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Category Archives: Human nature

What about America’s Aborigines? Part 7b

But the endeavors to enlighten them on the fate which awaits their present course of life, to induce them to exercise their reason, follow it’s dictates, & change their pursuits with the change of circumstances, have powerful obstacles to encounter …  the habits of their bodies, prejudices of their minds, ignorance, pride, & the influence of interested & crafty individuals among them, who [fear loss of influence] … these persons inculcate a sanctimonious reverence for the customs of their ancestors; that whatsoever they did must be done through all time … that their duty is to remain as their creator made them, ignorance being safety, and knolege full of danger …  they too have their Anti-Philosophists [anti-science, reason and progress] …
Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders understand there are powerful influences against change.
The previous post outlined Thomas Jefferson’s strong support for helping native Americans transition from hunting to agriculture. This post details their difficulty in doing so.

While business-as-usual was not possible for the Indians, they faced formidable challenges to a new way of life. In addition to their own “habits … prejudices … ignorance [&] pride,” some in their midst insisted they must remain as they always had been, with safety in ignorance, fearing danger in knowledge.

In this regard, Jefferson drew a parallel to his own political opposition, “Anti-Philosophists.” Both cultures had to contend with those who only looked backwards and resisted all change.

“It was a great pleasure to have you return the the Old Court for our annual
“Historic Fourth of July Celebration”.”
Superintendent, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, National Park Service
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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.
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Such bickering is useless and destructive!

With respect to the late conduct of mr Lilly & Perry towards you as stated in your letter, I trust you know my line of conduct better than to suppose it could flow from any orders of mine … it is my rule never to take a side or any part in the quarrels of others, nor to enquire into them. I generally presume them to flow from the indulgence of too much passion on both sides, & always find that each party thinks all the wrong was in his adversary. these bickerings, which are always useless, embitter human life more than any other cause: and I regret that which has happened in the present case. I shall always be ready to render you any service I can …
To James Oldham, November 30, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders stay out of problems not their own.
Oldham, Jefferson’s highly regarded former joiner (skilled woodworker) at Monticello, wrote his patron about ugly accusations and death threats received from Lilly, a Monticello overseer, and his brother-in-law, Perry. The accusers claimed they were acting on information from Jefferson, himself.

Not so, wrote the President, claiming Oldham should know him well enough to know otherwise. Beyond that, Jefferson explained:
1. He took no part in such quarrels, not even asking questions about them.
2. Usually, the fault was “too much passion on both sides.”
3. Always, each side imputed all the blame to the other.
4. Always such useless bickering harmed personal relationships “more than any other cause.”

While staying out of the argument, Jefferson regretted Oldham found himself in such a predicament and affirmed his willingness to be of any assistance needed.

“Even though it has been a few months since the seminar in Boston,
I continue to hear comments about the closing session.
You definitely made an impact on the group.”
President, Professional Event Services, for the Rural Cellular Association
Mr. Jefferson will give your audience a presentation to remember for a long while.
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Business decisions are easy. Personnel ones are not. (OR: HR sucks. Part 5 of 5)

the transaction of the great interests of our country costs us little trouble or difficulty. there the line is plain to men of some experience. but the task of appointment is a heavy one indeed. he on whom it falls may envy the lot of a Sisyphus or Ixion. their agonies were of the body: this of the mind. yet, like the office of hangman, it must be executed by some one. it has been assigned to me & made my duty. I make up my mind to it therefore, & abandon all regard to consequences.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The hangman has to suck it up and do his job.
The subtitle for these five posts, “HR sucks,” is only an attention-getter, not a disparagement of the important field of human relations. Thomas Jefferson never used those words, but he might have had that thought. This series highlights the hardest part of his job, making decisions that affected people’s lives, their families and finances. He concluded with this summary.
1. Key leadership decisions were not troublesome “to men of some experience.”
2. Appointing people to offices was extremely troublesome.
3. He might envy mythological characters condemned to eternal physical punishment for their choices. His (Jefferson’s) torment was of the mind.
4. Like the hangman, this was his job, and he accepted the responsibility.
5. Having done so, he did it without “regard to the consequences,” i.e. human disappointment or collateral damage.

“Our attendees enjoyed your presentation … very educational, informative,
and the details seemed to come to life …”
Director of Member Services, Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives
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I make one friend & 10 enemies at the same time. (OR: HR sucks. Part 4 of 5)

… [if] you [had] hundreds to nominate, instead of one, be assured they would not compose for you a bed of roses. you would find yourself in most cases with one loaf & ten wanting bread. nine must be disappointed, perhaps become secret, if not open, enemies.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders sometimes must turn friends into detractors.
Five posts from this single letter detail Jefferson’s challenges in the human relations realm. Larkin had written to the President, expressing not only his dismay over losing a federal appointment he thought he had earned but also his annoyance at not receiving personal notification of the loss.

While Larkin had only himself to consider, the President had hundreds! Every federal job opening brought a flood of applicants. Each choice would make one person happy and disappoint all the rest, feed one and send the others away hungry. Some losers would become secret enemies. Some would even turn into public ones.

Instead of “a bed of roses,” with countless ones paying him compliments while seeking his favor, this aspect of his job was more a bed of thorns.

“… I had no idea what to expect.
However, we were delighted to see a very professional and accurate portrayal…”

Executive Director, MO Society of Professional Surveyors
Yes! An accurate, professional and inspiring portrayal awaits your audience!
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This has to stop! Help me, please.

[This post marks #900 since the blog’s inception in February, 2011!]

Craven & Lillie at last have come to an open rupture: a desperate battle took place between them 4 days since: it terminated without serious injury to either but a bruising and languor to both which will keep them apart a long time I think. Both claim the victory and both look like defeat.
Thomas Mann Randolph to Thomas Jefferson, October 11, 1804

I have learnt with extreme concern the rupture between Craven & Lilly, and percieve that it will become extremely embarassing & prejudicial to my affairs unless it can be made up. this can only be done by an oblivion [choice to not remember] of the past without going into any enquiry which was most in the wrong.
To Thomas Mann Randolph, October 28, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Absentee leaders have the deck stacked against them.
Lilly was the overseer of non-agriculture activities at Monticello. Craven was an adjoining landowner who also leased some of Jefferson’s Monticello lands. The two men had come to blows, perhaps over the President’s livestock that had made their way onto Craven’s property.

As long as the Presidency forced Jefferson to be an absentee landowner, he was seriously dependent on both men to keep his home operation running smoothly. He saw no way forward unless each man would choose to forget the offense and move on. He would impress that point on each man. He also thought the combatants would benefit from the efforts of a mediator, and he asked Mann, his son-in-law, to fill that role.

“It was again a pleasure to host your performance …
you have again developed a believable authentic personification …”
Runge Nature Center Manager, Missouri Department of Conservation
Your audience will be convinced they are in the presence of Thomas Jefferson!
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1 Comment Posted in Agriculture, Human nature, Monticello Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

This is the worst sin of all.

another object still more important is that every officer of the government make it his peculiar object to root out that abominable venality [willingness to be bribed or corrupted], which is said to have been practised so generally there heretofore. every connivance [willingness to be involved in an illegal act] at it should be branded with indelible infamy, and would be regarded by the General government with distinguished severity.
To William C.C. Claiborne, August 30, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
T
olerating dishonesty is the worst kind of favoritism in a leader.
The previous post stressed the importance of including the French in the new American government of Louisiana at New Orleans and giving both English and French languages equal status. But there was something more important than including and respecting the political opposition.

The Spanish, who had governed Louisiana for decades, and the French, the majority population, had earned the reputation of being susceptible to bribery. Jefferson denounced it in the strongest language, and made it the responsibility of every government official to root it out.

“Not only did you connect two centuries,
I would stress you really connected with our members …”
President & CEO, Missouri Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Mr. Jefferson will make a vital connection with your audience.
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I will not leave you, unless you leave me.

you say you are forcibly led to say something on another subject, very near your heart, which you defer to another opportunity. I presume it to be on your political situation, and perhaps the degree in which it may bear on our friendship. in the first place I declare to you that I have never suffered political opinion to enter into the estimate of my private friendships; nor did I ever abdicate the society of a friend on that account till he had first withdrawn from mine. many have left me on that account. but with many I still preserve affectionate intercourse, only avoiding to speak on politics, as with a quaker or catholic I would avoid speaking on religion…
To John F. Mercer, October 9, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know how to remain friends with their opponents.
Mercer (1759-1821), Revolutionary War veteran, lawyer and politician in Virginia and then Maryland, alerted the President to a unspecified change in his situation. In this reply, Jefferson speculated it may be a change in Mercer’s political affiliation, from ally to opponent.

Jefferson reassured his friend he never withdrew friendships over political differences unless someone else did so first. Many had deserted him for that reason, but many had not. With the latter, he continued his friendships, taking care to avoid politics, the subject where they disagreed. He applied the same principle to spiritual differences, maintaining friendships with Quakers and Catholics, only being careful to “avoid speaking on religion.”

“… thank you for the enlightening and education presentation …
It was wonderful … and enjoyed by all.”
Lieutenant Governor’s Office, State of Missouri
Enlightening. Educational. Wonderful. Enjoyable.
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Forgiven! Friends again? Part 4 of 4

if my respect for him did not permit me to ascribe the whole blame to the influence of others, it left something for friendship to forgive, and after brooding over it for some little time, and not always resisting the expression of it, I forgave it cordially, and returned to the same state of esteem & respect for him which had so long subsisted … I have thus, my dear Madam, opened myself to you without reserve, which I have long wished an opportunity of doing; and, without knowing how it will be recieved, I feel relief from being unbosomed … that you may both be favored with health, tranquility and long life, is the prayer of one who tenders you the assurances of his highest consideration and esteem.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Choosing to forgive is an empowering leadership trait.
In previous posts from this letter, Jefferson thanked Adams for the condolence for his deceased daughter, reaffirmed his esteem for her, and then described the only act of her husband, former President John Adams, that he considered personally unkind. He continued that thread in this post.

Most, but not all, of John Adams’ actions Jefferson could attribute to political foes. Yet, Adams himself was responsible in some smaller measure. Jefferson admitted brooding over Adams’ offenses, even speaking of those offenses with others. And then, “I forgave it cordially,” he wrote and resumed his long-held esteem for Mr. Adams.

Jefferson had the desire to preserve friendship despite political differences. He was able to forgive most offenses and knew the futility of holding a grudge. He was far more inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt and move on.

Abigail Adams would have none of it. Her reply contained a full-throated justification of her husband’s actions, the ones Jefferson found personally unkind. She condemned Jefferson’s involvement with the scandal-monger journalist, James Callendar. She also bore a personal offense for his denying her son John Quincy Adams, a federal position.

As a meeting planner, it was a pleasure to work with you…
I look forward to working with you in the future.”
Legislative Services Manager, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives
Enjoy the pleasure of working with Thomas Jefferson.
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Politics really suck in 2019!

you now see the composition of our public bodies, and how essential system and plan are for conducting our affairs wisely with so bitter a party in opposition to us, who look not at all to what is best for the public, but how they may thwart whatever we propose, tho they should thereby sink their country.
To Caesar Rodney, February 24, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders are still creatures of  human nature.
Delaware native Rodney (1772 – 1824), namesake of his uncle who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was elected to Congress in 1802. In a letter to the President, Rodney explained that he would not continue in office for personal, political and financial reasons. Jefferson sincerely regretted the loss of his strong supporter. He hoped Rodney would be one to “give cohesion to our rope of sand.” Whether that “rope” was the government or the republican party is not clear.

Note the points Jefferson made in this excerpt:
1. Consider the bitterness of the opposition in the Congress.
2. Their goal was not the public good but to “thwart whatever we propose.”
3. They were unconcerned that their actions imperiled the nation.

My purpose in these posts is to highlight Jefferson’s perspective. Still, I’m reasonably sure the Federalists could have made the same observations about the President and his republican partisans.

Human nature does not change. In 2019, consider how each party makes the same charges against the other, 215 years later.

“… it is the attention to detail that you put into your impersonations
that really brings your historical characters to life.”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
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