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Category Archives: Grief & loss

Cash out & in, 1804, plus sad news

Jan. 1                   Gave in charity 5.D. [$5]. …
Feb. 13                 Paid for 13. glass pens 2.43 3/4. …
Mar. 28                Sent Mrs. Madison for a mantua [lady’s dress] maker 3.50. …
Apr. 3                   Culpepper C.H. [Court House] oats & etc. .58.   barber .50…
May 13                 Thomas Shields for finding pistol   .1.D…
June 7                  Gibson & Jefferson have sold my tobo [tobacco]… 1267.D.
July 20                 Pd. S.H. Smith for newspapers 10.D. …
Aug. 30                Pd. shoeing horses at Mr. Madison’s 1. …
Sept. 14                Recd. of J. Barnes 500.D. …
Oct. 31                  Tooth pick case 1.75. …
Nov. 13                 Paid at the races 1.D. …
Dec. 10                 Recd. back from Jos. Daugherty 3.50 overpaid [for] contingencies.
Memorandum Books, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders keep a record. (They should also keep a balance.)
The link above lists all of Jefferson’s expenditures and receipts for 1804. I excerpted one entry from the 50 or so listed for each month. These are not meant to be representative but to illustrate a variety of money coming and going.

Mr. Jefferson was an avid list maker. He would have jotted these amounts day-by-day during the year and summarized them all at year’s end. I have read (but cannot verify) that while he kept a careful record of every expense, he never struck a total at the end of the month or year, never a profit or loss statement, never an accounting of his net worth. Had he done so, he might have been more aware that his general financial health was slowly deteriorating through the years. He died deeply in debt.

Not all entries concerned money. On April 17, after recording a payment of $156.67 for corn, he also noted, ” This morning between 8. & 9. aclock my dear daughter Maria Eppes died.”

“Patrick Lee … as Thomas Jefferson … is obviously a very talented person
and did a great job of putting our regulatory burden in perspective.”
President & CEO, Citizens National Bank
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“a knock of the elbow,” but get the doctor, too.

Not knowing the time destined for your expected indisposition, I am anxious on your account. you are prepared to meet it with courage I hope. some female friend of your Mama’s (I forget who) used to say it was no more than a knock of the elbow. the material thing is to have scientific aid in readiness, that if any thing uncommon takes place, it may be redressed on the spot, and not be made serious by delay. it is a case which least of all will wait for Doctors to be sent for. therefore, with this single precaution, nothing is ever to be feared.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes, December 26, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confident leaders can still be anxious fathers.
Mary Eppes, known as Maria, was the President’s younger daughter. She was one of two Jefferson children who survived childhood, which had claimed four others.

The “expected indisposition” referenced was the upcoming delivery of her third child. Her first son, born in 1800, lived only a few days. Her second son, Francis, was now 27 months old. Like her mother who died of childbirth complications in 1782, Maria was not a strong, healthy woman. She had suffered considerably after the birth of her first two children.

Very rarely did Jefferson refer to his long deceased wife Martha, but he did so here. No doubt wanting to lesson Maria’s anxiety, and probably his own, he relayed a comment of a friend of his wife’s that childbirth “was no more than a knock of the elbow.” Even so, he urged his daughter “to have scientific aid in readiness,” i.e. a doctor. The onset of labor would provide time to summon the doctor so any help could be rendered immediately. A knock or not, with this precaution, Maria had nothing to fear.

Time would tell that both daughter and father had plenty to fear.

“Your presentation that night, your smooth ability …
was just uncanny.”
President, Centralia Historical Society
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If I do it for one, must I do it for all?

No one would more willingly than myself pay the just tribute due to the services of Capt Barry, by writing a letter of condolance to his widow as you suggest. but when one undertakes to administer justice it must be with an even hand, & by rule, what is done for one, must be done for every one in equal degree. to what a train of attentions would this draw a President? how difficult would it be to draw the line between that degree of merit entitled to such a testimonial of it, & that not so entitled? … however well affected to the merit of Commodore Barry, I think it prudent not to engage myself in a practice which may become embarrassing.
To Benjamin Rush, October 4, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some expressions of compassion have unintended consequences.
The President’s old friend Rush had asked him to write a “letter of condolance” to the widow of a Philadelphia Navy officer. If Jefferson expressed his sympathies in this case, he would feel obligated to do it in all cases. The varying merits of the deceased and the potential for giving offense made this a minefield for the President.

In the excised portion of this letter, Jefferson explained that when Benjamin Franklin died, the King of France and the U.S. House of Representatives went into official mourning. The U.S. Senate did not. President Washington rejected the recommendation of his Secretary of State (Thomas Jefferson) that the Executive Branch “should wear mourning.” Washington’s position was if he started that policy for Franklin, he didn’t know where he would draw the line for ones less deserving. Best not to start down that slippery slope.

President Jefferson took a page from his wise predecessor’s playbook and followed the same hands-off policy.

“Thank you for playing a key role in making
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Executive Director, League of Wisconsin Municipalities
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You are depressed. This will help.

I am sorry to find by your letter that you are become so recluse. to be 4. or 5. months without descending your stairs … I have admired nothing in the character of your nation [France] more than the chearfulness & love of society which they preserve to great old age. I have viewed it as a pattern which I would endeavor to follow, by resisting the inclinations which age brings on, of retiring from society, & by forcing myself to mix in it’s scenes of recreation. do you so also, my friend. consider chearfulness as your physician, and seek it through the haunts of society … your excellent dispositions should not be lost to those among whom you are placed … keep your mind then on more pleasing subjects, & especially on the remembrance of your friendships among which none claims a warmer place than that I constantly bear to you.
To Madame De Corny, April 23, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sensitive leaders seek to encourage those who are in sad straights.
Jefferson’s old friend from his days as a minister to France had fallen on hard times. She wrote a sad letter and said she spent months on end alone in her room. He appealed to her that the beauty of Paris and the life-long friendliness of its people would help her, if only she would leave that room.

Jefferson noticed that advancing age brought on a tendency to withdraw from society. He fought that tendency by forcing himself to mingle with others and thus be encouraged by the beauty of life. He appealed to his friend to do the same. “Chearfullness” would be her physician if she sought it through society.

His final appeal was not to deprive others of her gifts and personality, which he had come to know and appreciate. She should focus “on more pleasing subjects,” and remember her friends, of whom he was the warmest.

“After seeing you perform several years ago, I did not expect
you could improve much on your character.
However, I have to say your program has gotten even better with age!”

Missouri Department of Conservation
Mr. Jefferson continues to get better with age!
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The only medicine works slowly and not very effectively.

Being about to embark for Europe, (induced to change the Scenes which Surround me, from a recent melancholy Event having rendered them peculiarly distressing) …
William Bingham to Thomas Jefferson, July 25, 1801

I had before felt a sincere concern for the circumstance which has made you wish for a change of scene, having myself … learnt from experience the indelible effects of such a loss. time is the only medicine & but an imperfect one.
To William Bingham, July 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know recovery comes only with time.
Bingham’s “melancholy event” was the death two months earlier of his wife and the mother of their three children. He was leaving for Europe to escape surroundings that reminded him of her.

Jefferson knew what Bingham was experiencing. His wife Martha died in 1783. Time was his only medicine then, as it would be Bingham’s.

A change of scenery can help, though. It was through the action of his friends that Jefferson became a minister to France after Martha’s death. His recovery continued there, probably faster than it would have come if he remained at Monticello.

There is a delightful letter from the late Anne Willing Bingham to Minister Jefferson in Paris in 1787. She acknowledged his position that “many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies” made them trivial in his sight. She countered very good-naturedly that he had ignored their good qualities and proceeded to enlighten him.

“It was a pleasure to have you perform as Thomas Jefferson …
[You] set just the right historical sense of place
to match our convention theme,
The Journey Ahead.

Executive Director, Association of Partners for Public Lands
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 H (OR I love the pleasure and will take the pain.)

 [This is the 18th & final post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is the end of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: We are not immortal ourselves, my friend; how can we expect our enjoyments to be so? We have no rose without its thorn; no pleasure without alloy … True, this condition [Maria’s absence] is pressing cruelly on me at this moment. I feel more fit for death than life. But when I look back on the pleasures … they were worth the price I am paying … Hope is sweeter than despair ..

Know then, my friend (Head), that I have taken these good people into my bosom … that I love them, & will continue to love them through life: that if fortune should dispose them on one side the globe, & me on the other, my affections shall pervade its whole mass to reach them. Knowing then my determination, attempt not to disturb it …”
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Faithful leaders know “hope is sweeter than despair.”
Jefferson acknowledged that life brings both pleasure and pain, sometimes arising from the same event. If he enjoyed happiness, he was prepared to accept any sadness that might follow. It was part of life.

He concluded his internal dialogue by affirming undying love for his friends, even though he was suffering in their absence. No matter how far away they were, his affections would reach them. He instructed his Head not to bother him about it any longer.

With the Head & Heart dialogue over, he addressed Maria Cosway directly, promising shorter letters but inviting longer ones from her. Even if she wrote one “as long as the bible,” it would be “short to me.” He ended with this personal assessment, “As to myself my health is good, except my wrist which mends slowly, & my mind which mends not at all, but broods constantly over your departure.”

Jefferson and Cosway saw one another the following year, but the infatuation of their first meeting had faded. They corresponded throughout their lives. Cosway died in 1838, at the age of 78, a dozen years after Jefferson’s death.

Thomas Jefferson will bring pleasure and no pain to your audience!
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 C (OR Hooray for optimistic leaders!)

 [This is the 13th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want & accident, yours [Head’s] is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, & to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who care for nobody. But friendship is precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life; & thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine…
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Hooray for optimistic leaders!
Jefferson acknowledged Head’s “wonderful proposition,” striving for self-sufficiency as a means of protection from life’s difficulties. One would have to perfect that do-it-yourself mentality, because there would be no help in time of need for one who never helped others.

But friendship was more important than just giving or receiving consolation in times of trouble. Friendship was especially enjoyable “in the sunshine of life,” when there was no trouble. He affirmed, despite our difficulties and sorrows, that “the greater part of life is sunshine.”

Thomas Jefferson will bring sunshine to your audience!
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 B (OR I need others to share in my sufferings.)

[This is the 12th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: But let us now try the virtues of your mathematical balance, & as you have put into one scale the burthen of friendship, let me put its comforts into the other. When languishing then under disease, how grateful is the solace of our friends! How are we penetrated with their assiduities [diligence] & attentions! How much are we supported by their encouragements & kind offices! When heaven has taken from us some object of our love, how sweet is it to have a bosom whereon to recline our heads, & into which we may pour the torrent of our tears! Grief, with such a comfort, is almost a luxury!
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders need support when they suffer.
Jefferson’s Head advised his Heart to weigh all things, even potential friendships, in a balance of positives vs. negatives and choose only the weightier. Heart found the potential comforts in friendship always of more value than feared hurts or loss.
In the last post, Heart extolled the virtue of the comfort he could give to others in their suffering. Here he reversed it, appreciating the comfort he received from others when he suffered.
Afflictions of disease or great personal loss were easier to bear when others came alongside to console and encourage. Suffering almost (almost!) became a luxury when one had dear friends to share in the burden.

Mr. Jefferson stands ready to inspire hope in your audience.
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11A (OR It is my pleasure to share another’s pain.)

 [This is the 11th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart. And what more sublime delight than to mingle tears with one whom the hand of heaven hath smitten! To watch over the bed of sickness, & to beguile its tedious & its painful moments! To share our bread with one to whom misfortune has left none! This world abounds indeed with misery: to lighten its burthen we must divide it with one another.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders suffer with the suffering.
Jefferson’s emotion-less Head’s final reply asked (paraphrased), “Don’t you have enough suffering of your own without taking on others’?” His Heart replied just the opposite (also paraphrased), “There could not be a greater delight than to suffer with a dear friend.” If he had plenty, he must share with the one who had none.

Heart did agree with Head that there was plenty of misery in the world. Sharing the sadness made it bearable, less overwhelming. It was not optional: “We must divide it [suffering] with one another.”

Mr. Jefferson promises to challenge your audience,
but he will not make them suffer!

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Can tragedy resurrect a leader?

Mrs Jefferson has added another daughter to our family. She has been ever since & still continues very dangerously ill. It will give me great pleasure to see you here whenever you can favor us with your company. You will find me still busy but in lighter occupations. But in these & all others you will find me to retain a due sense of your friendship & to be with sincere esteem, Dr Sir
Your mo ob & mo hble servt.
To James Monroe, May 20, 1782

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson was born 12 days before this letter. That was Martha Jefferson’s 7th pregnancy in 15 years. She was widowed with a young son when she and Jefferson began courting. That child died the summer before she-remarried. She bore six children to Thomas during their 10 year marriage.

Little is known about Martha, but she was an intelligent and resourceful woman. She was not physically strong and recovery from her pregnancies was difficult. She did not recover from Lucy’s birth and died four months later.

Jefferson was inconsolable for weeks in his grief. Toward the end of the year, his friends helped him escape Monticello by renewing his appointment to the team negotiating peace with England. That position wasn’t realized, but Jefferson was elected to Congress the next year and sent as minister to France in 1784.

Martha’s death set in motion the events that would draw Jefferson back onto the public stage for the next nine years. Would he have remained retired and content at Monticello had Martha not died? Anybody’s guess.

Lucy Elizabeth would die two and a half years later.

“Thank you so much for the great job you did as Thomas Jefferson.”
Missouri Mappers Association
Mr. Jefferson will do a great job for your audience, too!
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