Blog posts may be reprinted without permission,
provided a link to www.JeffersonLeadership.com is included.

Category Archives: Intellectual pursuits

Clouds and and a crummy clock compromised this 1778 eclipse!

We were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse [June 24, 1778], which proved to be cloudy. In Williamsburgh, where it was total, I understand only the beginning was seen. At this place which is in Lat. 38° 8′ and Longitude West from Williamsburgh about 1° 45′ as is conjectured, eleven digits only were supposed to be covered. It was not seen at all till the moon had advanced nearly one third over the sun’s disc. Afterwards it was seen at intervals through the whole. The egress particularly was visible. It proved however of little use to me for want of a time peice that could be depended on;
To David Rittenhouse, July 19, 1778

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
On this day when the solar eclipse crosses the United States, this is young Jefferson’s (age 35) comment on the 1778 eclipse, which darkened the southeastern portion of the country three weeks before. Monticello was north of the zone of totality, perhaps in the 90% range. The presence of clouds and the absence of a reliable clock thwarted his ability to make scientific observations.

Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was a famed American astronomer, mathematician and clockmaker. Two of his many accomplishments were recording the transit of Venus across the face of the sun in 1769 and the creation of an orrery, a mechanical representation of our solar system.

Jefferson reminded his friend of his offer to make for him “an accurate clock,” essential for astronomers, and asked when that clock might arrive.

“Your performances … were exactly what our conference needed
to take it over the top.”
Director of Member Services & Education, Minnesota Rural Electric Association
Mr. Jefferson will add greatly to the success of your conference!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Intellectual pursuits, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Let us eat and play games!

Th: Jefferson requests the favor of Mr. Clinton’s company to dinner and chess on Tuesday next at half after three, or at whatever later hour the house may rise [adjourn].
Saturday Apl. 3. 1802.
The favor of an answer is asked.
To Dewitt Clinton, April 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders use social gatherings and games to build relationships.
Jefferson regularly invited people to join him for dinner, which was usually at 3:30 pm. When Congress was in session, his dinner guests often were Representatives and Senators, of both parties, except perhaps for the High Federalists, who wouldn’t have dined with him, regardless.

Clinton (1769-1828) was a New York politician, serving briefly in the U.S. Senate. He is credited with being the primary inspiration for the Erie Canal, connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. He was also the nephew of George Clinton, who would become Vice-President during Jefferson’s second term.

Jefferson’s correspondence is sprinkled with these dinner invitations. This is the first one I’ve seen that mentioned playing chess as part of the evening’s activity. He loved chess! This link demonstrates that. Near the end of those references, is this 1853 excerpt from his granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge:
“So he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of ‘four hour games’ with Mr. [James] Madison.”

“I sincerely appreciate and thank you
for your outstanding and motivating presentation ….”
Chair, Seattle Federal Executive Board
Mr. Jefferson will be an inspiration to your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Intellectual pursuits, Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |

What does a local library mean for US? Part 4 of 4

… having had more favorable opportunities than fall to every man’s lot of becoming acquainted with the best books on such subjects as might be selected, I do not know that I can be otherwise useful to your society than by offering them any information respecting these which they might wish. my services in this way are freely at their command …
To John Wyche, May 19, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are helpful but not too helpful.
This was Jefferson’s closing in his response to news of a proposed county library in south Virginia. He had stated the importance of an educated citizenry, the value of a lending library toward that end, and the types of books that library should contain. Now, he limited his invovlement in their effort.

He did not endorse that particular library. He did not contribute to the capital campaign to establish it. Yet, acknowledging his good fortune when it came to books (his personal library contained over 6,000), he offered to advise them on what books they should acquire. He did not offer that counsel unsolicited; they would have to ask again.

“On behalf of the attendees … in Philadelphia …
I want to express our gratitude for an incredible opening session.”
Executive Vice President, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
Mr. Jefferson will contribute greatly to the success of your meeting.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Intellectual pursuits, Miscellaneous Tagged , , , , , , , |

I love science, home and FREEDOM!

you have wisely located yourself in the focus of the science of Europe. I am held by the cords of love to my family & country, or I should certainly join you. within a few days I shall now bury myself in the groves of Monticello, & become a mere spectator of the passing events. on politics I will say nothing, because I would not implicate you by addressing to you the republican ideas of America, deemed horrible heresies by the royalism of Europe.
To Alexander von Humboldt, March 6, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retired leaders needn’t lose their zeal!
German-born Humboldt (1769-1859) shared Jefferson’s passion for exploration and scientific analysis, wrote volumes on a wide variety of subjects, and sent some of them to the President, who proffered his thanks.

If Jefferson were not so loyal to his country and family, he might have joined this eminent scientist in Europe. Instead, he looked forward to immersing himself in all-things- Monticello and becoming an observer of politics rather than a participant. Retirement didn’t lessen his passion for freedom, but he spared Humboldt any “republican ideas of America,” which the non-republican governments of Europe considered “horrible heresies.”

“…what a pleasure it was having you entertain our guests …
a top-notch performance …”

CEO, Riverbarge Excursion Lines
Does your audience appreciate “a top-notch performance”?
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Foreign Policy, Intellectual pursuits, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , |

Not worth the paper they are written on

agreeable to my promise I now enclose a list of pamphlets, published whilst in Dublin—if you honour me with your Command for one or more of them I will instantly attend to it
To Thomas Jefferson from Patrick Byrne, May 23, 1805

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mr Byrne & his thanks for the inclosed catalogue of pamphlets, which he now returns not finding any thing in it which he has occasion to call for. in truth political pamphlets are of so ephemeral an interest that their value passes almost with the moment which produces them.
To Patrick Byrne, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Discerning leaders know when to be dismissive.
Byrne was a Philadelphia book seller from whom Jefferson had bought numerous volumes. Apparently, Byrne also thought his patron would be interested in current political writings and sent him a list of pamphlets, hoping for another sale.

Jefferson said thanks but no thanks. The political thought represented in those pamphlets held no interest for him. Remember, Jefferson was a man interested in almost everything, so this dismissal is extraordinary.

He was very interested in classic political thought, ideas that stood the test of time, and possessed numerous books on the subject. That he had no interest in these may have meant they dealt with current political thought, i.e. what was popular or trendy or partisan. For him, any value evaporated as soon as they were printed.

“Enhancing this presentation is his animated and sincere delivery
that leaves his audience inspired and motivated.”
Executive Director, National Coal Transportation Association
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak to your audience!
Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Education, Intellectual pursuits, Politics Tagged , , , , , , |

Who exactly is in charge here? Part 10 (OR Is life only a calculated balancing act?)

[This is the “Head” portion only of the 10th and final interchange in Jefferson’s internal dialog between his head and his heart, anguishing over Maria Cosway’s departure.]

Head … Everything in this world is a matter of calculation … Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, & see which preponderates … The art of life is the art of avoiding pain: & he is the best pilot who steers clearest of the rocks & shoals with which he is beset …

Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup that we must needs help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, & participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked; ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Beware the leader whose choices are only the paths of least resistance.
This final interchange is by far the longest of the ten, comprising nearly half of the letter. I cannot do justice to it in one post. Jefferson’s Head will get this one post, edited to about 1/4 of what he wrote. Heart’s response was more twice as long and will become the subject of multiple posts.

Head advises caution in all things, always weighing pluses and minuses, with the goal of avoiding pain. Life deals each person enough disappointment of their own. No point in looking for more or helping bear others’ grief.
In an omitted portion, Head commends intellectual pursuits, for no one can take away the pleasures gained there. Those allow one to ride above the “bustle & tumult of society,” occupied by those who are too much guided by their emotions.

The complete Thomas Jefferson, head AND heart, will inspire your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Intellectual pursuits, Leadership styles Tagged , , , , , , |

How else can mentors help?

He [William Small] returned to Europe in 1762, having previously filled up the measure of his goodness to me, by procuring for me, from his most intimate friend G. Wythe, a reception as a student of law, under his direction, and introduced me to the acquaintance and familiar table of Governor Fauquier, the ablest man who had ever filled that office. With him, and at his table, Dr. Small & Mr. Wythe, his amici omnium horarum [Latin: friends all hours], & myself, formed a partie quarree, & to the habitual conversations on these occasions I owed much instruction. Mr. Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved Mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life.
Autobiography, 1821*

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise mentors bring in more mentors.
The previous post listed the qualities Jefferson attributed to his revered college professor, Dr. William Small. His instructor didn’t keep his student to himself but introduced him to others who could guide him, as well.

First among those was lawyer George Wythe, who directed Jefferson’s five-year study of the law. Wythe moved from mentor to “my most affectionate friend through life.” Next was Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, the King’s representative in colonial Virginia.

Together, Small, Wythe and Fauquier, ages 36, 44 and 56, took the 17-year-old Jefferson into their company. The impressionable teenager learned much by observing these men, listening to and participating in their conversations.

Fauquier died in 1768 at age 65, Small in 1775 at age 41. Wythe lived until age 80, believed to be poisoned by a mulatto grandnephew in 1806. The relative was charged with the crime but not convicted. Courts did not accept the testimony of blacks, the only witnesses to the crime.

*This link is to the entire autography. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
“Your topic selection and program were extraordinary.”
American College of Real Estate Lawyers, New Orleans
Thomas Jefferson will impress your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Intellectual pursuits, Leadership Tagged , , , , , , , , |

What qualities make a good mentor?

[I] then went to Wm. and Mary college, to wit in the spring of 1760, where I continued 2. years. It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. Wm. Small of Scotland was then professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, & an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.
Autobiography, 1821*

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders-to-be need skilled mentors.
Jefferson was almost 17 when he continued his education in college at Williamsburg. He came into the orbit of Dr. William Small, the only faculty member who was not an Anglican clergyman. Because of upheaval within the school, Small became Jefferson’s only professor, teaching all of his classes.

Sixty years later, Jefferson would cite the qualities that made Small extraordinary:

  1. “Profound,” which Webster’s 7th New Collegiate defines as “intellectual depth and insight”
  2. Devoted to the “useful branches of science,” wisdom relevant to everyday life
  3. “a happy talent for communication,” an engaging and effective classroom teacher
  4. “correct and gentlemanly manners,” proper and polite
  5. “an enlarged and liberal mind,” willing to consider all the possibilities
  6. “made me his daily companion,” taking young Jefferson under his wing
  7. “from his conversation,” verbal interaction with a high purpose

I’ve begun re-reading Jefferson’s Autobiography. I may take posts from it for some time.

*This link is to the entire autobiography. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
“Patrick Lee was reliable and easy to work with.
He made modifications in his presentation to suit our particular needs.”
Schoor DePalma Engineering (650 employees), Manalapan, NJ
Both Thomas Jefferson and I are dependable, low maintenance
and eager to please!
Invite us to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Education, Intellectual pursuits, Leadership Tagged , , , , , , , |

What qualities characterize genius?

I sit down to petition your suffrage [vote] in favor of a friend … the Revd. James Fontaine, who offers himself as a candidate for … chaplain to the house of burgesses. I do not wish to derogate [detract] from the merit of the gentleman who possessed that office last, but I can not help hoping that every friend to genius, where the other qualities of the competitors are equal, will give a preference to superior abilities. Integrity of heart and purity of manners recommend Messrs. Price and Fontaine equally to our esteem; but in acuteness of penetration, accuracy of judgment, elegance of composition, propriety of performing the divine service, and in every work of genius, the former [Price] is left a great distance behind the latter [Fontaine].
To William Preston, August 18, 1768

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Discerning leaders appreciate goodness but give preference to genius.
The 25-year-old Jefferson was studying to become a lawyer and observing the meetings of the House of Burgesses, to which he would be elected four years later. He wrote in support of a new candidate to be chaplain of that body. He made these observations in recommending the challenger over the incumbent:
1. He would not criticize the current office-holder.
2. Genius should be encouraged.
3. When both possess equal qualities (“Integrity of heart and purity of manners”), superior abilities should be recognized.
4. Those abilities in Fontaine were:
– Keen insight
– Wise decision-making
– Excellence in writing
– Proper execution of spiritual responsibilities
– Excellence in every intellectual endeavor

Jefferson went on to encourage Preston, not to rely on his word only, but to ask others’ opinions, too.

“… we wanted an “upbeat” kind of talk.
That’s exactly what you gave us.”

Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central NY Chapter
Mr. Jefferson will inspire your audience, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Intellectual pursuits, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , |

“It was a dark and stormy night … ”

Go on then in doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword: shew that reformation is more practicable by operating on the mind than on the body of man, and be assured that it has not a more sincere votary [adherent] nor you a more ardent well-wisher than Yrs. &c.
To Thomas Paine, June 19, 1792

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Peaceful leaders encourage ideas over coercion.
Jefferson complimented Paine on his 1792 pamphlet, the Rights of Man, written in opposition to monarchies and anti-republican societies. Sixteen years earlier in 1776, Paine had written Common Sense, promoting American independence. In 1794, he wrote The Age of Reason, a dismissal of organized religion in favor of deism.

Jefferson always promoted peaceful change: education and the broad circulation, discussion and debate of ideas as essential for preserving the American republic. Far better to use the written word to convince than the sword to coerce.


Have you heard the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”? It was coined by English playwright and novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton for a 1839 play. The idea was not original with him, though this phrasing was. Others, including Jefferson in this letter nearly 50 years earlier, had expressed the same thought.


Why the title to this post? Just for fun. And because Edward Bulwer-Lytton, not only reinforced Jefferson’s idea of pen vs. sword, also wrote those well-worn words to open his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford.

“Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate … “
Interim Director, MO River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE

It will not be a dark and stormy night when Mr. Jefferson inspires your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739

Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Intellectual pursuits, Natural rights Tagged , , , , , , |