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Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Even if I could help you, I would not. This is why.

… it is so important to the public service that I should be the center of information as to whatever concerns them, that in order to induce it to be freely given I am obliged to let it be understood that whatever I recieve is sacredly confidential, and shall not under any circumstances be given up. this imposes on me the obligation to suffer no impression to be made on me by any secret information, nor to act on it, until I verify it by further & sufficient enquiry. for this reason had I such a paper as you suppose I could not communicate it without a breach of trust …
To Thomas Mendenhall, February 25, 1803

[Woo-woo! This is Mr. Jefferson’s 800th blog post!]

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders know the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
Delaware businessman Mendenhall wrote a fawning letter to Jefferson, asking for a copy of a document the President had received about him almost two years earlier. That document might help Mendenhall defend himself against political attacks on his character. Jefferson opened his reply stating that he had no knowledge of the material requested. But even if he did, he would not provide it.

The President needed and wanted information from his constituents about their concerns. To encourage people to share their sentiments freely, he made it known that the information would be “sacredly confidential.” Such intelligence was for informing him only and would remain private until he had verified it by other sources. To disclose it prematurely would be violating the trust people placed in him.

Jefferson closed his letter the same way he opened it, reassuring Mendenhall that he had “not the smallest recollection” of the document requested.

“Patrick was an instant hit with all of our attendees.
He held them in the palm of his hand from the moment he strode into the room …”

Assistant to the Executive Director, Illinois Association of School Boards
Let Mr. Jefferson captivate your attendees.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What? Me, a fair weather friend? Never!

… My intention … was, to have some Conversation with you … you have not only shewn no disposition towards it, but have, in some measure, by a sort of shyness, as if you stood in fear of federal observation, precluded it. I am not the only one, who makes observations of this kind.
From Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson, January 12, 1803

… you have certainly misconcieved what you deem shyness. of that I have not had a thought towards you, but on the contrary have openly maintained in conversation the duty of shewing our respect to you and of defying federal calumny in this as in other cases, by doing what is right. as to fearing it, if I ever could have been weak enough for that, they have taken care to cure me of it thoroughly.
To Thomas Paine, January 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders can’t please all the people all the time, not even their friends.
In November, 1802, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the British-born American patriot and author of the highly influential pro-revolution pamphlet Common Sense in 1776, delivered models of bridges and wheels to the President. He sought Jefferson’s comments, perhaps his support, and hoped to profit from his designs. Two months passed with no response. That prompted his letter of 1-12-03, suggesting Jefferson was shy about being associated with him and feared some guilt-by-association. Paine twisted the knife more by suggesting others felt the same way. (Paine’s anti-Christian writings had made him highly unpopular in many circles.)

Jefferson, always sensitive to criticism, replied immediately and returned Paine’s models. He was not shy in his friendship and had defended Paine publicly. He had no concern for what his political opponents might say. If he had ever been weak enough to be swayed by them, he had endured enough of their invective now to be immune to it.

As to Paine’s models and Jefferson’s lack of comment, he explained that his Presidential responsibilities were so pressing that he no longer had time to devote to personal interests, though he was complimentary in general about Paine’s ideas.

“We had Patrick Lee portray Thomas Jefferson [for our annual educational conference].
The presentation was well done and extremely well received by our attendees.”
Executive Director, Township Officials of Illinois
Mr. Jefferson will do well for your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Your eyes make me happy!

I am extremely happy when I can recieve recommendations for office from characters in whom I have such entire confidence; as nothing chagrins me so much as when I have been led to an injudicious appointment … the other duties of administration are easy in comparison with this. the appointment to office, where one cannot see but with the eyes of others, is far the most difficult of my duties.
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need and appreciate sound input from others.
Kirby had recommended a trusted acquaintance for an opening on Connecticut’s Bankruptcy Commission. He cited the man’s background, credentials and qualifications. Jefferson trusted Kirby and was effusive in his appreciation for Kirby’s insight.

Personnel issues were always the most vexing for Jefferson, far more difficult than administrative ones. He had to rely on others’ advice for many appointments and had been burned when some recommendations turned out to be faulty. Kirby’s advice would protect him from that fate and serve the public interest well.

“Your presentation on Thomas Jefferson was outstanding
and very realistic.”
Utah Council of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What makes for a good public servant?

there is here a mr John Barnes … he is old (between 60. and 70) but is as active as a boy, always in good health, and the most punctual and assiduous man in business I ever knew. after an acquaintance with him of 40. years, I can pronounce him in point of fidelity as to any trust whatever, worthy of unbounded confidence. there is not a man on earth to whom I would sooner trust money untold. he is an accurate accountant, of a temper incapable of being ruffled, & full of humanity. I give you his whole character because I think you may make good use of him for the public … I would deem it a great favor to myself were you to think of him …
To J.P.G. Muhlenberg, October 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Savvy leaders will occasionally set policy aside in favor of principle.
John Barnes had been required to move his business from Philadelphia to Washington when the national government relocated but was unable to prosper there and was returning to his former place of residence. Muhlenberg had been appointed Collector of Revenue in Philadelphia earlier in the year.

The President, who made a rule of staying out of personnel matters, asked his appointee to find Barnes a job paying about $1,000/year, and cited his qualifications:
1. While old, he was mature, very active and in good health.
2. He was always diligent and on time.
3. He was trustworthy in every endeavor, meriting unlimited confidence.
4. He could be trusted completely with other’s money and would account for it accurately.
5. He was incapable of losing his temper.
6. He was compassionate.

Jefferson apologized for making the recommendation, a practice he strongly avoided, but his concern for Barnes outweighed his reluctance to get involved. He did ask Muhlenberg to keep his recommendation private, so as not to stir any additional opposition in the newspapers.

Muhlenberg complied with a position paying $600/year. It allowed Barnes enough free time to make additional money until a better paying position became available.

“Thank you for a very excellent presentation.”
Executive Director, Associated General Contractors of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson will be an excellent addition to your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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This father suggests letting the child win this one.

I have recieved a letter from Governor Strong on the subject of their cannon &c. which concerning the War department principally, I inclose to Genl. Dearborne, and must ask the favor of you to be referred to him for a sight of it. I think, where a state is pressing, we should yield in cases not very unreasonable, and treat them with the indulgence and liberality of a parent.
To Robert Smith, September 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know when to yield, even when right is on their side.
In 1798, Massachusetts transferred ownership of a fort in the Boston harbor to the federal government. A provision in that transfer called for the state to be reimbursed for the value of armaments within the fort. Massachusetts submitted its claim, and the national government had disputed the extent and amount of that reimbursement. The state’s governor, a moderate Federalist, was pressing the Republican administration to pay the bill in full.

The President involved the Secretaries of the Navy (Smith, the recipient of this letter) and War, Henry Dearborne, in this discussion. It appears that the Federal position might have been stronger, but Jefferson asked a favor of his subordinate. Massachusetts was pressing their case strongly but not unreasonably. It would be better, the President wrote, to treat the state as a parent would their child, with “indulgence and liberality,” rather than enforcing parental authority, regardless.

“Mr. Patrick Lee did a wonderful job of portraying Thomas Jefferson …
He also tailored his presentation to fit in with our theme of “Exploring New Frontiers.” “
Executive Director, Missouri Independent Bankers Association
No cookie-cutter talks here! Mr. Jefferson tailors his remarks to your interests.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Appearances matter, even small ones.

…altho saving of one salary to the publick is but a small consideration yet the Salutory [salutary, i.e. beneficial] scheme of oeconomy so valuable to our repubican Goverment can not be carried into full effect unless things of this kind be noticed…
Thomas Underwood, Jr. to Thomas Jefferson, July 25, 1802

I recieve information that [John] Hopkins Commr. [Commissioner]  of loans in Richmd. being allowed by law 2. clerks and having scarceley occasion for one, in fact employs but one, & gives him the salary of two. will you have this enquired into, and exact restitution of the double salary illegally given.
To Albert Gallatin, August 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders promptly investigate abuses under their command.
Underwood was the whistleblower, informing Jefferson that John Hopkins, a Federalist officer-holder and businessman in Richmond had authorization to employ two clerks when he needed only one and was paying that one a double salary. Underwood acknowledged that saving one salary was negligible, but the nation’s republican principles must be upheld, and the people would appreciate the gesture.

Jefferson had to contend with many government employees who were appointed by Presidents Washington and Adams. He accepted Federalist officers who performed their duties impartially but had no patience with ones who abused the trust placed in them.

He acted immediately in this case, directing his Treasury Secretary Gallatin to investigate and recover any funds spent illegally. Two weeks later, Gallatin furnished the President with a certificate verifying that Hopkins had submitted the names of the two clerks he claimed to employ. Gallatin went no further, saying Jefferson’s source must verify whether Hopkins actually employed only one.

The results of this matter are not disclosed, but Hopkins remained in his position for another two years.

“I want to thank you … for a wonderful evening with Daniel Boone.”
Vice President, Site Development Engineering, Inc., St. Louis, MO
Mr. Jefferson’s contemporary, frontiersman Daniel Boone,
stands ready to inspire, teach and entertain your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Here we go again, but this is the last time.

I recieved lately a letter from Genl. Lawson solliciting a charity which he desired me to send through your hands. I had yielded last year to an application of the same nature from him [sending him $50] and although I think his habits & conduct render him less entitled to it than many others on whom it might be bestowed, yet (pour la derniere fois) [for the last time] I inclose for him 30. Dollars which I must ask you to apply to his use as you may think most serviceable for him.
To James Monroe, July 20, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Soft-hearted leaders have to know when charity becomes enabling.
Robert Lawson had served in America’s continental army and had some connection with the Cinncinati Society, an organization of retired army officers. Through both poor choices and poor health, Lawson was reduced to asking for money for living expenses. Jefferson had already given him $50 and was now asked for more. He thought others were more deserving of his help. Somewhat grudgingly, Jefferson, who was known to be generous, made a final contribution of $30.

Lawson asked any contributions for him be sent to James Monroe. Jefferson did so but asked his protege to spend it on Lawson’s behalf, rather than simply turning the money over to him, where it could be wasted.

“You gave us an excellent program!”
Executive Director, New Mexico Federal Executive Board
Mr. Jefferson will give your audience an excellent program!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Thanks, Mr. Jefferson, for writing the Constitution! (WRONG!)

… one passage, in the paper you inclosed me, must be corrected. it is the following. ‘and all say that it was yourself more than any other individual, that planned & established it.’ i.e. the constitution. I was in Europe when the constitution was planned & established, and never saw it till after it was established. on receiving it I wrote strongly to mr Madison urging … [a bill of rights] … he accordingly moved in the first session of Congress for these Amendments which were agreed to & ratified by the states as they now stand. this is all the hand I had in what related to the Constitution.
To Joseph Priestly, June 19, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders don’t take credit for others’ work.
English-born philosopher and scientist Priestly (1733-1804) was one of Jefferson’s closest confidantes. Yet, when Priestly credited Jefferson with being the moving force behind America’s Constitution, he denied it for the simple reason he was in France when it was written!

James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution, sent a copy of it to Jefferson in Paris. Jefferson liked much of it but complained that it guaranteed no rights for individuals nor did it term-limit the President. At his urging, Congress added the Bill of Rights but set no restriction on the President’s length of service.

Mr. Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He had no role in drafting the Constitution in 1787.

“It was again a pleasure to host your performance …
Thank you for sharing your unique gift with us.”
Nature Center Manager, Missouri Department of Conservation
Let Mr. Jefferson share his unique gift with your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Give it to me frank, truthful and complete!

… the legislature is likely to establish a marine hospital at New Orleans, where we lose about 400. boatmen & seamen annually by sickness … I consider the nomination [of superintendent] to such a place as a sacred charge … I would greatly prefer those who have established a reputation by practice. I have however as yet but a single application from a Physician of any age & experience … the object of this letter is to ask your information of his [Dr. Barnwell of Philadelphia] character medical & moral, and that you will be so good as to write it to me candidly, unreservedly, and fully, assured that it shall be confined to myself alone …
To Caspar Wistar, March 22, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need candid input on important personnel matters.
Wistar (1761-1818) was a noted Philadelphia physician and expert in anatomy, and a friend and confidante of Jefferson’s. The President expected a raft of applicants to lead the new hospital at New Orleans, but he preferred an experienced, capable doctor. He had received only one such application but didn’t know enough about the man. He sought Wistar’s opinion.
1. He needed to know about the applicant’s “character medical & moral.” Competency in medicine was not enough. He needed to be a moral man, as well.
2. He wanted Wistar to write him “candidly, unreservedly, and fully,” (emphasis Jefferson’s). His evaluation should be frank, truthful and complete.
3. He assured Wistar that his assessment would remain between the two of them only.

Wistar responded in the manner requested, but Jefferson subsequently appointed another to the position.

“Thank you again,
and please do not hesitate to use this letter as a recommendation…”
College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson comes well-recommended.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I do not have to hold my tongue any longer.

I have rarely written to you; never but by safe conveyances; & avoiding every thing political, lest, coming from one in the station I then held, it might be imputed injuriously to our country, or perhaps even excite jealousy of you. hence my letters were necessarily dry. retired now from public concerns, totally unconnected with them, and avoiding all curiosity about what is done or intended, what I say is from myself only, the workings of my own mind, imputable to nobody else.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, February 26, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise public leaders are careful about what they say and write.
The Polish-born military engineer Kosciuszko (1746-1817) distinguished himself repeatedly serving in America’s war for independence. He returned to Europe after the war, but spent several more years in America in the 1790s. He and Jefferson shared the same political philosophy and became close friends. Correspondence between the two men was scarce and straightforward during Jefferson’s Presidency, unusual for the prolific letter writer. Here he explained why to his old friend.
1. Mail was rarely confidential. He had to send personal letters by trusted couriers.
2. He could write nothing of politics. As President, those revelations could harm the country.
3. He did not want to make people jealous of his friendship with the Polish leader.

In a reply the following year, the Pole acknowledged Jefferson’s letters were “dry and short.” He quit writing for that reason but now reassured his American friend of his never-ending esteem.

Jefferson was no longer bound by the limitations of the Presidency, could speak freely on any subject, and proceeded to do just that in the remainder of the letter, which will provide material for several more posts.

“…his performances [are] most believable and intriguing.
He easily captures the audience’s interest and attention …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
Mr. Jefferson stands ready to capture your audience’s attention!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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