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
Rounded Corner
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the principle of rotation established by the legislature in the body of Directors in the principal bank [Bank of the United States], it follows that the extension of that principle [to subordinate banks] … was wise & proper … it breaks in upon the esprit de corps so apt to prevail in permanent bodies, it gives a chance for the public eye penetrating into the sanctuary of those proceedings & practices which the avarice of the directors may introduce for their personal emolument … and it gives an opportunity at the end of a year, or at other periods, of correcting a choice which on trial proves to have been unfortunate …
To Albert Gallatin, December 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders do not trust permanent office-holders.
Congress provided in 1791 that no more than 3/4 of the 25 directors of the national bank could be re-elected for a second year. The President applauded the extension of that principle to its regional branches, for three reasons:
1. It broke up the good-old-boy network arising among those who can hold office forever.
2. It allowed the public to examine their practices, especially those designed to enrich themselves.
3. It provided the opportunity to correct an appointment that had “been unfortunate.”

As a general rule, Jefferson opposed all offices and appointments that were permanent and thus shielded from public accountability. He thought Supreme Court justices should be subject to periodic review. The same principle should apply to national bank directors.

“Your presentation kept everyone’s undivided attention.”
Executive Vice-President, North Carolina Agribusiness Council
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We are all imperfect. Let us accept that and work together. Part 2 of 2

I see too many proofs of the imperfection of human reason to entertain wonder or intolerance at any difference of opinion on any subject; and acquiesce in that difference as easily as on a difference of feature or form: experience having taught me the reasonableness of mutual sacrifices of opinion among those who are to act together, for any common object, and the expediency of doing what good we can, when we cannot do all we would wish.
To John Randolph, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Practical leaders understand the need for mutual sacrifice.
This complicated passage could be summarized:
1. Everyone’s reasoning is different, and all of it is imperfect.
2. Thus, I am neither amazed nor angered at differences of opinion.
3. I accept major differences as easily as minor ones.
4. Laboring for the common good requires “mutual sacrifices of opinion.”
5. Accomplishing some good work together is worthwhile, even “when we cannot do all we would wish.”

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Do not speak of politics (or religion). Part 1 of 2

we rarely speak of politics, or of the proceedings of the house but merely historically, and I carefully avoid expressing an opinion on them, in their presence, that we may all be at our ease.
To John Randolph, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders avoid subjects that unnecesarily promote controversy.
The prickly Congressman Randolph had written the President the day before. He disclaimed a newspaper account on a disagreement in the House of Representatives, which involved him and one of Jefferson’s two sons-in-law, both House members. Jefferson replied immediately that no explanation was needed. Jefferson vouched for the independence of his sons-in-law and his unwillingness to influence their opinions.

The President preferred to keep peace in their family relationship, the same as he preferred in all his relationships. To do that, it was necessary that they not speak of politics or any other divisive issues. He kept his opinions to himself unless asked and would not debate those who disagreed, “that we may all be at our ease.”

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THIS is how we shrink the size of government.

I return you the letter of mr Miller notifying the resignation of the Supervisor of Maryland, & I approve your proposition of suppressing [eliminating] the office, annexing it’s duties to that of Surveyor of the district of Baltimore with the salary of 250. D. a year & a reasonable allowance for Clerk hire.
I return you also your proposed report on the suppression [elimination] of the Commissionrs. of loans, with an entire approbation [approval] of it.
To Albert Gallatin, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders keep their word.
Jefferson claimed the Washington and Adams administrations, with the help of Alexander Hamilton, had greatly expanded the reach and expense of the national government by multiplying the number of offices and officers under its control. The resulting patronage worked to their advantage since they appointed only political supporters to those jobs.

The President vowed to reverse this trend in his first inaugural address. One of his priorities would be “economy in the public expense, that labor [taxpapers] may be lightly burthened.”

Firing Federalist office-holders would create a firestorm of political protest. To avoid offending his opponents unnecessarily, Jefferson would often simply eliminate an office when it became vacant. In this letter, he approved two recommendations of his Secretary of the Treasury to do just that.

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Executive Director, Missouri Society of Professional Engineers
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What to do with an excellent workman, now a drunk?

William Stewart, a smith who has lived with me at Monticello some years … is one of the first workmen in America, but within these 6. months has taken to drink … abandoned his family … he writes me word he will return, & desires me to send him 20. D. to bear his expences back … [this] would only enable him to continue his dissipations. I … [enclose] that sum to you … [as] charity for his family of asking the favor of you to encourage him to return to them, to pay his passage … & give him in money his reasonable expences on the road … if he has more it will only enable him to drink & stop by the way. when he arrives here I shall take other measures to forward him. he is become so unfit for any purposes of mine, that my only anxiety now is on account of his family …
To Jones & Howell, November 22, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Humane leaders demonstrate concern for employees’ families.
Stewart, a gifted craftsman in Jefferson’s long-term employ, began drinking, abandoned his family and vowed never to return. He had a change of heart and wrote his patron from Philadelphia, asking for $20 to get back to Monticello.

Cash-in-hand would only enable Stewart to drink. Instead, and only out of concern for Stewart’s family, he sent the amount requested to trusted businessmen in Philadelphia, asking them to encourage Stewart’s return. They were to purchase his passage home and give him only what he’d need for food and lodging on the three day journey, no “more than 2. or 3. dollars a day.”

Jefferson had no use for the Stewart upon his return but was greatly concerned for his family, “consisting of a very excellent wife & several children.”

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Keep your focus. DO NOT do that!

… one thing however we are decided in: that you must not undertake the winter excursion which you propose in yours of Oct. 3. such an excursion will be more dangerous than the main expedition up the Missouri, & would, by an accident to you, hazard our main object, which, since the acquisition of Louisiana, interests every body in the highest degree. The object of your mission is single, the direct water communication from sea to sea
To Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders derail risky tangents.
Lewis’ last letter to the President on October 3 had been from near Cincinnati on the Ohio River. By November 16, Lewis would have been in the St. Louis area, on the Illinois side, and considering his winter plans before leading the Expedition the following spring. Lewis told Jefferson he was planning on a solo horseback trip west, something of a personal scouting effort prior to the main event. Lewis was also recommending his co-leader William Clark take a separate solo trip for additional reconnoitering.

Jefferson was horrified at his protégé’s suggestion but handled it diplomatically. He began with news about the Louisiana acquisition, plans for a government in New Orleans, and the need to avoid offending Spain until the new territory was officially in American possession. There were several matters he left to Lewis’ discretion, affirming his confidence in the man’s judgment. Then he dropped the hammer.

Under no circumstances was Lewis to risk his life or health, or Clark’s, with these unnecessary explorations! There was a single goal before them, finding a water route to the Pacific, and nothing must be allowed that would unnecessarily jeopardize that endeavor.

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A drunken cheater or a plodding illiterate?

… have nothing to do with Catlett. his character is in three words, a sharper [cheat], bankrupt & besotted. …  every person in that neighborhood would in confidence tell you the same. I think you had better put every thing respecting your land into the hands of Price. he is illiterate, & slow, but very steady, honest & punctual. he would be equal to the two objects of seeing that the tenants observed the rules of culture, & of remitting your rents to Richmond
To William Short, November 6, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Friends warn friends away from cheaters.
Short (1750-1849) was Jefferson’s protege, personal secretary in France and lifelong friend. He spent many years abroad in the diplomatic service. He owned land in Virginia, bought a decade earlier at Jefferson’s urging, and now sought his recommendation for a manager.

The President warned his friend about Catlett, a potential candidate, and said every neighbor would confirm his assessement. Far better to deal with Price, although slow and uneducated was honest and reliable. That man would do the two things any land-owner needed, enforce his rules and collect his rents.

I am still receiving many compliments
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The cause is noble, but the Constitution forbids me to act.

Your favor [letter] … and it’s contents perused with deep interest, as every thing is by me on a subject so pregnant of future events as that. but that subject is not within the constitutional powers of the General government. it exclusively belongs to each state … and it would contravene the duties which my station imposes on me towards them were I to intermeddle in it directly or indirectly. I have only therefore to express my wishes that it may some day terminate in such a way as that the principles of justice & safety of the whole may be preserved.
To John Crawford, October 22, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders respect limitations on their authority.
Crawford (1746-1813) was an Irish-born physician, scientist and civic leader in Baltimore. He wrote a v-e-r-y long, well-reasoned yet impassioned letter to the President, pleading for any steps leading to the emancipation of American slaves. He even addressed Jefferson’s musings in his book, Notes on Virginia (1784), whether blacks were inferior to whites.

In a short reply, Jefferson acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and the threat it posed to the republic’s future. Yet, national action was not permitted by the Constitution. The 10th Amendment, alluded to here, gave the national government (he called it “the General government”) limited and specific powers only. All other powers belonged to the states. That included issues pertaining to slavery and emancipation.

All he could do is express his personal desire for slavery’s end in such a manner that “justice [for slaves] & safety of the whole [nation] may be preserved.”

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Is a slave only a servant?

A gentleman here has given me 40. Balsam poplars to send to Monticello, and mr Randolph’s servant, who was to have returned tomorrow, will be detained till the next day, to carry them. as I set much store by these trees which I have been a long time trying to get to Monticello, I wish them to be carefully taken up & packed in bundles for safe transportation.
To Robert Bailey, October 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What’s a leader to do when confronted by an unsolvable problem?
19th century Thomas Jefferson is often measured by 21st century sensibilities and judged a hypocrite for declaring “all men are created equal,” while continuing to own slaves. It was a vexing issue for the new nation, but Jefferson’s record opposing slavery was clear, from his mid-20’s as a member of the House of Burgesses until his death at age 83. Believing public opinion was not ready to support emancipation, he did not take up the role of an abolitionist.

Jefferson was a slave owner all of his adult life, primarily of ones bequeathed to him by the estates of his father and father-in-law. Both Jefferson and his slaves were trapped in a system from which there was no practical or humane escape. Given that reality, he endeavored to treat those enslaved to him with benevolence. This letter gives an example.

He referred to his people as servants rather than slaves. He accorded the same status to others’, referring in this letter to his son-in-law’s “servant.” That man was the slave Davy Bowles, who would wait in Washington an extra day for the purpose of transporting “40. Balsam poplars” to Monticello. While slaves had to do their masters’ bidding without pay, Jefferson never required more of his servants than what a hired man would do for wages. When he assigned an unexpected or unpleasant task, he compensated them, though he was not required to do so. A footnote to this letter records that he gave Bowles two dollars “to take care of trees.”

A slave was a slave for sure, not just a servant, yet could be treated with the respect his humanity demanded.

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How do you keep track of all that stuff?

… If Sir you can … lay your Hands on that Letter (I am told, you have for many years been in the practice of preserving all Letters written to you on the Subject of Politicks) …
From Benjamin Galloway to Thomas Jefferson, July 19, 1803

I shall be extremely obliged to you Sir; if you will cause to be inclosed to me at Annapolis by next Mail; an authenticated Copy of the Letter I requested a favour of you to supply me with, in my address to you dated July 19th last—
From Benjamin Gallaway to Thomas Jefferson, October 11, 1803

I recieved yesterday your favor [request] of the 11th. and immediately proceeded to search for the letter … as every letter I recieve is filed away alphabetically, the search is short & easily practicable. I then turned to my letter list, for I note in a particular list the name & date of letters as I recieve them daily … and find no letter from you within that period, & think therefore I may safely say I recieved none within that period … & am sorry I have nothing else to offer in compliance with your desire.
To Benjamin Galloway, October 14, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
If leaders don’t have it, they can’t give it.
Galloway was embroiled in a political dispute in Maryland. He questioned a bill to revise the state’s courts and in turn, his fellow republicans questioned his judgment and fitness for public duty. Galloway claimed to have written a letter to Jefferson in 1800 that would aid greatly in his defense. He wrote two impassioned requests to the President seeking a copy of that letter.

Jefferson had an effective way of cataloging his voluminous correspondence. Upon receipt, he filed letters alphabetically. He also kept a daily “letter list,” where he recorded the same information chronologically.

Jefferson found only one letter from Galloway, recorded in both places in 1797. There was no correspondence in 1800, and he was unable to help.

There’s an interesting tidbit in one of Galloway’s letters, the phrase “half seas over.” He used it to describe Maryland Attorney General Luther Martin, a sharp republican critic. It means intoxicated.

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