to the deteriorating condition of his dear daughter.

This letter was no different. He began with ongoing diplomatic difficulties with England. His last paragraph began with this sentence, telling his friend of Maria’s death six days earlier. This was the first letter he wrote after her passing. He went on to write that he would stay at Monticello longer than he planned, citing “a desire to see my family in a state of more composure before we separate.”

The baby, who bore her mother’s name, would live only two years.

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Should leaders keep their good deeds secret?

We have just heard of the calamitous event of Norfolk … [I] take the liberty of inclosing two hundred dollars to you, & of asking the favor of you to have it applied in the way you think best, for the relief of such description of sufferers as you shall think best. I pray not to be named in newspapers on this occasion.
To Thomas Newton, March 5, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Tragedy should not be a publicity opportunity for leaders.
A fire in Norfolk, Virginia on February 22 injured or killed many and destroyed more than 250 buildings. The President sent $200 for the relief fund, in care of a Virginia Congressman. Jefferson did not want his donation publicized in the newspapers.

The year before, Jefferson made another disaster-related donation to Portsmouth, NH. He insisted on anonymity then, too.

How many leaders today, do you suppose, deliberately keep their charitable efforts out of the public eye?

“Mr. Lee was engaged to represent both William Clark and Thomas Jefferson.
His portrayal of both men was outstanding …”
Executive Director, Greater St. Louis Federal Executive Board
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I have to serve again, and it is THEIR fault.

I sincerely regret that the unbounded calumnies [false and damaging statements] of the Federal party have obliged me to throw myself on the verdict of my country for trial, my great desire having been to retire at the end of the present term to a life of tranquility, and it was my decided purpose when I entered into office. they force my continuance. if we can keep the vessel of state as steady in her course for another 4. years, my earthly purposes will be accomplished, and I shall be free to enjoy as you are doing my family, my farm, & my books.
To Elbridge Gerry, March 3, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do principled leaders step aside … or fight?
Since no one else had the necessary reputation in 1800, Jefferson agreed to lead the republican cause and stand for election as President. His hope to cement the nation’s future in four years and retire was not to be.

By early 1804, Jefferson could claim considerable progress in re-orienting the America’s course, but that new direction was not solid. It was continually being undermined by his political opposition. He claimed their on-going character assassination necessitated his serving another four years to secure the nation’s new foundation. Only then could he return to “my family, my farm, & my books.”

On this same day, Jefferson learned his younger daughter Maria had not recovered from her third childbirth on February 15. Maria was frail, like her long-deceased mother, and had suffered slow recoveries after her first two deliveries. (Her firstborn boy in late 1799 lived only a few weeks.) The President was greatly frightened that one of his two remaining children might succumb to the same fate as his late wife. Judge for yourself the decision (and sacrifice) he made to serve his nation rather than flee to his family’s side.

Maria would die six weeks later.

“The California [MO] Chamber of Commerce would highly recommend you …”
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Politics really suck in 2019!

you now see the composition of our public bodies, and how essential system and plan are for conducting our affairs wisely with so bitter a party in opposition to us, who look not at all to what is best for the public, but how they may thwart whatever we propose, tho they should thereby sink their country.
To Caesar Rodney, February 24, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders are still creatures of  human nature.
Delaware native Rodney (1772 – 1824), namesake of his uncle who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was elected to Congress in 1802. In a letter to the President, Rodney explained that he would not continue in office for personal, political and financial reasons. Jefferson sincerely regretted the loss of his strong supporter. He hoped Rodney would be one to “give cohesion to our rope of sand.” Whether that “rope” was the government or the republican party is not clear.

Note the points Jefferson made in this excerpt:
1. Consider the bitterness of the opposition in the Congress.
2. Their goal was not the public good but to “thwart whatever we propose.”
3. They were unconcerned that their actions imperiled the nation.

My purpose in these posts is to highlight Jefferson’s perspective. Still, I’m reasonably sure the Federalists could have made the same observations about the President and his republican partisans.

Human nature does not change. In 2019, consider how each party makes the same charges against the other, 215 years later.

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I do like wine, but I cannot help you.

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.

“This letter is to recommend a both talented and fascinating performer –
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Missouri Department of Conservation
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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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