Author Archives: Thomas Jefferson

Is your hide thick enough?

you have indeed recieved the federal unction of lying & slandering. but who has not? who will ever again come into eminent office unanointed with this chrism [oil]? it seems to be fixed that falsehood & calumny are to be the ordinary engines of opposition: engines which will not be entirely without effect … I certainly have known, & still know, characters eminently qualified for the most exalted trusts, who could not bear up against the brutal beatings & hewings … I may say, from intimate knolege, that we should have lost the services of the greatest character of our country [George Washington] had he been assailed with the degree of abandoned licentiousness now practised.
To James Sullivan, May 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great leaders are lost for fear of public attack.
Sullivan [1744-1808] was the Republican attorney general in Massachusetts and would soon become governor. Jefferson commiserated with him on the “lying & slandering” both had endured, the only weapons in their opponents’ arsenal. Although their accusations were without merit, they still stung.

Some “eminently qualified” individuals avoided public service because of those attacks. Even President Washington, known for his fearlessness, would have abandoned public life had he been subjected to the current level of abuse.

Jefferson was considered thin-skinned but able to heed the advice Washington had given him years before, that when attacked, do not respond. He vented to friends in his private correspondence, but publicly, he suffered in silence.

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County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
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Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Newspapers, Politics Tagged , , , , , , |

I will have you arrested.

   Miss Eleanor W. Randolph to Th: Jefferson        D.[ebit]
1805. May 21. To a letter which ought to be written once in every 3. weeks, while I am here, to wit from Jan. 1. 1805. to this day, 15. weeks 5.
Cr.[edit]
Feb. 23. By one single letter of this day’s date               1
Letters Balance due from E. W. Randolph to Th:J.                                                                        4
                                                                                     5

So stands the account for this year, my dear Ellen, between you and me. unless it be soon paid off, I shall send the sheriff after you.
To Ellen W. Randolph, May 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need the encouragement of news from home.
Jefferson prepared a chart indicating that he expected a letter every three weeks from the recipient, for a total of five letters due since the first of the year. So far, he had received only one. The recipient was delinquent four letters and threatened with arrest unless the imbalance was corrected.

Who was the laggard letter-writer? Jefferson’s nine-year old granddaughter. He subsequently lightened the tone, inquiring about the flowers at Monticello, for a report on mumps afflicting the family, and asking her to convey his affection to her parents and siblings.

Being away from Monticello was a sacrifice Jefferson accepted. More correspondence from everyone at home was a frequent request, one never acted upon to his satisfaction.

“… how enthralled our attendees were …
a pleasant and refreshingly different aspect of the overall medical lectures agenda.”
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Leave a comment Posted in Family matters Tagged , , , , , , , |

What is on your wish list?

I avail myself with thankfulness of the opportunity your kindness offers of procuring certain articles from London, which I have long wanted, and only waited a special opportunity to acquire. you will find a list of them on the next leaf …

Enclosure

Baxter’s history of England. the 8vo. edn would be preferred, if there be one 0-15-0
Combrun on brewing [this is a 4to. vol. published some 40. or 50. years ago, & much desired.] 0-15-0
Adams’s geometrical & graphical essays by Jones. 2. v. 8vo. 0-14-0
Adams’s introdn to practical astronomy or the use of the Quadrants & Equatorials 0-2-6
Arrowsmith’s 4. sheet map of Europe }on linen with rollers &, varnished about
   do Asia
   do Africa
Olmedilla’s map of S. America by Faden. do. 4-14-6
Jones’s New 18 I. British globes with the new discoveries to 1800. in common plain frames of stained wood 7-7-0
with a compass fitted to both the frames of do. 6.
 & a pr of red leather covers 1-4-0
A new portable drawing board & seat (the board folds up for the pocket & the legs formg. a walking stick) 0-18-0
for the 2. last articles see W. & S. Jones’s catalogue No. 30. Lower Holborn. London.
an additional telescope for an Equitorial. see drawg. 2-2-0
4 double turning plates for an Equatl. to stand on see drawg. 0-10-6
19-8-6

To William Tunnicliffe, April 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What occupies leaders’ minds when they’re not leading?
Jefferson placed an order for items “which I have long wanted.” Governing demanded most of his attention, but sometimes he had the hours after dinner (which was at 3:30 pm) for personal interests, most commonly books and science. This wish list included:
1. One book on history and another on brewing (!)
2. Essays on mathematics and astronomy
3. Maps and globes
4. Telescopes
5. A portable drawing board/walking stick. (This may have been the inspiration for a chair/walking stick of his own invention.)

Jefferson estimated the cost at 20 pounds, about $100 then, perhaps $1,400 and $1,800 today. He was already in considerable debt, but that was rarely a consideration when he really wanted something.

“The manner in which you tailored your comments …
made your presentation all the more meaningful to our members.”
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2 Comments Posted in Natural history (science), Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |

The brotherhood of good men is blind to nationality.

Th: Jefferson presents his salutations to Mr. Robert Moore & his acknowledgements for the Jerusalem wheat he was so kind as to forward him from his relation in Ireland … the good men of the world form a nation of their own, and when promoting the well-being of others never ask of what country they are. he hopes the US. will shew themselves worthy of these kindnesses. he tenders to mr Moore his respects and best wishes.
To Robert Moore, March 11, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders recognize the “nation” of good men worldwide.
Jefferson loved botany and especially species related to food. Of those, he esteemed bread grains most of all, for their potential to nourish the greatest number of people worldwide. Here he conveyed his thanks for the gift of “Jerusalem wheat” forwarded to him by Mr. Moore, who received it from a family member in Ireland.

Jefferson recognized that good men worldwide formed “a nation of their own.” Their motivation was “the well-being of others.” When doing that work, it was never their concern to inquire about the nationality of another. Service to mankind superceded borders.

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Leave a comment Posted in Agriculture, Horticulture Tagged , , , , , , , |

Thomas Jefferson on “milking the cow”

To turn to the news of the day, it seems that the Cannibals of Europe are going to eating one another again. A war between Russia and Turkey is like the battle of the kite [hawk] and snake. Whichever destroys the other, leaves a destroyer the less for the world … The cocks of the henyard kill one another up. Boars, bulls rams do the same. And the horse, in his wild state, kills all the young males, until worn down with age and war, some vigorous youth kills him … I hope we shall prove how much happier for man the Quaker policy [of peace] is, and that the life of the feeder is better than that of the fighter: and it is some consolation that the desolation, by these Maniacs of one part of the earth is the means of improving it in other parts. Let the latter be our office, and let us milk the cow, while the Russian holds her by the horns, and the Turk by the tail.
To John Adams, June 1, 1822
The Adams-Jefferson Letters
, edited by Cappon, P. 578-9

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson believed strongly in American neutrality, staying out of armed conflict and disputes between other nations if at all possible. Here, he reported on the likelihood that Russia and Turkey would go to war. Drawing a lesson from nature, he observed one nation would destroy the other, and the world would be better off for it, with one less aggressor.
While those two nations, which he called “Cannibals” and “Maniacs,” fought over the cow, America should stay out of the fight and “milk that cow” for whatever benefit she might obtain.
The remainder of this letter was the 79 year-old Jefferson’s musings about the limitations of advancing age to his 86 year old friend.

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2 Comments Posted in Foreign Policy, Protecting ourselves

Thomas Jefferson on encouraging deserters

… Resolved that they [Congress] will give all such of the said foreign (Hessian/German) officers as shall leave the armies of his Britannic majesty in America and chuse to become citizens of these states … :
to a colonel 1,000 acres,           to a Lt. Col. 800 acres,
to a Major 600 acres,                to a Captain 400 acres,
to an Ensign 200 acres,
To every non-commissioned officer 100 acres …  
Resolution to Encourage Desertions of Hessian Officers, August, 1776
Padover’s The Complete Jefferson, P. 36-7

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Britain contracted with German princes to hire their soldiers as mercenaries in the fight against the Americans. Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were appointed as a committee to draft a bill to encourage deserters, and Jefferson drew the writing honors. (Remember a similar assignment just a few weeks before?)
Elsewhere in the bill, there is reference to “the blessings of peace, liberty, property and mild government” of America and the appeal those qualities will have on German warriors. That appeal plus the lure of free land, neither of which they might enjoy in their own country, should bring Hessian officers to the American side. There was an additional incentive for any officer who brought more defectors with him.
The bill was adopted August 27, 1776. It is debatable whether the offer had any real effect.

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Leave a comment Posted in Military / Militia

Thomas Jefferson on a new patent law

Be it enacted [by Congress] … that when any person shall have invented any new and useful art, machine or composition of matter or any new or useful improvement … and shall desire to have an exclusive property in the same, he shall pay … the sum of __ dollars … shall deposit a description of the said inventions in writing … shall accompany it with drawings and written references and also with exact models … After which it shall not be lawful for any person without the permission of the owner … to make or sell the thing so invented … for a term of 14 years.
… it shall be lawful for the said inventor to assign his title …
… after the expiration of any exclusive right to an invention, the public shall have … access to the descriptions, drawings, models and specimens … to be enabled to copy them …
A Bill to Promote the Progress of the Useful Arts, February 7, 1791
Padover’s The Complete Jefferson, P. 995-997

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson originally opposed all patents, but administering an existing patent law fell to him as President Washington’s Secretary of State. He found it a difficult, hands-on, time-consuming obligation.
He drafted this bill to make patenting more of an administrative function and less of an examining one. An amended version wasn’t adopted until two years later, and it made the granting of patents almost automatic.
Jefferson thought inventions were primarily for the public good, not for the amassing of private gain: “Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.” Still, he recognized the necessary incentive granted by a patent:  “Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done according to the will and convenience of society … ”
(TJ to Isaac McPherson, Aug. 13, 1813, Padover’s The Complete Jefferson, P. 1011-1017)

Monticello’s web site features more information on the subject.
Jefferson was a noted inventor but never patented any of his creations. He might have fared better financially had he done so.

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Leave a comment Posted in Commerce, Intellectual pursuits

Thomas Jefferson on the garden

I have often thought that if Heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden … Under a total want of demand except for our family table, I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.
To C. W. Peale, 1811, 3803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
I was jazzed about Monday’s post (May 14, 2012) and decided to stay on the gardening theme. You will recognize the last sentence above. I used it to close Monday’s account.
Jefferson always loved experimenting with plants and did so throughout his life! It wasn’t until his retirement that he could give himself wholeheartedly to that endeavor. At this writing, age 68, Jefferson was two years into that retirement, knowing that nothing would ever draw him away from his beloved lands (and garden!) again for any length of time.
Did you notice that the title of Peter Hatch’s book, A Rich Spot of Earth (from Monday) was drawn from this letter?

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Leave a comment Posted in Horticulture, Personal preferences

Thomas Jefferson on NPR

No, this post isn’t Jefferson writing about National Public Radio.
It is an NPR story on Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello. “All Things Considered” aired the account on May 10, 2012. It is an excellent overview!

NPR interviewed Peter Hatch, a Monticello employee for 35 years and director of Monticello’s gardens and grounds. Hatch is the man primarily responsible for re-creating Jefferson’s monumental garden. He has authored a new book, “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello
– Here’s the audio story: http://n.pr/KlCTIZ  It’s 8 ½ minutes long.
– If you prefer to read it, here’s the text of that story: http://n.pr/JbrZrB
– Here’s a companion piece on NPR’s food blog, “The Salt”: http://n.pr/K9VK5k  At the top are 11 photos to scroll through.
– Near the bottom of “The Salt” article, is this link, http://bit.ly/JzItWx , to some Jefferson-era recipes. (If you back up one page, you’ll find a long but delightful paragraph on the disciplines of running a household. It is attributed to “M. Randolph, Washington, January, 1824.” This is either Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph or Martha’s sister-in-law. It is excellent advice yet today.
Jefferson loved gardening! In 1811, at age 68, he wrote to C. W. Peale, “But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” (3803)

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1 Comment Posted in Horticulture, Personal preferences

Thomas Jefferson on establishing a public library

… every year there shall be paid out of the treasury the sum of two thousand pounds, to be laid out in such books and maps as may be proper to be preserved in a public library … at the town of Richmond.
The two houses of Assembly shall appoint three persons of learning and of attention to literary matters, to be visiters [Webster’s 7th Collegiate: “one that makes formal visits of inspection”] … to receive the annual sums before mentioned, and therewith to Procure such books and maps as aforesaid, and shall superintend the preservation thereof … Whensoever a keeper shall be found necessary they shall appoint such keeper, from time to time, at their will, on such annual salary (not exceeding one hundred pounds) as they shall think reasonable.
If during the time of war the importation of books and maps shall be hazardous … the visiters shall place the annual sums … in the treasury until fit occasions shall occur of employing them.
It shall not be lawful for the said keeper, or the visiters themselves, or any other person to remove any book or map out of the said library …but the same shall be made useful … within the said library, without fee or reward …
The visiters shall annually settle their accounts with the Auditors and leave with them the vouchers for the expenditure of the monies put into their hands.
From the Report of the Revisors, 1779
Taken from Padover’s The Complete Jefferson, P. 1054 – 1055

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson spent the Revolutionary War years helping revise Virginia’s statutes. Promoting an educated citizenry was one of his passions. The entire statute was less than 400 words and fit on one page of paper. Its key provisions:
1. The Legislature shall fund a public library with 2,000 pounds per year. (A search of multiple web sites gave me no clear idea how many dollars that was in 1779 or an equivalent value in 2012.)
2. A board of three visiters (Jefferson’s spelling), learned and literary men, shall govern all aspects of the library.
3. A librarian may be appointed, whose maximum salary shall be no more than 5% of the annual budget.
4. During wartime, the annual appropriation may be escrowed until the money could be safely spent.
5. This was not a lending library. All books and maps were to be used on-site only, without expense to the user.
6. The visiters were responsible for an annual accounting of library funds.
Jefferson’s proposal was not adopted.

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Leave a comment Posted in Education, Intellectual pursuits