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Category Archives: Family matters

I admit one indiscretion. I deny the rest.

The inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln will so fully explain it’s own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth, neither better nor worse than that makes me. you will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknolege it’s incorrectness; it is the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me … [I count] you among those whose esteem I value too much to risk it by silence.
To Robert Smith, July 1, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What is a leader to do with a mess like this?
In late 1802, political writer James Callender, who had been encouraged by Jefferson just a few years earlier, now turned on his benefactor. Chief among Callender’s charges was that the President kept a slave concubine at Monticello, had initiated the relationship with her 15 years earlier in France, and fathered several children with her. She was not identified specifically at the time, but the woman was Sally Hemings. Callender also wrote of a Jefferson indiscretion with a married neighbor more than 30 years before.

These allegations and others became fodder for opposition politicians and were circulated widely during and after the 1804 elections. Although Jefferson never addressed the accusations publicly, he wanted a few close friends to know the truth. Robert Smith was one of those friends.

Jefferson admitted that as a young single man, he had propositioned a neighbor’s wife and “acknolege[d] it’s incorrectness.” He also wrote that of “all their allegations against me,” it was the only one “founded in truth.” Admitting to this one, he denied the others, including the charges involving Sally Hemings.

The “inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln,” his Attorney General, has not been found. Apparently, it offered a much fuller explanation. All that’s left is this cover note to Smith.

“Having you as a special surprise guest … turned out to be an excellent idea …
a pleasant and refreshingly different aspect …”
FOCUS on Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine Conference
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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.
Feb. 23. By one single letter of this day’s date               1
Letters Balance due from E. W. Randolph to Th:J.                                                                        4

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.”
Chairman, FOCUS on Respiratory Care and Sleep Medicine Conference
Mr. Jefferson is always relevant, even at a 21st century medical conference.
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One daughter died. I fear the other will die, too.

… 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 …
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. All the rest 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. Everything I have read about Martha has given the impression that she inherited her father’s genes for good health and long life. Here, her already grieving father 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.

His fears were unfounded. Martha outlived her father and presented him with 12 grandchildren, 11 who survived him.

“I just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful program …”
Daniel Boone Regional Library
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I must make time for you!

My Dearest Ellen –
I owe a letter to you & one to your sister Anne. but the pressure of the day on which this is written, and your Papa’s departure permits me to write only to you, to inclose you a poem about another namesake of yours, and some other pieces worth preserving. as I expect Anne’s volume is now large enough, I will begin to furnish you with materials for … a new volume … I am called off by company therefore god bless you, my dear child, kiss your Mama and sisters for me, and tell them I shall be with them in about a week from this time.
To Ellen Wayles Randolph, March 4, 1805

For some time, I have excerpted the significant letters written by Jefferson during his first full year as President. To change it up a bit, I’m now turning the clock ahead to the first year of his second term. That begins with this letter written March 4, 1805.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders make time for their grandchildren!
Eight year old Ellen Randolph (1796-1876) was Jefferson’s fourth grandchild from his daughter, Martha. He was sending her poems and other writings to begin a new scrapbook with material he would supply. He had done the same for her 15 year old sister Anne (his first grandchild) and wanted to continue the tradition with Ellen. In time, she would become one of her grandfather’s favorites.

He had to squeeze this grandfatherly duty in before the “pressure of the day” overwhelmed him. The company calling for him was to escort him to his 2nd inauguration as President of the United States.

President (and Grandfather) Jefferson will inspire your audience!
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You must get outside of yourself!

I am convinced our own happiness requires that we should continue to mix with the world … every person who retires from free communication with it is severely punished afterwards by the state of mind into which they get … I can speak from experience on this subject. from 1793. to 1797. I remained closely at home, saw none but those who came there, and at length became very sensible of the ill effect it had upon my own mind, and of it’s direct & irresistible tendency to render me unfit for society, & uneasy when necessarily engaged in it. I felt enough of the effect of withdrawing from it … it led to an antisocial & misanthropic [reclusive, cynical] state of mind, which severely punishes him who gives into it: and it will be a lesson I shall never forget as to myself.
To Maria Jefferson Eppes, March 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders must be alert to the danger of self-isolation.
Jefferson began this letter expressing his dismay that Maria and her family would not be spending the summer at Monticello. He was concerned she was withdrawing too much from outside contact and confronted the issue directly.

Happiness depended upon regular contact with others, and there were ill-effects from isolation. He had experienced it himself in the four years in between being Secretary of State and Vice-President. He recognized that withdrawing from company finally made him unfit for company.

Assuming his advice would have the desired effect, he went on to describe in detail two possible routes Maria might take traveling to Monticello. But ever the realist, he said he would see her during his August – September break from yellow fever prone Washington if she didn’t come for the summer.

Mr. Jefferson is very fit company for your audience!
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I am well. I need to know you are well!

my health being always so firm as to leave you without doubt on that subject, but it is not so with yourself & little one. I shall not be easy therefore if either yourself or mr Eppes do not once a week or fortnight write the three words ‘all are well.’ that you may be so now, & so continue is the subject of my perpetual anxiety, as my affections are constantly brooding over you. heaven bless you my dear daughter.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes, December 14, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders with adult children never cease worrying about their kids.
Jefferson’s 2nd daughter had recently delivered her 2nd child, a son Francis. She was of frail health, like her mother who died after childbirth 20 years before, and her father worried greatly about her. He also worried about the baby, as Mary’s first child died just three days after birth. (Four of Jefferson’s six children died by the age of five.)

He had high expectations of his daughters, and one of those was that they write to him regularly. Mary was a particularly poor correspondent, and her father brooded over the silences. He beseeched her often to write more frequently.

Here, he said his health was so good there was no cause for them to worry about him. So that he would not worry about them, he pleaded that at least every two weeks, she or her husband write to him, if only to convey, “All are well.”

This baby Francis would live a long, productive life. He was the only one of Mary’s three children who survived infancy. Mary herself would die three years later, months after her third delivery, a daughter who lived only a few weeks.

“Your thoughtful comments… were very well received.
Many guests remarked … how they appreciated your words
and the meaning behind them.

Seattle Federal Executive Board
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Which is better, much knowledge or a little experience?

I am anxious to hear from you, lest you should have suffered in the same way now as on a former similar occasion. should any thing of that kind take place … I know nobody to whom I would so soon apply as mrs Suddarth. a little experience is worth a great deal of reading, and she has had great experience and a sound judgment to observe on it. I shall be glad to hear at the same time that the little boy is well.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes , October 26, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders value experience over vast knowledge alone.
Jefferson’s younger daughter (named Mary but commonly known as Maria or Polly) had a baby in early January,1800, who lived just three days. She had numerous health complications following that pregnancy.

She gave birth to a second son, Francis Wayles Eppes, five weeks before this letter was written. Grandfather Jefferson was at Monticello for the birth but had returned to Washington. Four weeks later, he was anxious for a first-hand report.
Jefferson highly recommended a local midwife, Martha Suddarth, to assist should any post-natal problems arise:
1. While doctors were available, many had only their reading to draw upon.
2. Even “a little experience” was worth “a great deal of reading.”
3. Mrs. Suddarth not a little but “great experience.”
4. Even better, she had sound judgment to complement her experience.

Jefferson also wanted confirmation “that the little boy is well.” That boy would be Maria’s only surviving child from three births. Maria herself would die several months after the third delivery in 1804. After his grandfather’s death, Eppes moved to Florida and became a prominent citizen in the Tallahassee area. In the 1850s, he would be the prime influence in the establishment of a seminary there. That school would evolve into Florida State University.

“Our city officials were mesmerized by your performance …”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
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If I do not leave I might die.

I consider it as a trying experiment for a person from the mountains to pass the two bilious months on the tidewaters. I have not done it these 40. years, and nothing should induce me to do it. as it is not possible but that the administration must take some portion of time for their own affairs, I think it best they should select that season for absence. Genl. Washington set the example of those 2. months. mr Adams extended them to 8. months. I should not suppose our bringing it back to 2. months a ground for grumbling. but grumble who will, I will never pass those months on tide water.
To Albert Gallatin September 18, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders choose their own time away from the job.
The sometimes-fatal yellow fever stalked the coastlines (tidewater) in August and September. In 1793, one epidemic killed 5,000 of Philadelphia’s 45,000 residents. People did not yet know the fever was spread by the mosquito which flourished in the late summer marshes. They did know the disease was far less prevalent inland. Anyone who had the means to leave the coast in those two months did so.

Jefferson was spending his first two-month hiatus as President back at Monticello. Not only did he want to escape the scourge of illness, he missed his mountaintop home, his family and the environment he’d known since boyhood. He also needed time to tend to his own interests.

President Washington set the precedent of a two month tidewater absence from the nation’s capital, at the time in New York City and then Philadelphia. President Adams, often criticized for his long retreats to home in Massachusetts, took eight months away. Jefferson returned to a two month absence. A review of his correspondence in that time reveals that he continued to supervise the nation’s business closely from home.

Perhaps there were Federalist complaints about the President’s absence. Let them complain, he said, for “I will never pass those months on tide water.”

“You were great as Thomas Jefferson …
Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate …”
Director, MO River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE
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Once a father, always a father.

I recieved yesterday mr Eppes’s [Maria’s husband] letter of the 12th. informing me you had got safely to Eppington, & would set out tomorrow at furthest for Monticello … I now write to mr Craven to furnish you all the supplies of the table which his farm affords … liquors have been forwarded & have arrived with some loss. I insist that you command & use every thing as if I were with you, & shall be very uneasy if you do not … in the mean time take what is wanting from any of the stores with which I deal, on my account … I shall join you between the 2d. & 7th. [of August] more probably not till the 7th … I am looking forward with great impatience to the moment when we can all be joined at Monticello, and hope we shall never again know so long a separation …
To Maria Jefferson Eppes, July 16, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Fatherhood occasionally trumps being a leader. And should!
Jefferson had been extremely anxious about his pregnant younger daughter. He received reports about her from her husband and had written to her but received no replies. He had been urging her for some time to get to Monticello, where her baby would be born. Finally, she was on the way there!

He asked a farmer to supply their food. He commanded (!) her to use whatever she wanted at Monticello and to buy whatever was lacking and charge it to him. His little girl would not go without!

Maria’s first child, a son born a year and a half earlier, lived only three days. This child, born two months after this letter, was named Francis Wayles Eppes and lived to be nearly 80. A girl born in 1804 would be their third, but she would live only a month. Maria, frail like her mother, would succumb two months later.

“Each year we have had a guest speaker,
and none has ever been so widely praised.”
Missouri Emergency Preparedness Association
Your audience will praise Mr. Jefferson, too.
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No cousins on the payroll, please.

the public will never be made to believe that an appointment of a relative is made on the ground of merit alone, uninfluenced by family views. nor can they … see with approbation [approval] offices, the disposal of which they entrust to their president for public purposes, divided out as family property … but the public good which cannot be effected [accomplished] if it’s confidence is lost, requires this sacrifice.
To George Jefferson, March 27, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders sacrifice personal preferences to preserve the public trust.
George Jefferson, at his brother’s request, had written to their cousin, the new President, about a job the brother was seeking through his family connection. George’s letter was convoluted, but it appears he wrote out of regard for his brother, but the same time, out of regard for his cousin, suggested the President not award the position. George cited President Washington’s admirable example of never appointing a relative to a job and the damage President Adams did to his reputation by not following suit.

The President concurred and repeated the examples of the previous Chief Executives. Even if a relative was the best qualified, the public would not believe that. It was important to retain the public’s good will. If he lost their confidence, he could no longer accomplish any good on their behalf. He would make whatever sacrifices necessary to maintain that good will.

“The top-notch performance you gave was evident
not only by the enjoyment expressed … but also by the many compliments …”
RiverBarge Excursion Lines, New Orleans, LA
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