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Category Archives: Family matters

Must my plants replace my children?

… I have had the inexpressible misfortune to lose my younger daughter, who has left me two grandchildren, & my elder one has such poor health, that I have little confidence in her life. she has 6 children. determined as I am to retire at the end of 4 years, I know not if I shall have a family to retire to. I must learn philosophy from you, & seek in a family of plants, that occupation & delight which you have so fortunately found in them. it will be the greater with me as it will give me opportunities of communicating to you new objects of enjoiment.
To Madam de Tesse′, March 10, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What private fears do our leaders labor under?
de Tesse′ was the aunt of the French hero of the American revolution, Marquis de Lafayette. She was an accomplished woman and became friends with Jefferson during his service in France in the mid-late 1780s. The two shared a strong interest in horticulture, exchanging plants and seeds for years. Most of this letter pertained to that subject. At the end came this surprisingly personal and unusual observation.

Jefferson’s daughter Maria died the year before, leaving his firstborn Martha as the only surviving child of the six born to him and his late wife. Martha was well-educated and capable. Her husband was not an emotionally stable man, and the responsibility for managing the family and estate (and some of her father’s estate, Monticello) fell on her.  Her father was obsessing over several recent illnesses and feared for her life, too. Jefferson confided that his love of plants might be the only the only family he had left when his Presidency ended four years hence. If such loss came about, at least he could continue his correspondence with Madame de Tesse about their mutual love for plants.

His fears were unfounded. Martha would thrive, present him with 12 grandchildren, 11 who survived him, and outlive her father by 10 years.

“I just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful program …”
Daniel Boone Regional Library
A wonderfully inspiring presentation awaits your audience!
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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I love that stuff, but duty prevents me!

Th: Jefferson … asks the favor of mr Rodney to be the bearer of his thanks to mr Copes for his communication on the theory of Magnetism … testify to him that unremitting attentions requisite to those matters which duty will not permit him to neglect, render it impossible for him to suffer himself to be drawn off by philosophical [scientific] subjects, altho’ infinitely more pleasing to his mind. he is now hurrying to get through his business in order to make a short visit to his family.
To Caesar Augustus Rodney, March 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Focused leaders have to say “No.” to favored things.
Thomas Jefferson wanted to thank “mr Copes” for his scientific material that had come into the President’s hands. He did not know where to write to Copes and asked his young friend Rodney (1772-1824), a Delaware lawyer and political ally, to do so for him.

Jefferson loved all things related to science! Those subjects were “infinitely more pleasing to his mind” than politics and government. Yet, he knew his public duties required his “unremitting attentions.” In addition to conveying his thanks to Copes, he asked Rodney to explain why he could not give Copes’ theory the attention it deserved, attention he would have preferred to give.

Family and science were Jefferson’s twin loves. While he could sidestep scientific interests, he would not do so with his remaining daughter and his growing brood of grandchildren. At the moment of thanking Copes, he was trying to clear the decks for “a short visit to his family” at Monticello.

“…the addition of first person interpretation was new to the conference this year …
Thomas Jefferson and William Clark have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director Of Education, Indiana Historical Society
Either Thomas Jefferson or Lewis & Clark’s William Clark will set a high standard for your meeting!
Invite either man to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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In this case, size DOES matter. Part 5

I know that the acquisition of Louisiana has been disapproved by some, from a candid apprehension that the enlargement of our territory would endanger it’s union. but who can limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively? the larger our association, the less will it be shaken by local passions. and in any view, is it not better that the opposite bank of the Missisipi should be settled by our own brethren & children than by strangers of another family? with which should we be most likely to live in harmony and friendly intercourse?
Thomas Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Far-sighted leaders see bright spots in the distance!
There was opposition from political opponents, the Federalists, to the President’s purchase of Louisiana in 1803, over its cost and constitutionality. Others were honestly concerned (“a candid apprehension”) that doubling the country’s size might destabilize it. Jefferson thought just the opposite, that a larger nation would be more stable, less vulnerable to parochial interests, what he called “local passions.”
Regardless, there was other good reasons for the enlargement. The Mississippi River was now entirely within U.S. jurisdiction, so farmers could ship their goods to market without interference. In addition, those on the western bank of that river would not be “strangers of another family,” the French, Spanish, English or Russian, for all had designs on that vast territory. No, those people would now be fellow citizens, “our own brethren and children.”

“Again, THANK YOU.
Your historical portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was both engaging and insightful.”

General Manager, Oklahoma Gas Association
Engaging! Insightful!
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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.

“Your wonderful presentation as Daniel Boone
was well-received and appropriate to the interest of our group.”
Member Services Specialist, Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association
Mr. Jefferson’s compatriot, Daniel Boone, is wonderful, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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This is my problem, not yours. Go. (Part 2 of 2)

I must now turn to the painful task of finding a successor. altho you had prepared me for this event, I am as much unprovided as if it were now for the first time mentioned. I see not who is to fill the chasm. but this labour is my lot. be yours that of domestic felicity, of health & long life: and with this wish accept my affectionate salutations & assurances of great & constant esteem & respect.
Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, December 28, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Departing trusted lieutenants are one of a leader’s greatest challenges.
In the previous post, Thomas Jefferson reluctantly but with understanding accepted the resignation of his Attorney General for family reasons. Filling the vacancy now posed a “painful task.”

In a series of recent posts, the President explained how personnel issues were the most difficult part of his job. Governing was easy. Picking the people who would govern with him was not. Although Jefferson knew this day was coming, he was still unprepared with a successor. No one could “fill the chasm.”

Stoic in this regard, Jefferson acknowledged his job was to deal with it. Lincoln’s was to enjoy family, “health & long life.” Although unspoken, Jefferson must have envied Lincoln’s escaping Washington. It would be four more years before he could enjoy what Lincoln would have immediately.

John Breckenridge and then Caesar Rodney would serve as Attorney General in the President’s second term.

“Not only was the portrayal realistic,
but it was technically and historically accurate.”

Conference Chairman, Nevada Association of Land Surveyors
Patrick Lee will bring the real deal!
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I have been where you are. Go. (Part 1 of 2)

I recieved last night your letter of the 26th. proposing to resign your office, and I recieved it with real affliction. it would have been my greatest happiness to have kept together, to the end of my term, our executive family: for our harmony & cordiality has really made us but as one family … yet I am a father and have been a husband. I know the sacred duties which these relations impose the feelings they inspire, & that they are not to be resisted by a warm heart. I yield therefore to your will. you carry with you my entire approbation of your official conduct, my thanks for your services, my regrets on losing them, and my affectionate friendship.
Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, December 28, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders know family must come before work.
Massachusetts born Lincoln (1749-1820) was a close political ally of Thomas Jefferson. Elected to Congress in 1800, the President immediately appointed him Attorney General, instead. Lincoln intended to serve two years in Congress and return home. Instead, he had served the President almost four years. He had spoken to Jefferson of his interest in retiring, but now he put it in writing.

Jefferson’s cabinet had been with him for his first administration. He appreciated their counsel, cooperation and friendship, regarding them “as one family.” He was planning on a second term and hoped his cabinet would remain with him to enjoy the acclaim of a grateful nation four years hence.

But Lincoln said no. His family needed him. Jefferson, father and widower, understood those “sacred duties.” Though it pained him, the President acceded to Lincoln’s request, offering his highest possible professional and personal commendation.

“Mr. Jefferson’s presentation on leadership
was a wonderful and unique way to kick off an extremely successful conference.”
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
Leadership. Wonderful. Unique. Successful.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Not enough paper to write to his wife!

I have the pleasure to inform you that mr Briggs & his companion were in good health at Colo. Hawkins establishment near the Talapousee river, which place they left on the 3d. of Oct. and expected to be at Fort Stoddart in a week from that time. mr Briggs having been able to procure but a single half sheet of paper, which he was obliged to fill with a report to me, had no means of writing to you. the Indians had recieved & treated him with great kindness. we may shortly expect to hear of his arrival at New Orleans.
Thomas Jefferson to Hannah Briggs, December 5, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders keep wives informed.
Isaac Briggs, Surveyor General of the Mississippi Territory, was traveling between Washington City and New Orleans to make astronomical observations for the development of a new southern postal road. He reported to the President on October 2 about their arduous progress.

He did not have enough paper to write both his boss and his wife. He put his job first, concluding his report with a request that the President inform his wife of his well-being.

In a reply two weeks later, Hannah Briggs thanked the President, claiming this was the first word she’d had about her husband in three months. She begged any further information he might receive,  good or bad.

On January 2, Thomas Jefferson wrote again to Mrs. Briggs about her husband’s safe arrival in New Orleans.

“We received a number of compliments
for adding a unique element to the conference program.”
Co-Conference Coordinator, Natural Areas Association, Bend, OR
Try something out of the ordinary … unique! … to enliven your conference program.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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This awful situation has only one insufficient remedy.

Your two letters, my dear friend, of Aug. 31. & Sep. 9. reached me on the 9th. & 31st. of October. I had already learned through other channels the melancholy event they announced. be assured I deeply felt for your situation: but on this subject I will not say one word; experience in the same school having taught me that time alone can mitigate what nothing can remedy.
To Elizabeth House Trist, November 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders acknowledge loss … then shut up.
Jefferson met Trist (1751-1828) when he roomed at her mother’s boarding house during his congressional service in the early 1780s. They remained friends throughout their lives.

Trist’s two letters announced the death of her only child. The year before, the President appointed that son as tax collector for the lower Mississippi River. She moved with him and his family to New Orleans. A promising future for the healthy young man was wiped out in five days when he contracted yellow fever.

Jefferson had endured the death of five of his six children, most recently his daughter Maria just seven months earlier. He knew the torment of his good friend and acknowledged her loss. He would say no more, knowing that “time alone can mitigate [lessen]” her sorrow, which would always be with her.

“I would like to say how much we enjoyed your leadership addresses
as Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone.”
Past President, Washington Municipal Treasurer’s Association
Both Jefferson and Boone stand ready to share their leadership lessons with your audience.
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I hate the thought of four more years of this!

my heart fails me at the opening such a campaign of bustle & fatigue: the unlimited calumnies [untrue accusations designed to damage another’s reputation] of the federalists have obliged me to put myself on the trial of my country by standing another election. I have no fear as to their verdict; and that being secured for posterity, no considerations will induce me to continue beyond the term to which it will extend. my passion strengthens daily to quit political turmoil, and retire into the bosom of my family, the only scene of sincere & pure happiness. one hour with you & your dear children is to me worth an age past here.
To Martha Jefferson Randolph, November 6, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders sacrifice personal happiness for a greater good.
The President wrote his daughter that Congress was convening, and the political season was about to begin. The opposition attacks on him required him to prove them wrong, by standing for re-election. He knew the vote would vindicate him and cement the reforms his first term had established. (There was no single election day in Jefferson’s time. Results dribbled in over a period of weeks, as each state chose its delegates to the electoral college.)

There was no constitutional limit on the number of terms the President could serve. Jefferson would have none of that. He would serve a second term only and be out of there! He had no happiness in Washington, and all of his time there wasn’t worth one hour with his daughter and grandchildren.

“Our people attend lots of conferences and hear lots of speakers.
We wanted something different.
We knew you would grab their attention with your unique portrayal.”
President, Excellence in Missouri Foundation / Missouri Quality Award
Mr. Jefferson will grab your attendees’ attention!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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.
He will speak in (almost) any venue. Invite him! Call 573-657-2739
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