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Category Archives: Health

Why are Virginians giants and New Englanders but Pygmies?

Your letter of March 25th has been a cordial to me, and the more consoling as it was brought by your Grandsons Mr Randolph and Mr Coolidge … how happens it that you Virginians are all sons of Anak, we New Englanders, are but Pygmies by the side of Mr Randolph; I was very much gratified with Mr Randolph, and his conversation …
Public affairs go on pretty much as usual, perpetual chicanery and rather more personal abuse than there used to be …
My love to all your family—and best wishes for your health—
FROM John Adams TO Thomas Jefferson, April 17, 1826

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The personal abuse of leaders is on the rise!
In honor of President’s Day (Monday, February 20), this week’s posts are devoted to the last letters exchanged between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Tuesday was Jefferson’s letter, today, Adams’ reply.

Jefferson’s letter to Adams requesting an audience for his grandson, T.J. (Jeff) Randolph, must have been presented personally by Jeff to the elder statesman, who was delighted with their conversation. Jeff’s younger sister, Ellen, had married Joseph Coolidge of Boston the year before and now lived there. The “Mr. Coolidge”Adams referred to must have been Jeff’s brother-in-law, Ellen’s husband.

Jeff Randolph was probably tall like his grandfather, who was 6′ 2 1/2″. Adams was only 5′ 7”. He wanted to know why New Englanders were short while Virginia produced “sons of Anak,” a tall race described in the Old Testament books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.

In a deleted portion of this letter, Adams complained about two current politicians, at least one of whom was contesting the legality of his son John Quincy Adams’ election as President. That probably explains his reference to “more personal abuse.”

Health was a concern for both men, who had far exceeded normal life expectancy. Jefferson was almost 83, and Adams was 90. He died 2 1/2 months later on the same day as Jefferson, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

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My grandson wants to meet you!

My grandson Th: Jefferson Randolph, being on a visit to Boston, would think he had seen nothing were he to leave it without having seen you … like other young people, he wishes to be able, in the winter nights of old age, to recount to those around him what he has heard and learnt of the Heroic age preceding his birth, and which of the Argonauts particularly he was in time to have seen …my solicitude for your health by enabling him to bring me a favorable account of it. mine is but indifferent, but not so my friendship and respect for you.
To John Adams, March 25, 1826

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Near-death grandparent leaders want their grandchildren to remember.
In honor of President’s Day (yesterday, February 20), this week’s posts are devoted to the last letters exchanged between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Today will be Jefferson’s letter, Thursday Adams’ reply.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792 – 1875) was the 2nd child and 1st son of his eldest daughter, Martha. Always a favorite of his grandfather, Jeff as he was known, supervised the elder man’s lands and perilous finances. Now, the 34 year old grandson was coming to Boston and wanted to meet Adams. Jefferson apologized for the intrusion but asked Adams for the indulgence, so that when Jeff was old, he might have some first-hand accounts to give his grandchildren.

Jefferson, almost 83, reported his health as “indifferent,” but hoped his grandson would bring a “favorable account” from the 90 year old Adams. Jefferson died just over three months later on the same day as Adams, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

“Working with Patrick was wonderful.
He was very flexible and easily adjusted his program to meet the audience.”
Executive Director, Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, ND
Thomas Jefferson is low-maintenance, high impact!
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BEFORE you get sick …

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments & his thanks to Doctr Ricketson for his treatise on the means of preserving health & the pamphlets he has been so kind as to send him. he shall read the former especially with particular pleasure, having much more confidence in the means of preserving than of restoring health.
To Shadrach Ricketson, June 21, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Health conscious leaders value prevention ahead of treatment.
Ricketson (1768-1837) was a prominent New York Quaker and physician. In 1806, he published a book, “Means of Preserving Health and Preventing Diseases … This was not so much a book on how to treat and eliminate or reduce disease-related problems as much as it was a book on how to live a long and health[y] life.”

Below the book title on the cover were these words, “Founded principally on an attention to air and climate, drink, food, sleep, exercise, clothing, passions of the mind, and retentions and excretions … Designed not merely for physicians but for the information of others …” (Quoted sections are credited to this site.)

Empirical or evidence-based medicine had a strong appeal to Jefferson. It is what he practiced for himself, his family and his servants. While he engaged a trusted doctor when his larger mountain-top family was threatened, he had great faith in the human body’s recuperative powers if just left alone. Most doctors lacked any real understanding of the human body and were inclined toward experimentation. Jefferson thought doing nothing was better than doing something uninformed.

He was also a great supporter of what we would call “wellness,” with a focus on cleanliness, diet, exercise and rest. Ricketson’s work was right up his alley!

“…our delegates really enjoyed hearing from Mr. Jefferson.
It is amazing how the thoughts, words and events of over 200 years ago transcend time
and are as relevant today as they were then.”
Conference Coordinator, Iowa League of Cities
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Not too much drinking on the job, please.

… as to whiskey to be given to the labouring hands, it is right when they work in the water in cool weather. on other occasions in general it is an injurious & demoralising practice. they do more for a day or two, but less afterwards as we see where a harvest is lengthy. confine therefore, if you please, the giving them whiskey to those occasions which might otherwise produce colds & sickness. the first moment that ice of an inch thick forms in the river, the ice house should be filled. on this work they need whiskey.
To John Holmes Freeman, December 21, 2016

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders limit the booze.
Freeman was a new overseer at Monticello, who began his service in August, 1805. Chances are the “labouring hands” included slaves in addition to hired workers, though that is not clear.

Most people considered strong alcoholic drink to be both healthy and medicinal. Jefferson concurred, but only in part. He was willing to grant a ration of whiskey for cold, wet work, or conditions that could cause illness. Beyond that, he thought it “injurious & demoralizing.”

Beer and hard cider were common mealtime beverages. Jefferson drank wine in the evening, but only the weaker wines and never hard liquor.

“… first person interpretation was new to the conference this year.
Clearly the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director of Education, Indiana Historical Society
Mr. Jefferson (and his compatriots) will set the standard for other speakers.
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If he cannot gamble and drink, he might just deliver the mail.

I suspect one single foible in Abrahams is at the bottom of all his difficulties. my confidence in him is built on yours who have tried him. here, where he is known in detail, he is considered as a gambler & given to those dissipations which that vice brings on. at N. Orleans he has found opportunities of indulging that passion … hence his sickness there, hence the death & theft of all his horses … you ask my opinion; I will give it only on the condition of your regarding it so far as your own judgment approved. I would limit Abrahams to [only the first part of] the route … and get Govr. Claiborne to find at N.O. [New Orleans another rider]from Fort Stoddart to N.O. Abrams will then have no field for dissipation & his other qualifications will have fair play.”
To Gideon Granger, August 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders have to deal with subordinates’ vices.
Gideon Granger was the President’s Postmaster General. The two collaborated often to provide better postal routes and extend mail delivery. The task of delivering the mail was conducted by private citizens who collected postage fees, kept a portion and remitted the rest to the federal government.

This letter details the concern over a single postal contractor named Abrahams and mail service to New Orleans. Jefferson made these observations to his trusted lieutenant.
1. All of Abrahams’ “difficulties” could be attributed to gambling and resulting bad behavior.
2. Jefferson’s only confidence in Abrahams was based on Granger’s.
3. In Washington City (now D.C.), Abrahams’ difficulties were very well known.
4. In New Orleans, Abrahams found new opportunities to gamble and drink.
5. Those dissipations led to his illness plus the death or theft of all his horses, essential for mail delivery.
6. Granger had asked Jefferson’s opinion. He gave it but stipulated Granger should accept it only to the degree that it aligned with Granger’s own judgment.
7. Divide the postal route to New Orleans in half. Give the first half to Abraham’s. Give the second half to someone else.
8. Deprived of the opportunity to gamble and drink in New Orleans, Abrahams’ “other qualifications will have fair play.”

Taken altogether, those eight observations highlight an excellent example of Jefferson’s leadership: his respect for Granger’s judgment and authority, his compassion for Abrahams, and a Solomon-like solution to a problem.

“Please know how much I appreciate all your effort.
You have provided a real service for the educators of Missouri.”
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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Is it ethical to experiment on a condemned man?

with respect to the experiment whether Yellow fever can be communicated after the vaccine, which you propose should be tried on some malefactor, no means of trying that are likely to be within my power. during the term I have been in office, not a single conviction in any capital case has taken place under the laws of the general government. the Governors of the several states would have it most in their power to favor such an experiment.
To Edward Rowse, August 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Rowse wrote to Jefferson speculating on the connection between four diseases: cowpox, smallpox, plague and yellow fever. The smallpox vaccine had already proved effective against that disease and the cowpox. There was some speculation that it worked against the plague. Rowse wanted to know if it might also protect against yellow fever.

To that end, Rowse suggested an experiment be conducted on someone already condemned to die and asked Jefferson’s help. The President declined, not on moral grounds, but for lack of a subject. During his Presidency, no one had been convicted of a capital offense under federal law. Those convictions occurred under state laws. He suggested governors might be able to help Rowse with his experiment.

“I am pleased to give Patrick Lee my highest recommendation as a speaker.”
Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
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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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