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"Were we directed from Washington
when to plant and when to reap,
we would soon want bread."
Thomas Jefferson, 1821
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Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mrs Warren & returns her the paper she had been pleased to inclose to him with his own subscription & that of the heads of departments … he learns with great satisfaction that mrs Warren’s attention has been so long turned to the events which have been passing. the last thirty years will furnish a more instructive lesson to mankind than any equal period known in history. he has no doubt the work she has prepared will be equally useful to our country & honourable to herself.
Thomas Jefferson to Mercy Otis Warren, February 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Empowering leaders encourage the marginalized.
The Massachusetts born Warren (1728-1814) was a strong supporter of American independence. She wrote prolifically on its behalf but always under a pen name, since female authors were almost unheard of. In 1790, she published a book of poems and plays under her own name. In 1805, she completed a three volume history of the United States, the first written by a woman.

It is that history Thomas Jefferson referenced in this letter. He was buying copies of her work for himself and his cabinet members. He had no doubt her seminal work would “be equally useful to our country and honourable to herself.”

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Green space urban design will lessen disease.

…the yellow fever …is generated only in low close, and ill-cleansed parts of a town, I have supposed it practicable to prevent it’s generation by building our cities on a more open plan. take for instance the chequer board for a plan. let the black squares only be building squares, and the white ones be left open, in turf & trees. every square of houses will be surrounded by four open squares, & every house will front an open square. the atmosphere of such a town would be like that of the country, insusceptible of the miasmata which produce yellow fever. I have accordingly proposed that the enlargements of the city of New Orleans … shall be on this plan.
To Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney, February 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders promote public health.
Thomas Jefferson met the French philosopher Volney (1757-1820) during his service in France. More than half of this lengthy, wide-ranging letter dealt with the ravages of yellow fever in coastal America. Jefferson fled swampy Washington for Monticello every August and September, when the disease was prominent.

Jefferson presumed the disease flourished because of crowded, unhealthy living conditions in large cities, all in the Atlantic tidewater region. To combat this, he proposed a plan for future urban expansion that would leave half of every development in green space. Using the example of a checkerboard, he suggested all squares of one color for homes, all squares of the other color to be left natural. Every house on the block would front on open space.

It would be long after Jefferson’s death before the cause of yellow fever was discovered. It wasn’t the crowded swampy atmosphere along the coast, but the mosquitoes that thrived in that environment.

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THAT will not work. THIS will.

If we cannot hinder vessels from entering our harbours, we should turn our attention to the putting it out of their power to lie, or come to, before a town to injure it. two means of doing this may be adopted in aid of each other. 1. heavy cannon on travelling carriages, which may be moved to any point on the bank or beach most convenient for dislodging the vessel …
2. heavy cannon on floating batteries or boats, which may be so stationed as to prevent a vessel entering the harbor, or force her after entering to depart.
Thomas Jefferson to Joseph H. Nicholson, January 29, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
How does a leader get a better result for far less money?
America’s 15 harbor cities were relatively defenseless against invading ships. Building forts, the conventional wisdom, would cost $50 million plus the cost of 12,000 soldiers to staff them in peacetime, 50,000 during war. Even so, there was general consensus the plan would not work. The fortifications might discourage or delay enemy ships but could not prevent them from entering our harbors.

Instead, the President proposed to the Maryland Congressman a system of moveable heavy canons, some on carriages, some on barges or boats. These would not keep ships out of the harbors but would prevent them from getting close to the cities within those harbors.

Fifteen U.S. harbors would require 240 gunboats, costing $1 million, and take 10 years to fully deploy. In peacetime, most could be kept in dry dock at minimal expense. Some would be deployed but lightly manned and near ready for action for $2,000/year each. A few would be fully manned and ready for defense for $8,000/year.

Far better, Thomas Jefferson proposed, to have an economical system that would work than an impressive and expensive system that would not.

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Will slavery end by justice or violence?  2 of 2

the value of the slave is every day lessening; his burthen on his master dayly increasing. interest is therefore preparing the disposition to be just; and this will be goaded from time to time by the insurrectionary spirit of the slaves. this is easily quelled in it’s first efforts; but from being local it will become general, and whenever it does it will rise more formidable after every defeat, until we shall be forced, after dreadful scenes & sufferings to release them in their own way which, without such sufferings we might now model after our own convenience.
Thomas Jefferson to William Armistead Burwell, January 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek justice for the oppressed.
Thomas Jefferson claimed the economic value of slavery was waning and asserted a growing interest in preparing for a just end to the practice. That interest would “be goaded from time to time” by slave insurrections.

Those uprisings would be local, minor and easily dispelled at the first. Each would build on another until they became widespread, potent and violent. In time, they would force their own emancipation “after dreadful scenes & sufferings.” Any hope for a just and peaceful resolution would be lost.

Just the year before, a 13 year revolt in the Caribbean ended with the violent overthrow of slavery and the independence of Haiti. In 1800, the enslaved Gabriel attempted to mount a slave uprising in Jefferson’s own Virginia. No doubt both events influenced Jefferson’s desire for a just solution rather than a violent one.

Jefferson was mistaken in thinking emancipation would be goaded from the bottom up by growing rebellion from slaves. Through the Civil War, slavery ended from the top down through great violence between Northern and Southern white populations.

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There will be no early end to slavery.  Part 1 of 2

I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us. there are many virtuous men who would make any sacrifices to effect it. many equally virtuous who persuade themselves either that the thing is not wrong, or that it cannot be remedied. and very many with whom interest is morality. the older we grow, the larger we are disposed to believe the last party to be. but interest is really going over to the side of morality.
Thomas Jefferson to William Armistead Burwell, January 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What causes a leader to give up on an essential cause?
Burwell, President Jefferson’s private secretary, wrote a thoughtful analysis of two slavery related bills in Congress. One would prohibit their importation from abroad as well as their transport from one state to another. The other bill provided for emancipation. The second had already been defeated. He feared the first would be, too.

Thomas Jefferson championed emancipation for almost 35 years since his service in the colonial House of Burgesses. Since his every effort met with defeat, Jefferson retreated, not from the cause but from the timing. The nation was not ready to accept it.

He explained there were virtuous men totally opposed to slavery and virtuous men who either justified it or resigned themselves to it. The longer people lived, the more they came to accept the second group, that slavery was either necessary or inevitable.

The President held to the first position, that it was morally wrong and public interest was slowly moving in that direction. So slowly, though, that any attempt to hurry it along would hurt the cause rather than hasten it.

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Give it to me straight!

Your letter of the 11th. was recieved and gave me the first intimation of your illness. it has filled me with anxiety respecting you, and this is increased by your not having communicated it to me. because in endeavoring to spare my feelings on your real situation it gives me the pain of fearing every thing imaginable; even that the statement of your recovery may not be exact. let me pray you always to give me the rigorous state of things that I may be sure I know the worst.
Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, January 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should a leader prefer bad news to no news at all?
Martha’s January 11 letter to her father has disappeared, so we do not know the nature or extent of her illness. Just eight months before, her sister and Thomas Jefferson’s only other child had died. He greatly feared for Martha’s safety.

Not only had Martha’s letter filled him “with anxiety,” he feared she was trying to spare his feelings. That made his worry all the worse, even doubting her assurances about her own recovery.

He wanted to “know the worst” about his only child’s health. That was not as bad as not knowing and an imagination run amok.

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I would prefer to, but duty dictates I must not.

were I to yield to my own feelings … [or to] … so many respectable persons as have signed the petition, my path would be easy. but on mature consideration the opinion is that it would be an abusive use of the executive power, and would tend to transfer from the grand jury to the Executive the office of deciding whether a person shall be put on his trial or not. between these conflicting motives of personal feeling & of duty, the latter must be supreme.
Thomas Jefferson to John Peter Van Ness, January 9, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Must a leader sacrifice 154 opinions for the sake of a principle?
Van Ness and 153 other signatories petitioned Thomas Jefferson to pardon Robert Peacock, arrested on a credible charge of forgery. Peacock’s wife, a well-connected woman of merit with two young children, was greatly maligned by the charges against her husband. The wife promised their family would leave the country if her husband were freed.

The President had the authority to pardon and the opinion of “so many respectable persons” was significant. It would be an easy (and popular!) choice to grant their petition. Yet, doing so would undermine the judicial process while expanding executive (his) authority. He was always cautious about treading on ground occupied by the other two branches of government.

Given the choice between “personal feeling & duty,” he chose duty. It “must be supreme.”

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It will take HOW long to get there? (2 of 2)

Congress have not yet sanctioned the measure, but there is no doubt they will do it. we shall have to open a road from Georgia to Pearl river. but as that will take time, & we want an immediate use of that line, we propose to send immediately, a mail of letters only, excluding printed papers, on horseback, along the most practicable Indian paths. we count on getting the distance from Washington to New Orleans performed in 12. days, as soon as the riders shall have learned the best route.
Thomas Jefferson to William C.C. Claiborne, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The man wants speed now!
President Jefferson was awaiting permission to establish 70 miles of a new southern postal route from Washington to New Orleans through land Spain possessed but claimed by the U.S.  Permanent approval had to come from Spain, but he wanted Claiborne to obtain a temporary OK from Spanish officials in New Orleans. Congress had to approve the entire route, too.

Since all that would take time, and the mail had to move, Jefferson proposed allowing “a mail of letters only,  excluding printed papers [newspapers, legal documents, etc.].” Until an official road could be established, postal riders would have to pick their way west on “the most practicable Indian paths.”

Siri said the distance today from D.C. to New Orleans is 965 miles as the crow flies, 1,087 by road. Whatever the distance was then, the President hoped to get the time down to just 12 days.

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It is better to ask permission than risk offense. (1 of 2)

[Surveyor] Mr. Briggs will have explained to you our purpose of running a mail below the[Appalachian] mountains to N. Orleans by Tuckabatché & Fort Stoddart. from this last place to the mouth of Pearl river it must pass thro’ the territory possessed by Spain but claimed by us. Colo. Monroe left London the 8th. of Oct. for Madrid to settle that point. while it is under negociation we think both parties should cautiously refrain from innovating on [make changes in] the present state of things. for this reason we think it proper to ask the consent of the Spanish government.
Thomas Jefferson to William C.C. Claiborne, January 7, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek to minimize conflict.
Claiborne (c. 1774-1817) governed the Territory of Orleans, later to become the state of Louisiana. He knew of Thomas Jefferson’s plan to establish a new southern postal route from Washington to New Orleans that avoided crossing the mountains.

While the Louisiana Purchase conveyed what had been Spanish land west of the Mississippi River, ownership of lands along the Gulf Coast east of that river were in dispute.  Jefferson claimed them, of course, but Spain maintained they were never meant to be transferred with the western lands.

The new postal route would include about 70 miles “possessed by Spain but claimed by us.” Ambassador James Monroe was en route to Spain to negotiate the matter. In the meantime, it would be best to have the consent of Spanish officers in New Orleans rather risk diplomatic offense or armed conflict.

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Two and I’m outta here!

my opinion originally was that the President of the US. should have been elected for 7. years, & for ever ineligible afterwards. I have since become sensible that 7. years is too long to be unremoveable …the service for 8. years with a power to remove at the end of the first four, comes nearly to my principle …  the danger is that … reelection through life shall become habitual, & election for life follow that. Genl. Washington set the example of voluntary retirement after 8. years. I shall follow it. and a few more precedents will …[establish this principle]. perhaps it may beget a disposition to establish it by an amendment of the constitution.
Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, January 6, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders self-limit their authority.
Taylor (1753-1824) was a Virginia lawyer, farmer, politician, political writer and close ally of Thomas Jefferson. He had written the President after hearing reports that Jefferson would serve a second term only and then retire. Taylor asked him to reconsider that decision.

Jefferson declined. One of his three objections to the new U.S. Constitution proposed in 1787 was no limit on the number of terms a President could serve. He feared that could turn into a President-for-life, either dictator or king. He credited Washington with setting the example of retiring after two terms. He would follow suit. Several more doing the same would establish the principle. Presidents Madison and Monroe continued in that vein, serving two terms only.

That principle continued until 1940, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term and then a fourth in 1944. This resulted in the 22nd Amendment (which Jefferson suggested) adopted in 1951, constitutionally limiting the President to two terms.

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